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What to watch for in Juventus’ first friendly of the summer

Max Allegri doesn’t have anything close to a full squad available, but his new Juventus is about to (unofficially) debut Saturday.

Juventus Training Session Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

You don’t need to look far to figure out just how different this summer is from the one 12 months ago.

At this point on the calendar last year, Maurizio Sarri was still Juventus’ manager. And not only that, but Juve were still playing games, with a ninth consecutive Scudetto nearly secured and a Champions League showdown with Lyon still to be played in a couple of weeks. (Let’s not talk about that last part.) Since that point in time one year ago, Juventus has fired Sarri and hired his replacement, then fired Sarri’s replacement, Andrea Pirlo, and brought back Max Allegri, and seen said Scudetto streak come to an end after a roller coaster ride of a 2020-21 season under Pirlo.

Thankfully, unlike Pirlo, we will have more than one friendly to gauge what things look like for Allegri and Juventus entering the 2021-22 season. For the next three weekends, we will have a Juventus game to watch again, with Juve’s friendly schedule coming into focus within the last few days. The first of those friendlies, albeit with limited numbers as a result of post-Euro 2020 and Copa America holidays, takes place Saturday evening at 6 p.m. local time (18:00 CEST) at Juventus Training Center when Allegri’s Juve faces Serie C side Cesena. (Ah, Cesena, you bring back such wonderful memories.)

While Juventus’ friendlies later on this preseason will be a lot more indicative as to what Allegri will do simply because of who’s playing in them, this will be a lot like Pirlo’s first friendly last summer in the fact that there’s a simple curiosity as to what he’s bringing to the table. Even though Juventus’ current manager is a lot more of a proven commodity than the guy he replaced, this is still the first time we’ll be seeing Version 2.0 and trying to see if there’s any differences between the first go-around with Allegri.

What are a few things to pay attention to during Saturday’s friendly? Glad you asked.

1) Does Paulo Dybala actually play?

I will totally understand if Allegri chooses not to play Dybala in this game. It’s still super early in the preseason, Dybala has been dealing with a minor muscle injury the last couple of days as we’ve been told earlier in the week, and I was very much preparing this section to be about him not playing .... until I saw a certain fella with red Adidas boots on about 15 seconds — and a few times after that — into Friday’s video recap of training.

Well, I guess Mr. Dybala is feeling a little better! At least good enough to have Max yelling things at him again — which, I’m guessing, is just pretty much par for the course if you watch the entire video above.

Maybe Dybala actually plays. Maybe he doesn’t. Knowing that he is one of the few players within this current preseason training roster that we actually care a lot about — no offense to Daniele Rugani or Mattia De Sciglio, but you know how it goes — watching him at least get a little bit of a run out would be reason enough to watch. (My man looks like he’s in shape!)

But if Allegri decides that, after what has happened over the last couple of days, that this isn’t the time to give Dybala a little bit of playing time, it’s totally understandable. There’s so much more time to prepare this summer as compared to last, so there’s no reason to rush anything at this point in time. A friendly against Cesena on July 24 is not the time to see if Dybala’s injury can withstand a game-like situation. There’s time to rest him, and that’s what should be done if he’s not ready to roll.

If he is ready to play some minutes, though ... watching Dybala as he’s dancing on a Serie C defense — that sounds fun!

2) Nicolo Fagioli’s role

Ah, one of the Under-23 squad players that we actually want to see.

Now we’re talking, folks.

Fagioli is one of the few academy and/or Under-23 team graduates who seem to have a legitimate shot to get the full-time promotion to Juventus’ senior squad this season. (You gotta think Radu Dragusin might be another if he isn’t heading to Sassuolo in a Manuel Locatelli deal.) And that might have even been before Arthur was forced to undergo surgery less than a week into the preseason because of his now-fixed knee injury.

We know Allegri is a big fan of Fagioli, and he was always going to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of preseason training starting at a more regular time this summer just for the simple fact that so many other midfielders were going to be missing the first couple of weeks of preseason preparations at the very minimum. Then you throw in Arthur’s injury and you have a prime opportunity for Juventus to give Fagioli a spot with the senior team but a role that obviously will not put too much on his shoulders by any means.

