Juventus enter Tuesday night’s Coppa Italia semifinal in good shape. Not great shape, but good shape. They’ve got a 2-1 lead on aggregate, and both of the goals they scored in the first leg came away from home, so they’ve got a little extra value to them entering this latest Derby d’Italia in the span of a handful of weeks.
For the most part, things are pretty OK. Maybe even better than that as big game after big game continues to come as Andrea Pirlo’s squad rolls on in this month of February.
But, as we know with this season, things can go from good to bad in a hurry.
And when it comes from flipping from good to bad in this instance, it would be Juventus throwing away said 2-1 advantage that they have after the first leg in Milan and seeing their Coppa Italia run suddenly end just when it looked like they would make another final. Juventus don’t need to win Tuesday night.
The good thing in all of this is that Juventus is currently on its best string of results all season. The wins are coming on a consistent level since the Jan. 17 trip to the San Siro where Inter blew the defending Italian champions off the field with not much difficulty. Juventus’ defense, which was all over the place for much of the first half of the season, has posted five clean sheets in its last six games in all competitions and has looked about as solid as it has all year. Besides the the simple results, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about how Juventus is playing right now and just what this good three-week stretch could turn into during the rest of this February gauntlet.
The difference between the first and the second leg — besides the obvious fact that Juventus is up 2-1 on the aggregate scoreline, of course — is that Inter will have two of their biggest offensive weapons back. Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi are back from missing the first leg due to suspension, and their presence alone will be what gives Inter hope of flipping the scoreline in their favor. (Which, if you don’t want to do the math, will have to see them score at least two goals if they want any chance of advancing to the Coppa Italia final.)
Juventus’ defense, no matter who’s playing back there Tuesday night, will probably be tested more in this second leg than they were in the first because Inter know they need to get goals and a good number of them.
The key, of course, will be how Juventus contains Inter’s numbers coming forward.
Will Pirlo play things against Inter like he did against Roma this past weekend?
Or, will Pirlo have his team come out with a fast, up-tempo kind of press and try to put Inter away early before going back into a defensive shell to protect that aggregate lead?
There are plenty of ways for Pirlo to play this, and he’s got the added bonus of knowing that his team has responded fairly well recently to the different approaches and game plans he’s thrown at them. If they do that once again for 90 minutes on Tuesday night, then they’re back in the Coppa Italia final yet again this season.
That would be a continued positive response to what we saw the first time these two teams meet this season now, wouldn’t it?
- The following players enter Tuesday night’s second leg on a yellow card and risk suspension for the Coppa Italia final if Juventus are to advance: Cristiano Ronaldo, Alvaro Morata, Federico Chiesa, Rodrigo Bentancur, Matthijs de Ligt, Merih Demiral, Arthur, Adrien Rabiot, Federico Bernardeschi and Alex Sandro.
- That’s a lot!
- Remember how we were saying on the podcast that Juve’s extremely healthy right now and the depth is being shown off in recent games? Well, that’s not really the case anymore.
- Morata has come down with a stomach flu and is trying to be healthy enough to make the bench.
- Arthur is likely out of Tuesday’s game due to a fever.
- Paulo Dybala, who is obviously not a recent injury, is trying to be healthy enough to make the bench for Tuesday’s game but looks more likely to return for the trip to Naples over the weekend or the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 against Porto.
- As per usual, Gianluigi Buffon will start in goal.
- A sign that Morata won’t start, Pirlo said at his pre-match press conference that Dejan Kulusevski will start against Inter. Maybe that would have been the case even with Morata battling a stomach bug, but it’s definitely more of the case knowing what we know now.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
As Andrea Pirlo has left the door open for the possibility of Giorgio Chiellini playing against Inter on Tuesday night, some kind of squad rotation at the back seems like a certainty knowing just how we’re going on six weeks of Juve’s schedule being this kind of busy.
That means at least one new central defender is likely to step into the lineup. I think we can guess that it will be a certain somebody who is Dutch and has large thighs.
But there will probably be a second one put into the starting lineup. And it will be this guy:
Merih Demiral’s performance in the first leg last week was an eventful one. He was part of the cavalcade of mistakes that led to Inter taking a 1-0 first-half lead. But as the game went on, Demiral’s night turned for the much, much better. There were big tackles, there was a goal line clearance to prevent Inter from scoring again. It was quite the change for the better when you compare it to how things started for the young Turk.
Basically, his performance against Inter was very Demiral-y: some good, some bad, then some really good and impressive. All in all, maybe a little more good than bad.
Whether he’s lining up with Matthijs de Ligt and Giorgio Chiellini or just the former and not the latter as well, Demiral’s got a big task on his hands Tuesday night. The fact that Lukaku will be back means that there’s going to be a whole lot more to worry about as compared to the first leg. And that is not even taking account just how well Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez play off one another and form one of the best strike partnerships in Italy.
Like I said and is generally assumed based on how the first leg finished, Inter needs goals and the fact that they’re going to have more offensive firepower available only adds to the expectation that Antonio Conte will throw numbers forward. The Juve defense, as solid as it has been lately, will be challenged maybe as much as they have been in any single game since the first time they played Inter this season.
As much as having de Ligt (and maybe Chiellini) will help, we’ve seen that a big part of the success defensively in recent weeks has been because the entire unit is playing well. That means, when you apply logic to the line of thinking, that it won’t have to be just de Ligt having a solid game at the back. It will have to be de Ligt, it will have to be Demiral and it will have to be anybody else who is in the starting lineup and trying to slow Lukaku and Martinez down.
And if they do that, then it’s going to be a good night for Juventus. If not, well, you can probably guess how this game might end.
When: Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021
Where: 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: RAI Italia North America (United States); RAI Italia North America (Canada); BT Sport 2 (United Kingdom); RAI Uno (Italy)
Online/mobile: ESPN+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); BTSport.com, BT Sport app (United Kingdom); RAI Play (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.