The immortal Lewis Black once had this to say about aging: “There’s always the discussion ‘Oh, I’m getting this problem, that problem.’ I don’t give a s%$& about the physical problems — time f#^%in moves really fast!”
That’s a sentiment I have greatly sympathized with as I’ve gotten older — though Mr. Black himself would most likely emphatically point out that I’m far younger than he was when he made that statement in his Carnegie Hall performance — and as I look toward Juventus’ Tuesday tilt against Cagliari in the final game of the andata, it makes me wonder where the time went. It feels like just yesterday Juve was hocking away points in the opener against Udinese. Now here we are, about to be a full halfway through the season. A season of ups (less of them) and downs (way too many for our liking) is now at its midpoint — and also at its tipping point.
Juve will get just shy of two weeks off for the Christmas holiday break before resuming their schedule on Jan. 6. At that point, they will begin an absolutely brutal stretch of games that will in all likelihood be the determining factor in whether next season’s Champions League is an attainable goal. That stretch is as follows:
- Napoli (home)
- Roma (away)
- Inter (Supercoppa Italiana, at San Siro)
- Udinese (home)
- Sampdoria (Coppa Italia Round of 16, home)
- AC Milan (away)
- Hellas Verona (home)
- Atalanta (away)
Add in the fact that should they beat Sampdoria they’ll have a Coppa Italia quarterfinal at some point, likely between the Verona and Atalanta matches. That’s a stretch of hardly any room to breathe, with huge matches coming left and right, including four against direct rivals for the top four spots.
With that gauntlet looming, it’s essential that Juventus get into the break with some momentum, especially after their latest choke job last week at Venezia. Saturday’s 2-0 win over Bologna was a good start, but any stumbles when Juve welcome the Sardinians to the Allianz Stadium on Tuesday will be absolutely disastrous.
Cagliari have never been particularly good, and were relegated as recently as the 2014-15 season, but they bounced back immediately the following year. They’re reliably a bottom-half-of-the-table side, but they’re usually in relative safety by the end of the season. They even flirted with a Europa League spot a few years ago before fading late.
But this year is not one of those years.
The Isolani are planted at the bottom of the table, with only Salernitana preventing them from propping it up entirely. They’ve only won once this season — in mid-October against Samp — and they’ve ended a streak of four consecutive draws with a resounding thud, losing their last two games by a combined score of 8-0. On Saturday, they were so thoroughly trashed by Udinese, losing 4-0 at home, that the decision was made to put the team into ritirio until Tuesday’s game.
Simply put, not winning this game would be a disaster. Any other result would not only likely widen the gap between Juve and fourth place (currently sitting at six points after Roma conveniently cracked Atalanta upside the head over the weekend) but it would be a devastating blow to the team’s moral to drop points against a team so badly out of form — and one that will be missing one of their better players in Nahitan Nandez, who came off at halftime against Udinese with a flexor problem.
Given the way this season has gone, it’s entirely likely that this game will be far more of a slog that it ought to be. That’s probably just how things are at this point. But the important thing will be the points. Bring those into the Christmas break, and you can start setting up for that tough run of games with a good taste in your mouth.
- Massimiliano Allegri said in his pre-match press conference that the squad will be exactly the same as it was on Saturday in Bologna. That means that Paulo Dybala, Federico Chiesa, Giorgio Chiellini, Danilo, and Aaron Ramsey will be unavailable.
- Allegri did update some timetables, saying that Chiesa, Dybala, Chiellni, and Danilo would start training with the team on Dec. 30. Hopefully that’s an indication that they’ll be ready in some form for the Napoli match.
- There is no timetable on Ramsey. Hopefully that will become someone else’s problem soon enough.
- Juan Cuadrado is one yellow card away from the suspension threshold, and Allegri intimated that if he starts there will be a clock on him.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
Don’t look now, but Alvaro Morata might be starting to catch again.
Juve’s No. 9 has three goals and an assist in his last four league games, and his last two in particular have been more complete, involved performances than we’ve seen over the last two months or so as he’s gone through a long fallow period.
By now, we all know who Morata is: a good quality striker who is held back from being great by extreme streakiness. When Morata is on, he is on, and he becomes a player that no defender wants to play against. When he’s off, he’s a non-factor.
But these last games have been much, much better than what we’ve been seeing from him through much of the season. His movement has been better, his touch has been more precise, and his finishes, like the opening goal on Saturday that was lifted with both precision and power right over the shoulder of Bologna keeper Lukasz Skorupski, become lethal.
With Dybala and Chiesa on the shelf and the rest of the attack struggling to find their feet, having Good Alvaro make an extended appearance will be a huge boost. Whether he can put together a run that will convince the team to pick up his option at the end of the season as opposed to trying to find an upgrade — or at the very least opt against something foolish like making a move for walking, talking distraction Mauro Icardi in the January transfer window — remains to be seen, but right now he seems to be hitting a purple patch, and hopefully the team can ride with it.
When: Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021.
When: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy.
Official kickoff time: 8:45 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 7:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 2:45 p.m. Eastern Time; 11:45 a.m. Pacific Time.
HOW TO WATCH
Television: BT Sport 2 (United Kingdom).
Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, you can also follow along with us live and all the stupid things we say on Twitter. If you haven’t already, join the community on Black & White & Read All Over, and join in the discussion below.