One of the weird quirks in this insanely busy start to the 2021 calendar year is that Juventus will have faced a few clubs more than once over the span of just six or seven weeks. Thanks to the Coppa Italia, Juve faced the bird-flippin’ Antonio Conte and Inter Milan three times within the span of about 3 1⁄2 weeks. That’s pretty wild when you think about the simple fact that Juve are going on their second month of playing a game every three or four days.
And now, all of 24 days after beating Napoli in the Supercoppa, here we go again.
(Although, it’s not as crazy as the Juventus women have it considering that they will play Empoli for a third time in the span of TWO WEEKS this weekend when they play the second leg of the Coppa Italia quarterfinals in Turin.)
We finally get the “first” Serie A meeting between Juventus and Napoli out of the way Saturday night, with another top 6 matchup on the cards for the reigning Italian champions. The thing is, though, they may be five points apart from one another in the standings, but Juventus and Napoli come into this game with two very different vibes surrounding the two clubs. As Napoli deal with drama galore between their manager and their hard-headed owner, the feeling around Juventus is one with much more optimism and overall happiness as compared to their opposition this weekend. (Seriously, you don’t hear anybody at Juventus saying anything about the manager’s fish or anything close to it.)
They may be close in the standings, but these two rivals are in different kinds of situations.
Juventus’ aim is clear: keep the good times rolling. We’re currently in the midst of Juve’s best run of form of the short Andrea Pirlo era, one that is clearly starting to steady itself after a rocky couple of opening months. We’ve seen Pirlo flex his tactical acumen over the course of these last few weeks as Juve have bounced back from the butt-kicking they got at the hands of Inter — who, to steal a line from my friend Sergio, are frauds — a little less than a month ago. Juventus is on better footing now than they were a month ago, and it has come during a time in the schedule where they’ve needed results across multiple competitions to get back on track.
And it just so happens that the Supercoppa against Napoli, played all of 23 days ago, was the start of that turn for the better following that bad loss at the San Siro.
Napoli enter Saturday night’s game far from full strength, which was on full display the last time they took the field a few days ago in their Coppa Italia semifinal loss to Atalanta, one where the boys from Bergamo took full advantage of their opposition’s shortfalls in defense. And with the shape that Napoli are currently in, you know they’re going to want to try and have their own reversal of course be against Juventus just like what Pirlo’s squad has shown to do starting with the Supercoppa.
We don’t know if this is the final game for Rino Gattuso at Napoli, although the signs from very far away aren’t very good at all. (And, sidenote: Rafa Benitez ... really?) But we do know what a win against Napoli would mean for Juventus and how it would add another step in the right direction for a club that has done a lot of good over the last few weeks.
And knowing that a little bit of a chance to breathe is arriving at the end of the month, there’s no reason to slow down this black and white train that is gaining some serious momentum.
- Paulo Dybala is out once again this weekend due to his knee injury.
- Arthur is out due to a leg injury revealed earlier in the week. He is now a major doubt for next week’s Champions League Round of 16 tie against Porto. Good times. Pirlo described Arthur’s evaluation process as “day to day.”
- Aaron Ramsey is also out due to injury. (This is not a scheduled tweet.)
- Over the course of the last few days, Leonardo Bonucci was expected to be out of the trip to Naples this weekend. But he was included in the squad list that Pirlo released Friday. The Italian press still expects Matthijs de Ligt to get the start over Bonucci.
- Here is the complete list of players called up for the trip to Naples:
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
Because Juve’s basically had its foot on the gas without much of a break while trying to right the ship since the end of November, getting rest for some of the squad’s most important players has been quite a tough task for Andrea Pirlo’s squad.
The guy below might have been one of the most in need of a little bit of a breather as we hit the second weekend of February.
Weston McKennie is human. He is human and that means he gets tired from time to time. And his play, before getting a break midweek and only appearing in a substitute role against Inter, was resembling that of a dude who was tired after playing a bunch of minutes in the weeks (and months) prior.
With Arthur being out for, at least right now, an unknown period of time, there are obviously important issues going on with Juve’s midfield at the moment. But, at the very least, seeing McKennie being the McKennie we’re used to seeing for much of this season will ease some of the uncertainty that comes with Arthur’s injury absence. We have seen what an in-form McKennie can do for the midfield and what his presence allows the others to do.
But, as most of us can attest, when you’re running on empty, that ability to do the usual things isn’t always possible.
While Andrea Pirlo has dialed down some of the high press that Juventus used so often in the first few months of the season, McKennie getting right again after this bit of rest is going to be crucial over as the big games continue to roll up right and left on the schedule.
How Pirlo approaches this game against a Napoli side that is known to hit teams on the counterattack — just ask Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus if you want a dim and depressing reminder of all that — is going to be one of the more interesting aspects of Saturday night’s game. Will he continue to be more on the defensive side? Or will at least some of the high press make a comeback against an opponent that is going to be far from full strength?
Either way, we know one thing: McKennie is rested, and that could mean a little something like this:
Happened yesterday but just in case you haven’t seen it, here’s Weston McKennie’s chasedown tackle on Ivan Perisic. His engine is unreal pic.twitter.com/YUTfpMWPWH— Future USMNT (@FutureUsmnt) February 10, 2021
That is a lot of ground covered in the span of ... 15 seconds. That’s the McKennie we’ve come to know this season, and one that will continue to show up as long as he’s not dog tired. Managing minutes of every regular starter is going to be important for Pirlo going forward these next couple weeks (and months), but you gotta think that with the way McKennie plays that he’s going to be at the top of the list of ones to watch.
When: Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021
Where: Diego Armando Maradona Stadium, Naples, Italy
Official kickoff time: 6 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 5 p.m. in the United Kingdom;12 p.m. Eastern Time; 9 a.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: RAI Italia North America (United States); RAI Italia North America, TLN (Canada); Premier Sports 1 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Serie A (Italy)
Online/mobile: ESPN+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); Premier Player HD (United Kingdom); Sky Go Italia (Italy)
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.