Nearly two weeks ago, we saw one of those games from Juventus.
You know, one of those games where the entire squad, no matter who comes on, doesn’t exactly do much of anything right. One of those games where the collective, despite its talent level, looks like it has no clue what to do right and does so much more wrong in comparison. And, as we’ve unfortunately become accustomed to over the last couple of years, it was one of those games where Juventus had no business dropping points ... and yet they ended up dropping points.
We are almost two full weeks removed from Juventus’ 1-0 loss to Empoli. Because of that result, as well as the one before it against Udinese, Max Allegri has all of one point to his squad’s name in his first two games back as Juventus manager.
Good thing Juve’s got it easy coming out of the international break, right?
Narrator’s voice: They don’t.
Juventus, a team that is both not playing well to begin the 2021-22 season and will be incredibly shorthanded due to a variety of circumstances, heads to Naples for what is easily the biggest game of the extremely young campaign. It’s a big game because playing Napoli, no matter the point in the season or in the domestic competition, is always going to be a big game. But then you throw in the added “bonus” of how Juventus has started this season and just what the next week or two fixtures look like, and you’ve got an important game that suddenly became even more crucial to try and turn this one-point-in-two-games start around in a hurry.
Saturday night’s game at the stadium formerly known as the San Paolo has suddenly become a must-win kind of situation all of three Serie A matches into the season. It comes at a time where Max Allegri’s tactics have come under fire, the league’s leading goal scorer is no longer on Juve’s roster and is back in England for the first time in over a decade and the overall confidence in the club to turn this thing around in a hurry certainly isn’t what you would call “fruitful.”
Or anything close to it, really.
So when you factor in how Juventus has played in its first two games of the season, the fact that five or six likely starters aren’t even called up for the game and Allegri is essentially scrambling to try and find the right mix entering such a big game, things are from ideal. FAR, FAR, FAR from ideal. But here we are, with a Juventus side in desperate need of points yet incredibly shorthanded looking to get a win over a Napoli side that has looked relatively solid through its first two games of the new season.
Napoli, for the most part, has its entire squad available,
Juventus, as we know, is definitely in the opposite kind of situation.
Allegri finds himself in a situation where his choices are limited in a game that surely he wishes he could have the likes of Dybala, Cuadrado and the rest of the South American contingent. We sure as hell know Allegri wishes that he didn’t have to make the choice between playing Federico Chiesa and leaving him at home back in Turin because of the slight muscle injury he picked up during the international break. Rather than being forced into playing certain players, Allegri would most definitely want to have options aplenty and actually have the freedom to make certain starting lineup choices.
But that’s not the case. And because of it, Juventus enters this must-win kind of situation without half of its starting lineup, both starting fullbacks and their No. 10.
That’s not what you want to see with such a crucial fixture next up on the schedule.
And despite it being Matchday 3 of the 2021-22 season, it is very much a crucial fixture because of the situation Allegri and Juventus are trying to avoid. Lose this game and you’ve got one point through the first three games, will fall further behind the rest of the pack no matter how early it is and go into next weekend’s showdown with AC Milan knowing you could still be stuck on one point as you hit the last couple of Serie A fixtures in September.
This is all stacking up to be a Juventus-as-an-underdog kind of weekend. Maybe that proves to be the thing that kicks this team in the backside and they do something good for the first time since that first half against Udinese in the season opener last month. Maybe it ends up being a continuation of what we’ve seen for much of the season to date.
Either way, this might be one of the most important games in the third weekend of the season that we’ve seen in a few years, if not longer. If only more Juventus players could have actually had the chance to play ...
- Juventus will be without its best player in Federico Chiesa because of precautionary measures after he underwent scans on his injured hamstring earlier in the week.
- Juventus will be without its five South Americans — Paulo Dybala, Juan Cuadrado, Rodrigo Bentancur, Alex Sandro and Danilo — because they were still in their respective home countries Thursday thanks to COMMEBOL World Cup qualifying. Additionally, Cuadrado has been diagnosed with gastroenteritis, according to Allegri at his pre-match press conference on Friday.
- Arthur is also out with his long-term injury. He will potentially return to training with the group in October, according to Allegri at Friday’s pre-match press conference.
- Kaio Jorge is also still out injured.
- Koni De Winter, Matias Soulé and Fabio Miretti have been called up from the Under-23 squad to give Allegri more than just a couple of players to have on the bench.
- Something everybody is happy to hear: Aaron Ramsey is back from injury and has been called up for the trip to Naples.
- The only two natural fullbacks called up for the Napoli showdown: Mattia De Sciglio and Luca Pellegrini. That seems less than ideal, doesn’t it?
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
There are so many holes that need to be filled in the starting lineup that has actually make this section a little more challenging than usual.
I could name a certain Spaniard who is likely to lead the line Saturday night. I can name either one of those two fullbacks who don’t necessarily inspire a whole lot of confidence in comparison with the players that they could possibly be replacing.
But let’s talk Loca.
Let’s talk Manuel Locatelli.
Juventus’ midfield has crying out of player of Locatelli’s ilk for years now. There have been players signed, players experimented in the kind of role that Locatelli plays and players have, let’s face it, failed in that kind of position. It was why signing Locatelli was so important this summer, and why getting him up to speed in a hurry is so crucial for Juventus’ success.
But even though he’s been out on international duty — and playing quite well in an Italy jersey, I might add — this is a time where Juventus desperately need Locatelli to settle in and be the player they have envisioned him to be when they had all of those meetings with Sassuolo during the summer transfer window.
Obviously these first couple of games of Locatelli’s Juventus career have been ones where Allegri has slow-played things and brought the 23-year-old Italian along slowly. But with the kind of situation Juve is currently in, there’s no longer the room for error to bring Locatelli along slowly. Locatelli needs to be in the starting lineup, and he will need to be on that Italy kind of form if Juventus wants any chance of coming away with three points — or even one — against Napoli this weekend.
Knowing who’s missing, even if Locatelli does play well it won’t necessarily mean Juventus does win or get a point Saturday night. But having him in the lineup is the first step in trying to get this team back on track. And hopefully, with Locatelli pulling the strings in the midfield, things will start to fall into place as Allegri tries to get this team’s identity established over the next couple of weeks.
When: Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021
Where: Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, Naples, 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: BT Sport 3 (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.