Let’s go on a little trip, OK?
It’s time to fire up the DeLorean and do our best Doc Brown imitation. We set the clock to go into the past to the final Sunday of September 2020. Juventus, fresh of their first win of the Andrea Pirlo era, took a trip over to Rome for the first big game of the 2020-21 season. It was there where Roma, a team that has proven to be an interesting matchup over the last handful of years, was the opponent
Final score: 2-2 in a game that Juventus wasn’t very good in but also battled back to claim a point in a game where coming away with nothing looked like a definitive possibility.
Now, as we roll into the first weekend of February, Roma are back on the schedule, this time making the trip to Turin for a Saturday evening showdown between the third- and fourth-placed teams currently in Serie A. What we’ve seen transpire between then and now is, as we’ve been saying for weeks now, is the kind of Scudetto race we haven’t seen in years, if not a decade or two. There isn’t just two or three players in the race. Juventus, seven points back from league leaders AC Milan, enters the weekend in fourth place — and that’s not necessarily being viewed as the cutoff in terms of who’s in play. The closest team to Juve in the standings? That would be Roma — which makes this Saturday evening showdown in Turin important for multiple reasons.
Not only would Juventus have the chance to leapfrog Roma in the standings with a win, but there’s also the fact that Inter beat Fiorentina on Friday night to momentarily take over the Serie A lead with Milan playing Sunday. So not only could the pressure be on Milan to get a result against Crotone — yeah, that Crotone! — because Inter is now ahead of them in the standings, but seeing either Roma or Juventus closer to them in the standings is just that much more pressure on the leader of the pack.
But, there’s obviously the matter of beating Roma first and foremost.
As we discussed with our buddy Bren, the mastermind behind all things Roma at Chiesa di Totti, it’s very much an unsettled time in the Italian capital even though they’re currently sitting in third place. Paulo Fonseca’s position as manager is anything but secure. Their captain entering the season (and former Juve transfer target) Edin Dzeko is no longer their captain. And, as a lot of Fonseca’s teams have proven to be, they can be very dangerous offensively but lack the chops on defense to consistently challenge against the top teams in the league.
Simply because of this being four months after they first played, Juventus is much more of a sculpted team in Andrea Pirlo’s vision as compared to the first game against Roma. We’re officially past the midway point in the season rather than having 90 official minutes against Sampdoria to go off of when it comes to Juve’s first-year manager. Juventus has taken their early-season lumps and struggled against teams they shouldn’t have struggled against. But, recently, things are getting better. Juventus has won five games in all competitions since they were dismantled by Antonio Conte and Inter at the San Siro three weeks ago.
That five-game run of wins is the longest streak we’ve seen since Pirlo took over. And while it hasn’t all been pretty or had us wowing at the TV screen as we watch Juve play, the team is getting results during a time where they need to continue to win no matter if it’s in Serie A or the Coppa Italia (and hopefully soon in the Champions League).
Even though Roma is doing classic Roma things, they’re still the latest opponent in this gauntlet of a month of February that will be a test of what Pirlo’s Juventus is all about. Same will go for the next game. And then the next game. And pretty much every game over the next three weeks. January was tough, but February is looking to be even more daunting.
But if Juve start February like they ended January, that sounds like a good proposition.
- Rodrigo Bentancur will miss this game due to yellow card accumulation.
- Paulo Dybala will miss this game due to the knee injury that last saw him play since Jan. 10.
- Included in Thursday’s training recap on Juventus’ official website was the piece of information that Dybala and Aaron Ramsey underwent their own individual training sessions.
- Pirlo said during his pre-match press conference that Dybala is still working on his own following Friday’s training session. The first-year manager added that Ramsey is back with the group, “but still not 100 percent.” We’ll have to wait for the squad list to be released Saturday morning to see if Ramsey will be called up or not.
- Both La Gazzetta dello Sport and Sky Sport Italia’s Gianluca Di Marzio are predicting that Giorgio Chiellini will get the start over Matthijs de Ligt in defense. (Yes, both are also saying Leonardo Bonucci will start the Roma game over de Ligt if that’s how you prefer this be worded.)
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
A few months ago, the “Who will be play as Juventus’ deep-lying midfielder” was still very much up in the air. Rodrigo Bentancur’s form was in the tank, while Juve’s most expensive signing from over the summer was struggling to find his footing at his brand new club.
Fast forward to these early days of February, and there’s no question anymore.
Arthur has, in relatively quick order, become one of Juventus’ most important players. Could we have said that a month ago? I dunno. What about two months ago? Not really, seeing as he was still very much a part-time start at best who was still trying to adapt to what Andrea Pirlo wants from the diminutive Brazilian.
But over these last couple of weeks — and especially since the loss to Inter last month — Arthur’s role has gone from work-in-progress to essentially a must-start player.
With the kind of player he came to Turin as and what team he was coming from, thinking Arthur would come right in and establish himself might have been too much to ask. There was only so much of the Barcelona ways of yesteryear that Pirlo had to hammer out of him and make him the kind of midfielder that Juventus needed him to be.
These last couple of weeks have shown that Arthur can be a key contributor. They’ve also shown that he is starting to really grasp onto what Pirlo wants. He’s no longer just shuffling the ball from one player to the next with short passes galore filling up the stat sheet and that’s it. His passing has been more direct and he’s shown a different kind of bite to his game that we hadn’t seen in the first three or four months of the season.
Roma will be without their best midfielder (and new captain) Lorenzo Pellegrini this weekend, which could make things interesting for Juventus’ opponents Saturday night. But, if Juve’s midfield plays like it has been for a large part of this three-week stretch where they’ve rattled off five straight wins since losing to Inter last month, then good things could very well happen once again. And if good things happen, there’s a sizeable chance that Arthur will be in the middle of it. Small circles as he spins out of tackles and all.
When: Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, 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, Sky Sport 251 (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.