The first time Juventus faced Lazio this season, it was the kind of result that we knew they should have done better. It was also the kind of result that, no matter how frustrating it was at the time, that we hoped Juventus would be over and done with when the second of the two meetings came back around on the schedule.
That second fixture is now here.
Juventus, however, is still very much a team that is battling those inconsistent ways that we saw at the Stadio Olimpico back in early November.
In the latest game that can be viewed as decisive when it comes to Juve’s slim Scudetto hopes, it’s that same Lazio side that stole a point from Juventus five months ago. This time, with Andrea Pirlo’s squad still trying to stay afloat due to injuries all over the place, Juventus will try to avoid another scenario of falling further behind the two Milan sides a round after they didn’t lose any ground.
It’s a case of where any hope of contention beyond the current round of fixtures depends on that day’s result. And for Juventus, who will again be slim on senior-team options off the bench this weekend, it’s all about just holding out hope, trying to get wins consistently and hoping somebody in front of them stumbles.
If this game took place a couple of weeks ago, we could have said that Lazio was one of the most in-form teams in Serie A. Then a loss to league leaders Inter Milan. Then a loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. And then a completely unexpected 2-0 loss to Bologna to end the month of January.
The difference between Lazio and Juventus, though, is an obvious one: The nine-time defending champions, with all of their injuries basically preventing Pirlo from rotating his squad, is a tired bunch. Lazio, on the other hand, hasn’t played since the loss to Bologna on Jan. 27 after their match against Torino that was supposed to be played earlier this week was postponed due to COVID-19 protocols.
So, one team is rested. The other isn’t.
And it just so happens that the team that isn’t rested (or anything close to it) is about as shorthanded and limited on options as they have been all season — which is saying something based on what we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks when it comes to injuries and other absences. Oh, and they’ve got an even bigger game on the horizon midweek in the Champions League.
This would be a big game no matter if Juventus was sitting in first place or tied for third on 49 points with Atalanta like they are now. It’s an even bigger game when you consider that there’s all of a six-point difference between Juve and Atalanta in third and Lazio in seventh. This isn’t just about, at worst, keeping pace those in front of Juventus. It’s also making sure that the logjam for a European spot doesn’t become even more crowded.
Oh, and not screwing up a couple of days before a massive European fixture.
No pressure, guys.
- Rodrigo Bentancur is out for an unknown period of time after testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.
- Arthur is still out injured. He is, however, “feeling less pain,” according to Andrea Pirlo.
- Paulo Dybala is still out injured.
- Giorgio Chiellini is still out injured.
- Matthijs de Ligt, after having to be pulled out of the starting lineup against Spezia, still has yet to return to training, according to Pirlo.
- Leonardo Bonucci is still only partially training with the group, according to Pirlo.
- Pirlo says Alvaro Morata “is feeling better,” but didn’t sound convinced that he can handle a heavy workload right now as he continues to recover from a non-COVID-19 virus issue.
- On a good injury note: Juan Cuadrado is expected to return to the starting lineup after missing the last couple of weeks due to a hamstring injury.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
When you have so few healthy midfielders available and you’re facing one of the best and most complete midfields in Serie A, it’s only natural that we focus on what will be going down in the center of the park. At least that’s what I think.
So, with that being said, let me say this: Bonjour, Adrien!
Pirlo has three senior team midfielders available to him for Lazio’s trip to Turin. (Make it four if you consider Nicolo Fagioli a full-on member of the senior squad these days.) One of them, Weston McKennie, is currently battling a hip injury. Another one, Aaron Ramsey, is so hit-and-miss these days that it’s hard to know what you’re getting from him half to half, let alone game to game. Neither of those two midfielders are ones that you would expect Pirlo to play in the center of the midfield three if it is a 3-5-2 he goes with Saturday night. That means Rabiot, who is far from a creative midfielder, could be the one tasked with trying to sit in front of the defense and do a makeshift regista job.
Or maybe that’s the case in theory.
Execution, mind you, is a totally different thing.
Rabiot’s form has been OK of late, but nothing all that close to how he was playing during the restart last summer when he was one of Juve’s best players. But when you see who he’s lining up against and how that midfield is going to be, on paper, the better of the two units, Rabiot’s importance is going to be crucial on both ends.
Knowing who’s available defensively, Rabiot will have to provide cover and recover balls when Lazio attack.
And even when he’s not recovering balls, he will have to be the outlet that tries to get Juventus going on offense.
There’s a lot to like about Rabiot when he’s in-form and playing well. Those galloping runs forward are something that not a lot of Juve’s other midfielders can provide. But his role against Lazio on Saturday night might be a different one than we’re accustomed to seeing him in. That’s just the nature of the situation that Pirlo is dealing with as he awaits Bentancur and Arthur to come back into the fold.
When: Saturday, March 6, 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: TLN (Canada); FreeSports TV UK (United Kingdom)
Online/mobile: ESPN+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); DAZN, 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.