The early rounds of the Coppa Italia are always a weird time.
Well, I say “early rounds” a little flippantly, because almost all of the teams in the Coppa, including Juventus’ opponent in the round of 16, Sampdoria, have already played two or three games before Serie A’s top eight teams jump into the fray at this stage. Still, even those clubs tend to treat these rounds as reserve games. Second-team players will often clash with each other at this point, with main starters sometimes coming on later if the need arises for either attack or defense.
This is even more apparent in big clubs, who often don’t play their top players until the semifinals. Last year, Juve played the second string in each of their first two games, even more so in the quarterfinal when Serie B side SPAL made a surprise run into the final eight, giving Under-23 players like Nicolo Fagioli a chance to shine. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t see the field until the semis, and of course the Coppa is always traditionally the domain of the backup goalkeeper at Juve as well.
That sometimes makes these games a little bit less predictable, although the the favorites are still there for a reason.
Going into Tuesday’s game, Juve will likely deploy a few more regulars than usual due to depth problems. With Leonardo Bonucci out until next month and Matthijs de Ligt suspended due to yellow card accumulation in last year’s tournament, Giorgio Chiellini will have to play in the center of defense, while injuries to Danilo and Federico Chiesa might force Juan Cuadrado into the lineup at either fullback or winger.
Samp, meanwhile, are coming into this game in disarray. They’re winless in their last five league games and have lost their last three, dropping them into 16th place, only four points above the drop zone. The freefall cost coach Roberto D’Aversa his job on Monday, with reports that former coach Marco Giampaolo is in talks to take over again. Giampaolo turned himself into something of a rising star during his three years helming the Blucerchiati, but successive unsuccessful spells at AC Milan and Torino have seen him come back down to earth with a resounding thud.
As nice as it would probably be to face a coach who hasn’t made it more than half a season at each of his last two destinations, he’s unlikely to sign his contract in time to play, so either Angelo Palombo, a member of D’Aversa’s staff, or Felice Tufano, Samp’s primavera coach, could be at the helm. As of the time of writing that decision hasn’t been made.
That’s all to say it’s close to impossible to figure out just what Samp might bring to the table in this game. But it’s not like they don’t have the ability to kick the Old Lady in the shins. They have a bunch of veteran attackers who know how to score goals. Former Juve prospect Manolo Gabbiadini shares the team lead in goals this season (six) with Antonio Candreva, who himself has five assists. Francesco Caputo is two years off a 20-goal season, and while he’s not potting goals at the rate he was several seasons ago, Fabio Quagliarella is a fine wine of a striker who we all know can still pull the extraordinary out of absolutely nothing.
The problem for the Ligurians is their defense. They’re the fifth-worst team in the league this season, and their two top center-backs, Maya Yoshida and Omar Colley, are unavailable, the former due to injury and the latter due to his participation in the Africa Cup of Nations. That could well see Juve loanee Radu Dragusin get to show off for his parent club in this game, but whoever takes charge in Samp’s dugout will be scraping the bottom of the barrel defensively, so much so that even Juve’s second-line attackers should — emphasis on should, because as Sergio has said many times this year, this team can beat any team as easily as they could contrive to lose to them—have a relatively easy time getting through them.
Juve should be the solid favorites in this game. But in one-off cup games anything can happen — remember how Juve managed to blow a 2-0 lead and end up needing a last-second goal in extra time from Hamza Raifa in order to advance past this stage last year.
- Danilo likely remains out, though he is considered close to a return.
- Bonucci remains out until after the international break with a thigh injury.
- Aaron Ramsey is still listed as both injured AND a COVID positive, although he’s as likely to have been a healthy scratch anyways.
- As noted above, de Ligt is suspended after crossing the suspension threshold for yellow cards in the final against Atalanta in May. For the record, the threshold is two and the Coppa doesn’t wipe the slate clean, so players will have to be careful to avoid bans in big games later on in the competition.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
When Federico Chiesa tore his ACL against Roma, it was Dejan Kulusevski who came on to replace him.
Chiesa’s injury fundamentally changed the conversation around the redheaded Swede. Before he went down, there was serious reporting that Kulusevski could be sold this month to try to raise money for other reinforcements. Now that Chiesa’s gone for the year, Kulusevski’s presence is 100 percent necessary for depth at the winger position.
This is a huge chance, and one that he must take if he is to have a future at the Allianz Stadium. His talent remains obvious. He’s got pace in spades, and when he catches the ball right with that left foot of his he can make some real magic.
The problem is that that magic doesn’t happen nearly often enough, and in between spells his deficiencies come starkly to the forefront. He’s still not comfortable playing in a system that plays possession as opposed to bombing forward on the counterattack, and his right foot is currently still at the blueprint stage. That latter one is a real problem, because he’s often far too predictable in trying to get himself to his left when hitting it with his right, either as a cross or a shot, could produce some real dividends. When he does choose to use his right foot he comes to that choice far too late for it to do any good.
He got the start on Saturday against Udinese, but against an opponent showing little inclination to play with the ball he struggled mightily, and was pulled at halftime. Tuesday’s game is likely another opportunity for him to start, and he needs to start putting in better performances, because he’s already probably behind Federico Bernardeschi on the depth chart, and the imminent return of Danilo from injury will free up Cuadrado to be moved forward, potentially knocking him further down the pecking order. If he wants to be a protagonist this season — and keep himself in the plans at Coverciano — he’ll need to start taking the opportunities he’s given.
A game against one of Serie A’s worst defenses that’s undermanned to boot qualifies as a major opportunity.
When: Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.
When: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy.
Official kickoff time: 9 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 8 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 3 p.m. Eastern Time; 12 noon Pacific Time.
HOW TO WATCH
Television: Premier Sports 2 (United Kingdom); Canale 5 (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.