I started putting together the plan for this preview a couple of days ago. It’s safe to say that since that plan has been mapped out in my head, it has basically been blown up and then reassembled and then blown up again multiple times.
That is just the Juventus world we are currently living in.
A long and somewhat laborious summer has seen the final days of the transfer window go absolutely bonkers. As I write this sentence, there’s probably another set of rumors flying about who Juventus might sign over the course of the next couple of days. And that’s because Juventus’ club-record signing, Cristiano Ronaldo, is no longer a Juventus player, with Friday’s news that he is joining Manchester United capping a wild 24-hour period that saw him linked with both sides of Manchester’s footballing world before ultimately going back to Old Trafford.
So, suddenly, the question of “Will Ronaldo stay?” has been answered.
It now turns into “How will Juventus look like post-Ronaldo?” over the next few weeks.
We will get the first 90 minutes worth of a sample size when Juventus opens up the home portion of its schedule when Empoli rolls into Turin Saturday night. It’s the first time the two clubs have faced one another since March 2019 after Empoli got relegated following the completion of the 2018-19 season, which just so happened to be Ronaldo’s first year with Juventus and what proved to be one of the final months of Max Allegri’s first stint at Juve.
(Who scored the game-winning goal in that 1-0 win over Empoli, you might wonder? It would be the guy who is being heavily linked with a move back to Juventus — one Moise Kean.)
The timing of when the Ronaldo move going down just adds an extra layer of interest when you put it on top of how Juventus’ season began last weekend. Ronaldo is gone, and is something we know for sure. What Juve will look like both because of their highest-profile player leaving is one thing, but how they will bounce back after dropping points in a game they shouldn’t have dropped points in is another. (I feel like I could have just copy and pasted that second part from many of these match previews from last season, for the record.) Juventus are still very much a work in progress, and they are far from full strength knowing that there are still players out injured or still working their way into the squad because they’re still so new like Manual Locatelli.
Nobody is feeling sorry for Allegri because he doesn’t have half of his midfield available to him for this Empoli matchup or that his team is coming off a disappointing season-opening result. At this point, it’s become the norm to see options limited in the midfield, right?
But with the options that are available to him, Allegri will have to at least get a little creative. Sometimes, that’s the kind of situation where he has some of his best work. We haven’t necessarily seen it with this group yet, but we’ve got plenty of examples of what Allegri has done in the past to try and make some lemonade out of something that might not always resemble a ripe lemon.
With big fixtures coming after the upcoming international break, just how Allegri sets things up might — and, let me put the emphasis on the “might” aspect of it — give us a clue of what things will look like when the likes of Napoli, Milan and the start of the Champions League group stage shows up on the schedule in September.
And it will come with thousands of fans back in the Allianz Stadium fans for the first time in so, so, so many months. That’s how I wanted to begin this match preview when I first started all of this. Then all hell broke loose. As you can tell, the craziness has won out. Now that the craziness seems to be mostly over with, let’s do what we’re here to do — get ready to play a game again.
- Cristiano Ronaldo is not a Juventus player after agreeing to return to Manchester United. Even if Ronaldo hadn’t secured his move away from Juventus before the weekend arrived, Max Allegri said at his pre-match press conference that Ronaldo was not going to be called up for the Empoli match.
- Aaron Ramsey is injured again. Seriously.
- Arthur is still out injured.
- Kaio Jorge, as what feels like weeks ago even thought it was at the beginning of the week, is looking at potentially a month out due to a muscle injury he suffered in training.
- Adrien Rabiot, however, is back after missing last weekend’s season opener due to injury.
- Same goes for Weston McKennie after he was suspended for last weekend’s opener due to yellow card accumulation that carried over from last season.
- Allegri, meanwhile, had some very nice things to say about McKennie at his pre-match press conference: “He doesn’t have to leave. He has goals in his legs. He must improve: he’s an attacking player and we are in very good shape in this department.”
- With the injuries in the midfield and Rabiot just back from nearly a month out, the Italian press is tipping Danilo to start in the holding midfield spot against Empoli.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
Well, let’s see here.
Who was easily Juventus’ worst performer in last weekend’s season opener? That would be the guy is going to be starting in goal once again this weekend.
The week has been a complete whirlwind, but it began with a lot of talk of just where Szczesny’s form currently is. The second half of last season was full of up and down performances, with mistakes leading to goals and subsequently Juventus dropping points. That’s exactly how last Sunday’s 2021-22 season opener played out as well, with Szczesny being the No. 1 reason as to why Udinese was able to erase a 2-0 halftime deficit and pull even to steal a couple of points in a game Juve dominated in the first half.
Now comes an incredibly important moment for Szczesny.
Do the mistakes — both physical and mental — linger for another week?
Or, as he’s done in the past, does Szczesny bounce back and play well?
The key, obviously, is preventing the mistakes from happening on a consistent basis. There were times last spring where it looked like he might snap out of it with a good performance or two, only to fall back into the same funk that he was in a few weeks earlier. That’s not how you re-establish the faith in people who have been watching you through the good times.
And, as we know, it’s not like the goalkeeping GOAT is sitting on Juve’s bench as Szczesny’s backup anymore. Unfortunately, as feel-good as a story as it is, San Gigi is in Parma again looking to get the club he grew up at back to Serie A.
That’s not meant to be a shot at Mattia Perin, but Szczesny is still very much Juventus’ starting goalkeeper. Max Allegri backed him even after the game-changing mistakes against Udinese. His manager has faith in him, and that is likely to remain the same for at least the time being.
But if those struggles like the ones that we saw against Udinese continue to take place and are more than just sprinkled in here and there over the next month or two, then Perin’s going to have to be ready because Szczesny’s standing as Juve’s starter is bound to take a hit at the very least. And if that happens ... then, whoa boy, I don’t want to imagine what that might be like.
When: Saturday, Aug. 28, 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: BT Sport 2 (United Kingdom)
Online/mobile: Paramount+ (United States); BTSport.com, BT Sport app (United Kingdom); DAZN (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.