Well, I tell you what, it’s definitely not a matchup against the worst team in Serie A, that’s for sure.
But for Juventus, all of four days after seeing another Champions League Round of 16 exit come and go, that’s who just so happens to be next up on the schedule. And as much as Allianz Stadium was jacked up at the start of Wednesday night’s game against Villarreal, something tells me the faithful fans who venture to the stadium aren’t going to be as enthusiastic as they were earlier in the week. That’s because things are, to put it in the simplest terms, a little on edge these days.
It doesn’t matter just how far ahead of Atalanta in the race for fourth place that Juventus has gotten over the last couple of weeks. Wednesday night’s second-half meltdown has caused Juve’s project to come into serious question — again. It’s caused Juve’s roster construction to be questioned — again. And it’s caused their manager, who was brought back to revitalize and rejuvenate this once-dominant side in Italy, to be questioned maybe as much as he has since his first few days on the job in 2014.
On paper, Juventus shouldn’t have any issues with Salernitana, the team at the bottom of the Serie A table, no matter how many injuries are currently happening up and down the roster. The game is in Turin, Juventus is likely rather angry and Salernitana is a team that, while racking up a lot of draws over the last five or six weeks, has still won just one game since the start of November. All of their roster reworking — including the signing of young Juve prospect Radu Dragusin on loan — has turned the results for the better. But when you consider where Salernitana’s results were the first 2 1⁄2 months of the season, the bar was pretty damn low to begin with.
So now, the mighty Ippocampi come to Turin looking to take advantage of Juventus’ likely fragile state following Wednesday night’s Champions League elimination. The game after the Champions League game is always an interesting one to navigate no matter the result midweek. But with this, the third straight year in which there’s been a round of 16 ousting, that could just be the opening to some serious shenanigans going into the international break.
This used to be the kind of fixture that you could chalk up and no even worry about.
Now? Well, who knows what to expect from Juventus. At this point, the unbeaten streak in Serie A is the least of my worries. Either this team picks itself up from off the mat and finishes the season strong or the race for a top four finish becomes the same kind of stress-filled mess it was this time last year.
Juve may be in better position than they were 12 months ago, but this is very much the kind of situation that could get bad in a hurry again if Juve don’t manage it properly. They’ve got the advantage over Atalanta now, but we have seen over the last few weeks and months just how fast a good thing can turn bad.
“On Jan. 6 we were 10 points behind Atalanta. Now we are in a good position. If we can win tomorrow we’ll consolidate fourth place and remain three points behind Inter.”
That sounds like a good plan, Max. Just get the three points against the worst team in the league. That’s all I ask.
- Less than 24 hours after Juventus’ Champions League exit, the club announced that midfielder Manuel Locatelli tested positive for COVID-19. He’s Juve’s first coronavirus case in months. (Locatelli was stilled called up to Italy’s World Cup playoff roster by Roberto Mancini, for what it’s worth.)
- Despite recent developments and players returning, Juve still has a number of absentees. There’s the three season-ending injuries — Federico Chiesa, Weston McKennie and Kaio Jorge — along with Denis Zakaria, Leonardo Bonucci and Alex Sandro.
- Also one we can add to the injury list since he’s been called up from the Under-23 squad a lot in the last couple of months: Marley Aké, who suffered a hamstring injury earlier in the week against Lecco. He will be re-evaluated in two weeks.
- Mattia Perin is expected to get the start in goal as Max Allegri gives Wojciech Szczesny the weekend off following the Champions League happenings midweek.
- Because of the injuries and virus issues, Matias Soulé and Fabio Miretti have been called up from the Under-23 squad.
- Allegri has just two senior squad midfielders available — Arthur and Adrien Rabiot. (Sheesh.)
- When asked about his lineup, Allegri said he will “field his strongest XI.”
- Allegri said the fitness levels of Paulo Dybala, Giorgio Chiellini and Federico Bernardeschi is improving, but none of those three players have 90 minutes in their legs.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
I could go with an actual Juventus player, but I’m not.
This team has made me grumpy over the last few days, so I will hit the record, make it scratch and throw everybody a curveball. We’re going with some who is technically a Juventus player and whose name has already been mentioned in this post.
The aforementioned Radu Dragusin was one of the many January additions that Salernitana made in hopes of turning its season around for the better. They were as active as pretty much any Serie A club, although maybe not in the big headline-grabbing way that Juventus was in signing Dusan Vlahovic and Denis Zakaria.
But the reason as to why Dragusin has been picked here is mainly because of Vlahovic’s presence and the opportunity the young Romanian — although he doesn’t look young at all — has when lining up against arguably the best striker in Serie A these days.
Basically, we very much are under the assumption that Juventus is going to undergo some serious roster reconstruction this coming summer. And while Daniele Rugani has had a career renaissance of sorts over the last few months, there’s bound to be some sort of option to bring in a young (and cheap) option like Dragusin next season.
Being one of the many changes in the January transfer window that has helped Salernitana turn its results around or the better, Dragusin has finally gotten the consistent playing time he only truly got with Juve’s Under-23 squad. At 20 years of age, that’s something that not a lot of on-loan players can say for a relegation battler, but obviously there’s something there that has allowed him to keep his spot in the starting lineup each week.
Not that it’s always been easy during his first Salernitana starts this season, with two of his last three outings coming against the two sides from Milan who are ahead of Juventus in the standings. But he’s getting valuable as hell experience, and he’s about to match up against a player in Vlahovic who already lit up Salernitana for a pair of goals back in December.
When: Sunday, March 20, 2022.
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy.
Official kickoff time: 3 p.m. local time in Italy and around Europe, 12 p.m. in the United Kingdom, 10 a.m. Eastern time, 7 a.m. Pacific time.
HOW TO WATCH
Television: TLN (Canada); BT Sport 2 (United Kingdom).
Streaming: 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.