The unfortunate part of the reality surrounding Juventus is that international breaks have really not been breaks at all lately. That’s not because players go off to their respective national teams — no, that’s always been the case and will continue for as long as a large portion of the roster is that kind of caliber of player. But, this time around, the international break involved more off-field drama and news that nobody wanted to see connected with Juventus.
(/cue the anti-Juve crowd screaming “It’s always Juventus!” from the mountaintops ...)
So now, thankfully, we get to talk about something happening on the field again.
And boy, it sure is the kind of game in which you wish the main focus most of the week could have been on compared to what the focus actually was on.
For the second time in as many games coming out of an international break, a big game is right in front of Juventus. In September it was Lazio, now in October it is a trip to AC Milan, which entered the international break atop the Serie A table and will have the chance to get back there again Sunday night after Inter’s win over Torino 24 hours earlier. Juventus will enter the night as part of a three-way jumble on 17 points, with Napoli pushing the Bianconeri down to fourth place with their win Saturday afternoon.
No matter what the case is, it is a very, very big test for Max Allegri’s squad — and there is no denying it. It’s a big one in terms of the rivalry between the two clubs. And it is most definitely a big one in terms of where they both are in the standings and where Juventus’ hopes for the season may lie when the final whistle is sounded.
Here is something that is also true: Both Juventus and Milan will be without some of their best and most important players — which adds just another storyline to a matchup that is never really lacking in storylines to begin with.
Juventus’ absentees looked to be at virtually ever area of the field, sans goalkeeper. Luckily for Allegri, Federico Chiesa has been included in the traveling squad to Milan after some nervy days in terms of fitness earlier this week, but Juve will still be without their captain Danilo as well as a pair of suspended midfielders in Paul Pogba and Nicolo Fagioli, the latter still being allowed to train with the squad despite his ban.
Milan’s two big suspensions have been known for the last two weeks, with goalkeeper Mike Maignan and fullback Theo Hernandez — two of the best at their respective positions in the game today — getting bans coming out of Milan’s 1-0 win over Genoa right before the international break. To add insult to injury (or suspension), Milan’s backup goalkeeper, Marco Sportiello, picked up an injury during the week, so that means it will be former Juve backup keeper Antonio Mirante, now 40 years old, who will get the start in goal Sunday night.
It’s quite the twist considering the irregularity of missing your starter due to suspension, let alone both of your top two keepers due to suspension and injury.
But even without those two — and how Juventus have played their last few games going into the international break — Sunday night will be quite the test for Allegri.
Milan have been one of the more impressive sides to begin the Serie A season. Their new-look starting lineup, which was able to be reshaped thanks to Champions League money and the sale of Sandro Tonali, They’re amongst the highest goal scorers in the league. They’re one of the best defenses in the league. Many of their summer signings are already looking like quality acquisitions, including American winger Christian Pulisic, who has four goals in eight league games this season.
All of this to say that a shorthanded Juventus will most certainly need to be on top of it if they want to come away with some sort of result at the San Siro.
Can they, though?
Allegri will be without his most consistent defender (and captain) this season, without two of his best midfielders, his most creative player will likely be only fit enough for the bench and his team’s leading goal scorer is just back from a back injury so it’s hard to know for sure how much match sharpness Dusan Vlahovic will have.
A loss may well put the end to any sort of Scudetto talk (for now), but the main goal for this season has always been getting (and staying) in the top four rather than serious title contention. That was going to be an added bonus if it ever became a reality — and we know how Allegri doesn’t’ want us to be looking at the league table this early in the season no matter how much we actually do.
Considering the players who are missing out, this has the feeling of an Allegri special with plenty of sitting back and defending a Milan side that are so dangerous out wide. The key to all of it is if it will actually work — which is probably something you’ll get different answers on depending on who you ask.
- As we found out earlier this week, the suspension for Nicolo Fagioli and his gambling activity has already been handed down, with the 22-year-old Italian out for the next seven months along with another five months of treatment. Fagioli has, however, still be training with the rest of the squad during the first couple of days of his suspension.
- Paul Pogba — still provisionally suspended following his failed doping test(s).
- The newest addition to the injured list is Danilo, who suffered a muscle injury during international duty with Brazil and will be out for at least three weeks.
- Juventus still has a couple of players out injured on top of their captain being absent: Mattia De Sciglio and Alex Sandro. Federico Chiesa was on this list for much of the last couple of weeks, but has since returned to training with the group as of Friday.
- Knowing that, Chiesa will likely only be available off the bench as he continues to try to get back to full fitness after dealing with muscle fatigue the last three weeks.
- No longer injured is Dusan Vlahovic, who didn’t go out on international duty during the break to remain in Turin and get healthy after a back injury forced him to miss the last couple of games.
- With Danilo and Alex Sandro out, it’s down to either Daniele Rugani or Dean Huijsen available to play in the back three. Allegri essentially confirmed that it will be Rugani getting the start as we eagerly await Huijsen to get the first senior level minutes of his career.
- Also with no Danilo and Sandro in the squad, Adrien Rabiot will wear the captain’s armband when Juventus take the field at the San Siro on Sunday night.
- To provide a little bit of cover in the midfield after Fagioli’s suspension, 18-year-old midfielder Joseph Nonge has been called up permanently from the Juve Next Gen squad.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
The guy who has been arguably your best defender this season is now out for a few weeks. You’re already stretched depth-wise at the back because of how the team has been constructed and one of the few central defenders you have available is a teenager who has yet to make his Serie A debut. Options, my friends, are very much limited.
So, who you gonna call? You know who it is.
We say it every time he has either gotten a rare start or is expected to be in the lineup, but it remains true: Daniele Rugani gets a lot of stick around here because he was once the Next Great Hope and never really developed into that kind of player. He’s no longer the young player who looks like he could develop into one of the best defenders Serie A has to offer. And you know what? That’s OK. He’s not the first to be in that situation and he certainly won’t be the last.
What Rugani has been over the last few years since his foray away from Juventus for a season has been a reliable backup when called upon. When you consider who Juve will be lining up against Sunday night, reliable (in a good way) is exactly what Allegri’s squad will need. Handing somebody like Huijsen, at the tender age of 18, his first-ever start at the San Siro? Nah, that’s not going to happen — especially with Allegri as his manager.
Rugani will likely play on the left side of Juve’s back three, with Federico Gatti on the other side of things. There’s no denying that those two big Italian defenders will be seeing plenty of pace run at them, whether it’s Pulisic or Rafael Leao. Milan’s speed is certainly going to be a challenge for Juve’s entire defense, but especially for the two guys playing on either side of Bremer.
The thing is, we don’t know how much rust may be in Rugani’s legs or game seeing as he’s played all of 84 minutes this season. That’s the catch with this season — with no Europe or virtually any midweek games, the need to rotate the squad is more out of necessity due to suspensions or injuries more than anything else rather than trying to keep people fresh for a grind of three games in eight or nine days. He’s started one game this season. That’s it.
So hopefully that six-minute spell off the bench against Atalanta three weeks ago will be the thing that kept him fresh.
Hopefully. The last thing Juve needs is more issues at the back with Danilo out for the next few weeks.
When: Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023.
Where: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy.
Official kickoff time: 8:45 p.m. in Italy and the Central European time zone, 7:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom, 2:45 p.m. Eastern time, 1:45 a.m. Pacific time.
HOW TO WATCH
Television: TNT Sports 1 (United Kingdom).
Online/Streaming: Paramount+ (United States); fuboTV Canada (Canada); discovery+, discovery+ app (United Kingdom); DAZN Italia, Sky Go Italia (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.