Juventus has 90 minutes of game time to go before the squad heads to the airport and hops on a fancy plane back to Italy to go through the final two weeks of preseason preparations.
The opponent Saturday night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., just so happens to be the team that won the one trophy that has eluded Juve for the last three decades — Champions League winners Real Madrid, which is also wrapping up a U.S. tour with this weekend’s friendly to conclude the Soccer Champions Tour.
The Rose Bowl, one of the most-storied stadiums in the United States, will be sold out.
And when that place is sold out, it usually means the atmosphere is going to be a damn good one no matter who’s playing and what sport it is.
(Just don’t ask anybody about UCLA football recently. That is something that makes the Bruins faithful all grumpy. And definitely not something worthy of selling out the Rose Bowl.)
For Juventus, though, this is one of the last chances to get things squared away before the Serie A season begins in a little more than two weeks from now. Juventus has looked more good than bad during its first two preseason games in the U.S., and obviously having a solid performance against a club like Real Madrid that is coming off a season they just had would be a nice way to go back to Italy.
Then again, if Juve plays poorly and get destroyed, we can just play the caveat of it being a friendly and that their minds are already on the plane back to Italy ... right?
What is there to look out for during this final stateside friendly of the summer? To once again quote my friend-in-the-press-box Sergio Romero, let’s cook.
Do we get more advanced Loca?
If the Barcelona friendly earlier this week was any kind of hint as to what Allegri might be thinking in the absence of Pogba, then playing Manuel Locatelli in a more advanced role might not be the worst thing to come out of an obviously disappointing piece of news.
While we still don’t necessarily know who will be starting as Juve’s regista since Allegri seems very much set on playing with one in a three-man midfield, the thought of Locatelli playing a more advanced position in midfield can ease the pain of losing Pogba ... at least a little bit. He showed what that can be like against Barcelona, both providing some outlet passes to spring a counterattack as well as providing the assist on Moise Kean’s second goal to tie things up in the second half.
The decision that Allegri has to make is if he feels Locatelli provides more value as the deep-lying midfielder in front of the defense or if playing him higher up the field is the right way to go about things.
No matter if it’s Juve going out and signing somebody (Leandro Paredes) or relying on an in-house option (Nicolo Rovella) at regista, there’s options to be had if Allegri does indeed want to have Locatelli be in more of an advanced role while Pogba is out.
Maybe this game against Real Madrid — a team with, unsurprisingly, a really, really good midfield — will provide some hints as to what Allegri is thinking. But it won’t be until Juventus lines up against Sassuolo on Aug. 15 in the 2022-23 season opener that we will know for sure which spot Locatelli is going to occupy in Pogba’s absence.
Will Dusan and Big Mack actually get some run?
Two friendlies have gone by and neither Weston McKennie or Dusan Vlahovic have played a single second of action. That’s not totally ad bad thing or reason to worry knowing that we’re still three weeks out of the season opener. They’ve been doing work before, during and after the two friendlies stateside, but haven’t stepped onto the field just yet.
We know this because there’s visual evidence of it:
There’s Dusan stretching things out before the rest of the team came onto the field for warmups in Las Vegas. It was the same kind of deal a few days later in Dallas, as he was seen doing pre-game work as well as some stuff on the sidelines during Juve’s friendly against Barcelona. The same can be said for McKennie, although it was a small surprise to see him not get any sort of run in front of the Dallas crowd knowing that he is a Texas native.
But, now with one friendly remaining in the U.S. tour, we’re left to wonder if this is the game in which we will get to see the two players who aren’t backup goalkeepers that haven’t played at all during the preseason.
For what it’s worth, Tuttosport is predicting that both Vlahovic and McKennie will get the start Saturday night at the Rose Bowl against Real Madrid. Trying to guess a starting lineup for a preseason friendly — especially the third matchup in the span of eight or nine days — is always going to be a little interesting, but this is obviously one of two final chances to get the two of them some minutes before the games actually count for real.
You can understand why Juve’s coaching staff has decided to slow play both Vlahovic and McKennie knowing that they are coming off respective issues earlier in the summer. But at some point you would like to see them get some minutes before the season opener against Sassuolo just so they have some semblance of match fitness in their legs.
You know, more than just some pre-game work before their strapped to the bench for the next couple of hours. That would be nice — and a pretty good way to end the U.S. tour.
The continued settling in of Bremer
On Tuesday night, we got the first pairing of Bremer and Leonardo Bonucci. And while good ole Leo had some classic good ole Leo issues, it was Bremer who looked like a guy who had been around Juventus much longer than just a week after signing from Torino.
Basically, Bremer is good. And it hasn’t taken him long to show it.
Mainly, because of the position that Juve find themselves in, Bremer being good probably isn’t just enough for this defensive until to overcome its shortfalls.
Bremer has passed every test so far during his first week in bianconero. Not that it’s been a lengthy list of things to try and get past, but when your first (unofficial) start in a Juventus jersey sees you line up against a striker like Robert Lewandowski, then you’re going to be in for a challenge no matter what time of year it happens to be.
Come Saturday, Bremer will see another world-class striker in Karim Benzema lining up against him, providing another strong test of Juve’s newest big-money defender.
To see Bremer face these kinds of players right of the gate — no matter if they’re just in friendlies — is a pretty interesting twist on his first days as a Juventus player. It obviously won’t be like this all the time, especially when Juve are grinding through certain parts of the Serie A schedule where it’s mid-table side after mid-table side.
There’s no denying Bremer’s importance to this squad this season knowing that Leonardo Bonucci is 35 and coming off a season in which he was not very good and not very healthy and the depth behind him is either not great (Daniele Rugani) or not proven in Serie A (Federico Gatti). So getting him in a groove now is going to be a nice thing to see happen as the big early-season fixtures arrive in a matter of weeks.
The Nico Watch
With Pogba’s injury, there’s suddenly the need for a little more midfield depth than we originally thought. And while Adrien Rabiot continues to be a case that only remains completely influx because of the fact that he’s not on the U.S. tour, the thought of a few of Juve’s talented youngsters sticking around isn’t so far-fetched as it might have been a couple of weeks ago.
While Fabio Miretti waits to join the rest of the crew when they get back from the United States, this is one last chance on the preseason tour for the two kids named Nicolo to impress Allegri and make another case as to why they should stick around past this summer.
Nicolo Rovella and Nicolo Fagioli won’t be in the starting lineup Saturday night if that predicted lineup from Tuttosport ends up being even close to the real one Allegri rolls out there. But even then, getting some minutes against Real Madrid will be something that neither of them have gotten in their young careers so far. A lot like when it comes to Bremer, facing the reigning European champions is something that can prove to be pretty damn valuable no matter if it’s a friendly or not.
Both players have looked pretty good on the whole during the preseason tour. Fagioli was the standout of the two in Las Vegas, while it was Rovella — playing as Juve’s deep-lying playmaker — who was the better of the two during the 2-2 draw against Barcelona four days later. They’ve both made good enough impressions that the Italian media has speculated if they’ve done enough to make Allegri think twice about their status for this coming season.
And, like I said, with Pogba potentially being out until the new year, there’s a sudden need for a little bit more cover in the midfield than we thought there could be just a few days ago.
They are very much different kinds of midfielders, but they’re both in their early-20s and showing that they are really on the cusp of breaking into this squad. It seems like it’s just more about having a chance to do so — and while this is still very much preseason friendly time, these are the games in which a young player can make a very good impression on their manager. Yes, no matter what that manager’s reputation may be when it comes to fielding young players.