One of the big differences between the first 13 rounds of the 2023-24 season and the one prior to it is the simple fact that Juventus have yet to truly drop points against those pesky mid- or lower-table teams. A season ago, we saw Juve drop points against relegation battlers, against newly-promoted sides and mid-table teams of all shapes and sizes. In a season that was a mess from start to finish, this was one of the biggest on-field issues.
And what do you know, here comes one of those same mid-table teams — in this case, a newly-promoted side from the 2022-23 campaign — that Juve dropped plenty of points against last season.
In fact, Juve didn’t just drop points against Monza last season, they absolutely you-know-what the bed against the Serie A newbies in their two league fixtures. Juve lost their visit to Monza, then lost Monza’s visit to Turin, failing to record a win against a team that had previously never played in Italy’s top flight. It was one of the biggest examples how how Max Allegri’s squad really did struggle to beat teams they had no business dropping points against.
It wasn’t just that they dropped points against Monza last season, too. The manner in which Juve did it, playing some truly awful and uninspiring football in both of the Serie A fixtures, only made matters worse. In those games, Juve failed to score a goal, with an Angel Di Maria red card and just the overall sight of Monza celebrating as much as they did on the Allianz Stadium turf being the two highlights — or, from this side of things, the lowlights — of that 180 or so minutes worth of action.
Hopefully, a new season brings different results.
At the very least, though, Juventus have avoided those same disaster scenarios against the provinciale outside of the perfect storm that happened against Sassuolo a couple of months ago. (The draw against Bologna is looking like just a blip on the radar as Thiago Motta’s squad continues to push for a spot in the top six, by the way. So maybe not as bad of a result as we initially thought?) TBD, I guess.)
Call it wanting some sort of redemption, some sort of revenge or vengeance, but Juventus getting back in the win column knowing that the only team they trail in the standings, Inter, have a tough matchup this weekend is the most important thing. It’s always interesting to see how this current Juventus squad will play in the game after a big game knowing that they won’t have to worry about a midweek fixture in the middle of it all. And while playing on a Sunday and then on a Friday isn’t as much rest as Juve’s gotten in previous weeks, it’s still something you feel like is enough time to rest, recover and be ready to go again.
But when facing Monza, it’s impossible to try and forget what happened last season. And that’s even before I decided to center of a whole match preview around it and Allegri referenced it multiple times during his pre-match press conference. It’s unavoidable. You just can’t help but go there.
And yet, here’s Monza proving that they might not be just a one-year wonder in Italy’s top flight.
Unbeaten in their last four league games, Raffaele Palladino and Monza has followed up their first-ever season in Serie A with another solid showing so far this year. They enter Friday night’s game in ninth place and just six points off a place in the top four. They’ve got the fourth-best defense in the league, with only 12 goals allowed this season — which is fewer than the likes of Milan, Napoli Roma and Lazio. They aren’t scoring a ton of goals — only 14 in their first 13 games of the season — but they’re making it work in the same kind of way that Juve are making it work.
It’s that simple fact as to why Allegri thinks that Friday night’s trip to Monza will be “a difficult match.” Monza have proven to be much more of the organized, defensively solid team that they were for parts of last season, with Palladino clearly getting his team on track in their own half despite seeing some important pieces head out over the summer.
With that same opponent that Inter are facing this weekend coming to Turin next Friday night — yes, don’t forget about the three straight Friday night games that Juve have in December — the Bianconeri can ill-afford any sort of replication of what happened last season. You know Allegri has likely told that very thing to his players over the last couple of days in the same kind of manner in which he spoke about it to the media.
What’s left is to actually show that you can prevent a repeat of history. Because, at minimum, keeping things at two points between Inter and Juventus (and maybe hoping for a little of help, too) is the key to the weekend.
- The suspended, Paul Pogba and Nicolo Fagioli, are still suspended.
- The injured list has shrunk by one, with Timothy Weah and Mattia De Sciglio the only ones who will not make the trip to Monza.
- It’s down one because Danilo is back in the squad after missing nearly two months due to a muscle injury he picked up on international duty with Brazil back in October.
- Manuel Locatelli is expected to step back into the starting lineup after being on fit enough to come off the bench in the Derby d’Italia.
- Max Allegri didn’t exactly give many clues during his pre-match press conference to what his starting lineup is going to look like. It was mostly evaluating players who played against Inter — most notably Locatelli and his still-recovering broken rib — and what kind of condition they are in with one of the quicker turnarounds in between games that Juve will have this season.
- Just to make sure we didn’t know by now, Allegri made sure to state during his press conference that Juve’s big goal hasn’t changed: “For everyone’s good we must aim for fourth place.” Glad we made sure to settle that debate.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
The goal drought is over with.
Starting games on the bench seems to be over with, too (for now).
So let’s talk about the dude who scored Juventus’ only goal in last weekend’s Derby d’Italia.
Dusan Vlahovic is somebody who has not had an easy last couple of months. He’s been hampered by a back injury. He came back from said injury but then saw Moise Kean take his spot in Allegri’s starting lineup. All the while, the amount of time between Vlahovic goals just continued to grow and grow and grow.
Things changed a few days ago against Inter, though.
Vlahovic returned to the starting lineup. The scoring drought finally became a thing of the past. And, maybe more important than anything else, the overall quality of Vlahovic’s performance was some of the best we’ve seen of him this season (and maybe even his Juventus career). Consider Allegri one of those who is willing to expand the sample size beyond just this season:
“Vlahovic played one of his best games since arriving at Juventus, on a technical level, regardless of the goal. He managed to impose himself, I’m very happy and even though he hadn’t scored for two months, he always gives everything.”
I dunno about you guys, but if my manager said something like that about me, I’d be feeling pretty good knowing that it was my first start in weeks, if not longer than that. At the very least, the mental release of not having to hear about how many days and weeks it had been since his last goal — which came on Sept. 16 — before finding the back of the over the weekend has to be something that is quite the weight lifted.
But, like always, now it’s about what Vlahovic can do next. No matter the tactics, no matter the formation, Juventus need their big-money striker to not go another six or eight weeks in between goals.
That’s key for both Juve beating Monza, but Juve beating just about anybody else during this key stretch of December games heading into the new year.
Scoring one goal against a good team — no matter how much we celebrated said goal — doesn’t mean that Vlahovic is back. That’s also not true not matter what some people on the internet will say. (Says a guy on the internet.) But If Vlahovic can get rolling again like he was in the first handful of games this season, then he’ll be heading into Napoli’s visit to Turin next week with some much-needed wind in his big Serbian sails. That’s not for nothin’.
When: Friday, Dec. 1, 2023.
Where: U-Power Stadium, Monza, 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, 11:45 a.m. Pacific time.
HOW TO WATCH
Television: TNT Sports 3 (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.