It’s starting to feel like we’re never going to have a normal kind season ever again, isn’t it?
There the 2019-20 season, which was stopped dead in its tracks with the rest of the world by the COVID-19 pandemic and then had to be finished by cramming 2 1⁄2 months worth of games into six weeks once it was semi-safe to play again. Then the ‘20-21 season started only six weeks later and was super-compressed with a ton of midweek fixtures in order to finish on time for the postponed Euros, because god forbid UEFA move those back a week or two. The most recent campaign was then completed after a raft of major summer tournaments in what should have been an off year.
Now, we’re staring down the 2022-23 season, which will start a month early and have over a monthlong break in it in order to accommodate the 2022 World Cup because Qatar
bribed a bunch of people and also lied about being able to cool their stadiums down enough for players not to die isn’t suitable for a major tournament in the summer.
So, instead of having the Serie A schedule reveal in July, like usual, the gala event for releasing the fixtures came out on Friday. Which, frankly, is good, because it gives us something to talk about other than Angel Di Maria asking for more time to decide his future.
As has been done for the last several years, here is an extra-superficial first glance at what fixtures are the most intriguing. Some of these observations will obviously be moot at the time they come around, as injuries, surprise transfers, weird results, and all sorts of unpredictable things unfold. But for now, we’ll take a look at the new schedule and have some fun.
Round 5 — at Fiorentina
Yes, Dusan Vlahovic has already had his return to the Stadio Artemio Franchi. The trip there during the Coppa Italia semifinal was one of the most incandescent crowds I’ve ever seen for any game ever, and the reaction every time he touched the ball was molten. He also played 15 minutes off the bench in the abysmal Serie A finale that, for Juve at least, was a dead rubber that didn’t really mean all that much.
Those latter circumstances are what makes this game interesting enough, in that this will be Vlahovic’s first trip back to Florence for a league game that actually means something. The fact that Fiorentina didn’t fold after Vlahovic’s departure and instead qualified for the UEFA Conference League, their first European campaign in almost a decade, adds some zest to what is always an emotional game for La Viola. Juve, meanwhile, will be looking to avoid a repeat of last year’s early struggles, and if fortune smiles the right way, they could end up sending out a front line made up entirely of former Fiorentina players in Vlahovic, Federico Chiesa, and Juan Cuadrado.
Cause it’s not like the Ex Effect bit them in the ass against Juve last year or anything — even if it wasn’t Vlahovic scoring the goals.
This will be a big early test for Juve. Fiorentina will be hungry and looking to build on last season. Vincenzo Italiano is one of the brightest young coaches on the peninsula, and this game will be an early indicator as to whether or not Massimiliano Allegri has taken stock of last season and decided to shake things up tactically or whether he’s truly stuck in the past with no intention of ever leaving. If something goes badly wrong here, it could be an early sign that the season is going to be another fight for the top four as opposed to participation in a real scudetto race.
Round 13 — vs. Inter Milan
The anticipated Bosman transfer of Paulo Dybala to Inter seems to have hit a snag in recent days, but the general assumption is that it is likely to go through.
That, of course, has seen the Juventus fans who were all crying along with La Joya the day he bade farewell to the Allianz Stadium make a hard 180 and hurl every insult they can at him for joining Juve’s most hated enemy. I have my own feelings about this, which I will likely be putting into words at the proper time.
But if everything does go as it’s expected to, there won’t be much in the way of storylines attached to this game that don’t involve Dybala’s return to Turin. (Unless he’s hurt at the time, which is always possible.)
Even if the transfer falls apart and he’s somewhere else next season, the first Derby d’Italia of the 2022-23 season is always an event. It will be even more so given the imminent return of Romelu Lukaku on loan after he engineered a transfer to Chelsea last summer.
(I know I’m borrowing Sergio’s move with the aside here, but I just can’t contain it: What the hell is with the returns of the returns of the returns for players right now? Cristiano Ronaldo going back to Man United last year, Lukaku returning to Chelsea only to return to Inter again a year later, Paul Pogba doing a #Pogbackback. It’s just weird, don’t know, maybe I’m nuts. Carry on.)
This (along with the previous month’s trip to defending champions AC Milan) will be a major opportunity for Juve to lay down a marker. Last year they failed to defeat any of the three teams that finished ahead of them in eight attempts across all competitions. That has to change this season if there is to be any growth at all, and this will be one of the first chances to get that done.
Rounds 18 and 19 — at Napoli and vs. Atalanta
This is cheating a little bit, but I wanted to highlight both games for a very specific reason: these will be the only time all year that Juve will have two big league games on back to back weeks.
While it’s entirely possible that the Champions League or Coppa Italia will throw in some stretches where the tension heightens for multiple games in a short amount of time, the league slate is curiously devoid of such strings this year. Every game against a big opponent — which I define as one of the seven other teams that finished in the top eight last season — is spaced out by at least one week against a lesser team, save for this back-to-back against Napoli and Atalanta.
Both of those teams could be very different from the ones Juve went a combined 0-2-2 against last year. Aurelio De Laurentiis is on one of his salary cutting kicks, with Lorenzo Insigne already gone to MLS and some or all of Dries Mertens, Kalidou Kolibaly, Fabian Ruiz, and Victor Osimhen potentially joining the exodus. Napoli have usually done well when it comes to reloading in situations like that, but this time the talent drain might be severe.
The same is true of Atalanta. They still have dangerous performers like Ruslan Malinovskyi and Duvan Zapata, but Robin Gosens left for Inter in January and Luis Muriel could be leaving as well. We’ve seen Gian Piero Gasperini easily plug new, young pieces into his system since Atalanta began the run of success that saw them in the Champions League the last two years, but they took a big sag last year and finished out of the European places. That said, that could be a boon to them as they try to retool.
The Stadio Diego Maradonna (that’s still weird to say) is always a difficult place to play in regardless. Atalanta won’t be slouches either. In fact, Juve haven’t beaten them at the Allianz since May of 2018, and have only beaten them twice overall since then. These will be two difficult games back-to-back to end the andata and determine where Juve will be poised as the business end of the season begins.
Round 34 — at Atalanta
Yeah, these guys again.
But this entry on the list isn’t just about who Juventus are playing that week. Round 34 could be decisive on a number of levels when it rolls around. Here are some of the other fixtures going that weekend:
- Milan vs. Lazio
- Napoli vs. Fiorentina
- Roma vs. Inter
That’s all of the presumptive top eight teams in the league playing each other the same week. It’s not something I ever remember seeing before. It’s going to be a hell of a weekend of calcio, and it’s going to be a freaking bloodbath.
Whether they’re in the thick of the title race or again trying to slink into the top four, this game’s importance comes from the fact that there’s a guarantee that at least a few of the teams they’ll be competingi against for something will be dropping points. That makes this game in Bergamo monumentally important, especially as the season enters its end phase.
Round 37 — vs. AC Milan
Two seasons ago, I billed the game between Juve and Inter on the penultimate day of the season as a potential title decider.
As fate eventually told us, that was an optimistic assessment of where Juventus was as a team. It was, however, still an important game, with Juve going in in a must-win scenario in order to keep their Champions League hopes alive.
It’s difficult to tell whether Juve and Milan will be fighting for anything when the reigning champions visit Turin on the penultimate matchday. If one or both are still fighting for something, the fur is going to fly. And if Juve exceed expectations and are in the title hunt as this game approaches, the crowd at the Allianz is bound to be on the verge of exploding.
My money says that one or both of these teams is still playing for something by the time this fixture rolls around—and that could very well be the recipe for one of the most intense games of the season.