Rewind to three weeks ago. Juventus had yet to start the second half of the 2021-22 season, but we all knew what was on the schedule. It was a who’s who of top-of-the-table challengers, with so many different scenarios running through our heads about what could happen if Juve drop points here or win this game there. It was a cavalcade of different opponents, different competitions that pop up this time of year on the domestic schedule and a whole lot of prove-it kind of moments awaiting Max Allegri and Juventus.
We are about to reach the end of the month of January and a stretch of games that was busy as all hell. (You don’t need to ask the BWRAO crew twice.)
Juventus has yet to lose a game in regular time in the year 2022, with only last-second Alex Sandro mishaps at the back preventing the Bianconeri from potentially having the chance to have an unbeaten month. In Serie A, Juventus’ has won its last two games in two very different kinds of ways and hasn’t suffered a loss since mid-November. But the final game of the month is one that might be the toughest one of them all to begin 2022, as Juventus makes the trip to the San Siro to face an AC Milan that is both coming off a loss and trying to keep its Scudetto hopes alive.
Juventus, as has been the case for months now, is more in a fight for the top four rather than to get back to the Serie A mountain top. The good news is that Juventus could very well get into the top four with a win Sunday night in Milan. That is thanks to Atalanta, shorthanded and all due to a massive COVID outbreak at the club over the last few days, drawing against Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico in Saturday’s late game.
While Atalanta has a game in hand as a result of a COVID postponement, they sit all of two points ahead of Juventus in the Serie A standings. That means it’s very simple, at least in terms of the league table implications, for Juventus on Sunday night: You win, you jump into fourth place as the first international break arrives in Italy.
Sounds like a pretty good thing to shoot for, right?
Just go ahead and nod in agreement. That should suffice.
During his pre-match press conference on Saturday, Max Allegri didn’t hesitate from saying that he thinks Juve’s in what he described as “a positive period” at the moment. They’ve responded well to the extra-time loss at the last second to Inter Milan in the Supercoppa. They’ve won both of their games — one in Serie A, one in the Coppa Italia — with relative ease. And the hope is that now with a serious jump up in competition coming in the form of Milan that the good vibes from the last few games can carry over into this one.
Knowing that there is a chance to leapfrog Atalanta — yes, I know, the game in hand, don’t forget about it — this game between two old rivals just got that much more important. It was the case entering the weekend, and it is still very much the optimal situation now.
This will be the test to see if Juventus really has started to turn a corner and if the words of Allegri are very much on point. If Juventus can prevent what they did the first time they played Milan this season — i.e. throw away a late lead or not just settle for a single goal — and get a win against the second-place team in the league, then the race for the top four is very much starting to look a whole lot better than things were as 2021 was coming to a close.
- Federico Chiesa is out injured (and still awaiting surgery after getting sick and having to postpone his original appointment).
- Leonardo Bonucci is out injured and expected back after the upcoming international break.
- Aaron Ramsey has recovered from COVID, but was not called up for the trip to Milan. Max Allegri confirmed during his pre-match press conference that Ramsey is set to leave the club as rumors continue to swirl about where his next destination — namely, where in the Premier League — will be.
- Federico Bernardeschi is back in the squad missing out due to injury midweek.
- With much of the squad healthy again, 21-year-old speedster Marley Aké is the lone call-up from the Under-23 squad for Sunday night’s game against Milan.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
I mean ... duh.
Of course it’s the guy below. Of course. It was never going to be anybody else when it’s a big-time fixture like this one will be.
We’ve been saying it for a few weeks now, but without Chiesa around to help lead the attack, things are certainly shifted fully onto Paulo Dybala shoulders. This is his team more than ever before, and if Juventus want any chance of winning then Dybala is going to have to be the dude who has looked really good of late and continue this run of goal-scoring form he is on.
This was before all of the contract extension frustration got out into the open.
But hey, if it’s the thing that pushes him to be That Dude for an extended period of time, essentially the kind of performance level that forces Juve’s hand, then we’ll take it.
We know Juventus’ offense — and, most notably the attacking group — has struggled for much of the 2021-22 season, and the recent surge in goals against lesser opposition isn’t going to suddenly sway things from bad to good. It’s nothing against Udinese and Sampdoria, but it’s not like those defenses are ones you would consider some of the best in Serie A.
Milan, meanwhile, have the second-best attack in the league, which means there’s a pretty decent chance that Juve’s going to need a goal or two to even get a point in this game. With the way Dybala has played of late and Milan’s sometimes shaky defense — they’ve allowed 25 goals in 22 games — good things could very well happen.
Max Allegri is certainly feeling good about how No. 10 is playing these days. See for yourself, folks:
“Paulo Dybala is relaxed, which helps him feel free to express himself on the pitch, and he is beginning to hit form. From now until the end of the season, he’ll give us a lot.”
I sure as heck hope Dybala gives Juve a lot from now until the end of the season because not only do the chances of his current team finishing in the top four go up, but also the chances of him sticking around a little while longer probably improve as well.
When: Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022.
When: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, 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 3 (United Kingdom).
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.