Here in the United States, March is filled with state basketball tournaments all over the country for high school players. Same goes for the college level, with national college tournaments making March Madness one of the wildest times of the year based solely on its unpredictability.
One of the classic mottos this time of year is one I hear a lot of each year: “Survive and advance.”
In a way, Juventus has been forced to survive each game and advance to the next one over the last couple of weeks. And while the injury situation has alleviated at least a little bit since the last time Juve headed into a weekend fixture against a provincial Serie A opponent, it’s not like things are to the point where we can breathe easier and feel good about where things are currently at.
When Juventus hosts Spezia on Sunday night, it will be the latest chance to shore up the fourth-place standing as well as, maybe just maybe, take advantage of the three teams in front of them in the Serie A table potentially struggling for another round of matches and truly make it a four-team title race over the final 2 1⁄2 months of the 2021-22 season.
No matter what the stipulation, though, this shorthanded Juventus side will only have to continue to not slip up and drop points even though it’s very much the kind of situation where not winning against squads like Empoli and now Spezia can’t even be entertained. Juventus’ schedule down this stretch run, as we are soon to approach the single digits of games remaining, is far from what you would call a gauntlet like the month of January was or with top-of-the-table clashes coming one after another.
While not in the extended kind of slump that Empoli finds themselves in, Spezia is very much the kind of relegation battler that Juventus should beat even with the handful of injured players that will be out for this one. Since upsetting AC Milan in mid-January, Spezia has won just one game, and enters Sunday’s trip to Turin on a three-game losing skid, having fallen in by one goal to Fiorentina, Bologna and most recently Roma after Tammy Abraham scored a 98th-minute penalty. Against Roma, Spezia’s defense — which is easily one of the worst in the league — faced a whopping 31 shots. THIRTY-ONE, FOLKS.
Knowing full well that Spezia is all of four points above the relegation zone, it’s not like they’re going to come to Turin and feel all that safe about what’s left to come this season. Spezia will put up a fight because that’s what their situation calls for. They escaped relegation last season, and their margin for error is even smaller this time around, four points compared to six.
Even with all of the injuries — and we expect at least a few players to be back on the bench this weekend — Juventus has a strong enough lineup to win these kinds of games against one of the statistically worst teams in all of Serie A.
Sometimes that isn’t as routine as it sounds on paper because, remember, these kinds of games haven’t been anything close to the kinds of locks we think of them as the last couple of years. But the hope is that Juventus will, a few times each season, get a comfortable win against a team that they should get a comfortable win against.
No need for survival. Just moving onto the next one. Boy, does this team need that right now, doesn’t it?
- At his pre-match press conference, Allegri said that Paulo Dybala left training early on Friday after feeling pain in his thigh. “We’re trying our best to understand the nature of his injuries,” said Allegri.
- Federico Chiesa, Weston McKennie and Kaio Jorge are Juventus’ long-term injuries.
- Giorgio Chiellini, Denis Zakaria, Alex Sandro and Leonardo Bonucci are all probably a couple of weeks away from returning.
- Allegri added Mattia De Sciglio to the injury list. De Sciglio has “been carrying a knee injury for a while,” according to Allegri.
- Federico Bernardeschi has completely recovered from his muscle injury, but will start on the bench.
- Allegri said that he is considering giving Dusan Vlahovic — who has started all seven games Juve has played since he arrived from Fiorentina — some rest and starting Alvaro Morata and Moise Kean together in attack on Sunday.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
Max Allegri doesn’t exactly have the luxury of rotating his squad.
Considering the midfielders available to him, maybe that’s a good thing.
Why? Because a midfielder who is actually playing well right now will get more minutes.
We have all been clamoring for Arthur to get more playing time in the midst of players both arriving and then missing time due to injury. That’s been especially when somebody like Manuel Locatelli has, at least in the past but not so much recently, has played well in a little more of an advanced role, playing as a No. 8-ish kind of midfielder rather than sitting in front of the defense.
Arthur’s Juventus career is filled with inconsistent playing time and completely average performances that you don’t really feel like remembering all of a day or two later. His WhoScored rating on the season is one of the lowest on the team, including below some players who are actually no longer Juventus players.
Things, admittedly, have been trending better for Arthur, who has taken over as the man in front of the defense in recent games. There are still the odd moments where he seemingly refuses to make the long pass forward and instead plays it short, but we’re getting better. And with all of the injuries that Juventus have had to deal with — in midfield that means Weston McKennie and Denis Zakaria — Allegri has had no other choice to play Arthur.
Has it all been good? Well, obviously no. But as compared to maybe a couple of months ago, I feel a lot better about Arthur getting some starting-like minutes as compared to what’s happened with him over the previous season and a half of his Juve career. Maybe including Arthur will kick Locatelli into gear once again. There’s only one way to find all of that out, right?
When: Sunday, March 6, 2022.
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy.
Official kickoff time: 6 p.m. local time in Italy and around Europe, 5 p.m. in the United Kingdom, 12 p.m. Eastern time, 9 a.m. Pacific time.
HOW TO WATCH
Television: CBS Sports Network (United States); 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.