We have reached the point in the season when Juventus has played more games than they have left remaining, which means the chances to try and do something good and turn things around is continuing to get smaller and smaller. It’s not panic time yet in the race for the top four since Juve’s not even midway through the month of January, but it’s getting close to that time where you’re very much paying attention to what the other teams around you are doing as much as you’re watching your own results.
Juventus’ opponent this weekend, Udinese, is the same squad that they faced in the 2021-22 season opener, one that was rather hopeful considering it was the return of Max Allegri but also complete with a sense of uncertainty based on the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo’s future was very much in the air.
We know how the second part of that played out.
The first one is still working out some things, but certainly not surrounded with the same kind of hope that was there in late-August.
So now as Udinese comes back for the return fixture in Turin, Juventus is very much in a situation where they’re looking to pick themselves off the mat after the last-second loss in extra time to Inter Milan in Wednesday night’s Supercoppa. But with Serie A now back on everybody’s mind, Juventus’ quest to try and figure out some way to get into the top four resumes again. There’s also some help potentially coming Juve’s way, though: Atalanta will face the team that just beat Allegri’s squad for the Supercoppa, Inter, on Sunday night.
That means there’s a very real possibility, barring Atalanta doing something very Atalanta-y and upsetting the current Serie A leaders, of Juventus pulling even on 41 points with La Dea if they were to beat Udinese 24 hours earlier.
That’s the key, though, right? Actually beating Udinese, something that didn’t happen to open the 2021-22 season back at the Dacia Arena.
Juventus, though, is a very different team than the one we saw in Udine nearly five months ago. There’s obviously no Ronaldo, as the rumors that were swirling entering the season opener turned out to be completely on the money. There’s also no Federico Chiesa, who is now a week into the uncertainty that comes with major knee injuries like the one he suffered in the crazy 4-3 comeback win over Roma last Sunday.
And, maybe most noticeable as both of those, Juve’s still very much a team that is far from what you would even consider one of the best in Italy. To borrow a line from my friend and fellow BWRAO writer Sergio Romero: I still don’t really know what this team is.
Of course when we start talking about how things have stabilized defensively Juve go out and allow three goals to Roma and then allow a game-winner in the fashion they did to Inter earlier in the week. Even with the Roma game being what is was, Juve’s defensive record of 21 goals allowed is still fourth-best in the league.
So when you consider that Udinese has scored 28 goals in 19 games — and we all know how a couple of those happened — the odds should be in Juventus’ favor.
But after playing 120 minutes with the kind of intensity that Juve played them at and then having things end in that kind of fashion all of a few days ago, who knows what kind of shape this team is going to be in Saturday night. They could be the Angry Juventus we’ve seen after a disappointing loss, or they could very well just slog through another game against a team in the bottom third of the table and try to grind out a win.
It’s anybody’s guess at this point — which, for many, is something that has been said way too many times this season already.
- Federico Chiesa out for the season after suffering a knee injury last weekend.
- Aaron Ramsey is still out due to testing positive for COVID-19.
- As Max Allegri stated at his pre-match press conference, Leonardo Bonucci has suffered a setback in his return from injury and will be out until after the upcoming international break.
- Despite returning to full training, Allegri said Danilo is still not 100 percent ready.
- Giorgio Chiellini will be rested against Udinese, per Allegri, meaning it will be Matthijs de Ligt — who missed the Supercoppa due to suspension — and Daniele Rugani in the center of defense Saturday night.
- Juan Cuadrado will also return from suspension after missing the Supercoppa.
- Wojciech Szczesny will be back in goal after “resting” against Inter in the Supercoppa because of his late Green Pass verification.
- Luca Pellegini, who has not appeared in 2022, “could start,” according to Allegri.
- Saturday’s game will be Allegri’s 300th appearance as Juventus’ manager in all competitions.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
Grab your wizard’s hat.
Get your magic wand.
Behold, it’s the dude who ran more than you did on Wednesday night.
Max Allegri, as he is want to do sometimes, heaped some praise on Weston McKennie during his pre-match press conference on Friday. “Weston McKennie covered 16 kms on Wednesday. He is invigorated and has improved, just like the rest of the team,” Allegri said. “We can’t let the pace drop in matches no matter the opposition.”
Sixteen kilometers. SIXTEEN!
For those of you who work in miles, that converts out to nearly 10 miles that McKennie ran during his 120 minutes against Inter in the Supercoppa. That is, I feel safe in saying, almost 10 more miles than I have ran in this calendar year. (I prefer walks around my neighborhood, don’t judge me.) And knowing how it felt like McKennie was everywhere Wednesday night, I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise to see that he finished with that much ground covered.
The twist in all of this is that McKennie was very much not playing in a natural central midfield position for a good portion of the game. And, if you believe some of the Italian media outlets and their predicted lineups, that could very well be the same case Saturday night.
Obviously, without his best winger available and some other players — most notably Federico Bernardeschi — in need of some rest, Allegri is having to get creative (again) because things aren’t exactly great depth-wise up front (again).
No matter where he plays, though, there’s no denying that McKennie is one of Juventus’ most in-form players at the moment. And for good things to happen to a Juve midfielder, that’s not exactly something we’ve been able to say much over the last couple of years.
When: Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022.
When: 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 1 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport 251, Sky Sport Uno, Sky Sport 4K, Sky Sport Calcio (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.