While one game won’t totally tell us what Allegri has in store for the young Italian or anything close to it, seeing Fagioli out there for however long he plays will be quite the refreshing sight even if it’s come about because so many guys aren’t in Turin at the moment.

3) Weston McKennie’s overall mobility and explosiveness

It always annoys me when people criticize a player for a dip in form yet those same people always fail to mention that a very important injury contributed to said dip in form.

(What do you mean “YOU PEOPLE?!”)

McKennie was really good in the first half of the 2020-21 season, and on a team that was completely unpredictable he was arguably the biggest surprise for the better. Then a hip injury derailed his form, and even though he tried to play through it the McKennie was saw in the first half of the season was definitely not the one we saw in February, March and April.

The good thing is that outside of his participation in the CONCACAF Nations League immediately after Juventus’ season ended, McKennie’s summer hasn’t been all that busy at all. And that’s not just when compared to a lot of his Juve teammates. He’s been able to rest up and get back to 100 percent fitness again after trying to grit his way through the aforementioned hip injury.

Almost as important: McKennie has been one of the few first team regulars that has been training with Allegri from the beginning of preseason, which means he’s been able to get coached up much in the same fashion as Fagioli while others are away.

What McKennie’s role might be under Allegri is one of the most-asked about things when we ask for Twitter question to bring up on the podcast. And while a lot of Juve’s other main midfielders aren’t around, this friendly might give us at least a slight idea as to what Allegri has in mind for everybody’s favorite Texan at Juventus.

Juventus Training Session Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

4) Totally overreacting to Allegri’s tactics and formation(s)

This is probably the part that will, both during the game itself and in the first few minutes after the final whistle, be examined way too much than it should be considering who will be playing.

Reminder: This is not anything close to the Juventus squad Allegri will be working with come the first game of the 2021-22 season next month in Udine. You will likely be able to count on one hand how many players who start Saturday against Cesena will start against Udinese in a few weeks. So many projected starters are still on holiday it’s crazy.

And yet, I’m just sitting here waiting for the crazy talk when it comes to what Allegri does.

At the same time, though, maybe Allegri gives a small glimpse into what he’s thinking. Maybe. I don’t know. I mean, the man hasn’t even talked to the press yet and he’s been conducting preseason training sessions for nearly two weeks now. Maybe it’s Fagioli as a regista, McKennie in an advanced role and making the same kind of runs he did when he was one of Juve’s best players last November and December or Luca Pellegrini is given some run at left-back.

Who knows what will happen. It’s a friendly. In late July. With the vast majority of the regular starting lineup still on holiday. There’s only so much Allegri will be able to do with a squad full of fringe and Under-23 players.

Either way, this is a first glimpse into Version 2.0, so at least we have that to overreact about.

5) Mattia Perin — the new No. 2 behind Wojciech Szczesny?

As rumors as to who Juventus’ backup goalkeeper might be go completely silent and potentially out of the multitude of things to think about this summer, Mattia Perin could very well get the start in goal as Wojciech Szczesny is just back from his post-Euro holiday.

Perin has said to be wanting the chance to start, which obviously isn’t going to initially happen at Juventus this season. But, at the same time, Allegri reportedly wants to keep Perin around as Szczesny’s backup this season, with Carlo Pinsoglio obviously keeping a hold of the No. 3 keeper spot.

As much as we enjoy Pinso time around here, this is more a case of wanting to see how Perin plays and how he handles the fact that he will be working with a very not-first choice defense in front of him against Cesena.

Maybe Perin does end up leaving this summer and all of this will be a moot point in a few weeks, but seeing the 28-year-old Italian stay in Turin does seem like it’s a possibility. So, as he gets ready to take the field as a Juventus player once again, we might as well keep an eye on how he plays before Tek steps back into the goal with the No. 1 jersey on his back.

Juventus Training Session Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

MATCH INFO

Who: Juventus vs. Cesena

When: Saturday, July 24, 2021

Where: Juventus Training Center, Turin, Italy

Official kickoff time: 5 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: Sky Sport Uno (Italy)

Online/mobile: Juventus TV (subscription-only; available after midnight in Italy); 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.