When the Serie A schedule was originally released, Juventus’ season-opening stretch of games before the first international break of the 2023-24 campaign was viewed as a pretty good chance to bank a good number of early points. The level of competition wasn’t particularly high, with mid- or lower-table teams stacked back-to-back-to-back to begin the new season and provide a chance to bank a nice amount of points right out of the gate.
Juve went into the international break with seven of those potential nine points to their name. That’s not totally bad even though it probably should have been three wins out of three. It’s good enough for an early third-place in the Serie A standings, but still very much a situation that could have been better.
The fourth weekend of the season was not thought of to be like the previous three.
That’s because the last man to lift the Scudetto at Juventus, Maurizio Sarri, is rolling into Turin once again. And not only does Sarri’s squad have their first Champions League fixture in nearly three years, but it’s a Lazio side that went into the international break by beating another one of their manager’s former teams in the form of defending champions Napoli. That’s set the stage for a showdown at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night in which Juventus will fact their first big test of the 2023-24 season against a direct rival for a top-four spot.
Sounds like a nice little way to begin the third weekend of September, right?
For Juventus, it’s rather simple: Lazio coming to Turin isn’t just a chance to face a direct rival for a Champions League spot next season, but also to see where Max Allegri’s team is at. Are they the team that overwhelmed Udinese in the season opener? Or, are they the one that has struggled for large stretches of the games against Bologna and then Empoli?
At this point, it’s anybody’s best guess.
But what we do know is that ever since Sarri took over at Lazio, it’s been Juventus who have had the upper-hand over their former manager more often than not. In the last six games against Lazio, Juventus have won four and drawn one, with the only loss coming in the most recent meeting between the two sides this past April.
As much as Juve’s start to the season saw both the good and the bad of things from Allegri’s squad, it was Lazio that has seemingly taken things to the extreme through the first three games of the new campaign. Not so long after Sarri openly complained about Lazio’s schedule to begin the season, his team went and lost back-to-back games against Serie A heavy hitters Lecce and Genoa, the latter who was in just their second game back in Italy’s top flight after a season in Serie B.
So, yeah, trying to figure out which Lazio will show up is probably one of the biggest things that could determine how things go Saturday afternoon.
Another thing? Just which Juventus shows up, too.
Not that the win over Empoli was totally horrendous by any means. It was a game in which Juve won 2-0, but certainly should have seen a few more goals and a second goal earlier than when Federico Chiesa actually found the back of the net in the final 10 minutes and proceeded to celebrate with his face in the Tuscan turf. It was a decent display — not great, but not overly terrible and giving you flashbacks to last season where Juve’s sitting back and defending a one-goal lead with over half the game to go.
No matter which version of each team shows up, we’re going to find out just where this version of Juventus stands four games into the season. And knowing that the level of competition is going to be going up through the next six to eight weeks before we’re all dressing up for Halloween, getting a win over a direct rival for the top four sure would be a nice little statement to make coming out of the international break.
It would also put some of the focus on what’s happening on the field rather than the off-field drama that’s happening right now — which, you know, seems like it’s never going to end at this rate. A weekend thinking about just one Juventus thing and that thing being what happens on the field sounds great, right?
- Paul Pogba. Ugh.
- Mattia De Sciglio is the only Juventus player who is out due to injury. The good news for De Sciglio, though, is that he started running for the first time since undergoing major knee surgery in the spring. If all goes on schedule, MDS could be available again around the holidays.
- After his injury scare during the international break, Federico Chiesa has returned to training with the squad earlier this week. Max Allegri said Chiesa could be in the starting lineup against Lazio.
- After picking up a sprained ankle in the win over Empoli before the international break, Federico Gatti has also returned to training with the squad this week.
- Despite just returning to training on Thursday after playing a pair of friendlies in the United States, Allegri said that Weston McKennie could be in the starting lineup on Saturday. Allegri praised McKennie’s versatility during the pre-match press conference.
- Allegri was happy with how Manuel Locatelli played against Ukraine earlier this week.
- In case you’re wondering how Allegri feels about his squad, he said the following: “It’s good to know that we have a competitive squad and that will be important to qualify for next season’s Champions League.”
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
Thanks to the international break — either somebody picking up an injury or players coming back to Italy so late that they’ve basically only one had or two days of training — Max Allegri actually does have a few decisions to make regarding his starting lineup against Lazio.
But when it comes to the midfield, things seem rather simple ... except for one spot.
For all I know, I’m about to spend a couple-hundred words talking about a player in Nicolo Fagioli who is going to start on the bench because Allegri decided to go with Fabio Miretti in the midfield spot to Manuel Locatelli’s right. I don’t think Miretti will start because Fagioli is an important player and has spent the last two weeks trying to get his fitness levels up while Miretti has been off on international duty with the Italy U21 squad.
We haven’t seen a whole lot of Fagioli so far this season. He’s only started on game Juventus’ first three games and totaled all of 111 minutes of game time before the international break. On the face of it, that’s not much at all for somebody who ended up starting as many games as Fagioli did last season. But, let’s us remember: Fagioli also didn’t have much of a preseason because he was still working his way back from his broken collarbone.
We’re in mid-September now, though, and the hope is that means Fagioli can re-take the spot he had in the starting lineup a season ago. While Miretti minutes are also important because he’s a talented player, Fagioli is one of Juve’s most important midfielders — and that was even before Pogba popped a failed drug test after the season opener and turned this international break into even more off-field drama.
We know what Fagioli adds to the Juve midfield when he gets things rolling and is playing well. First he needs to play regularly, and hopefully that begins this weekend against Lazio.
When: Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023.
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy.
Official kickoff time: 3 p.m. Italy and the Central European time zone, 2 p.m. in the United Kingdom, 9 a.m. Eastern time, 6 a.m. Pacific time.
HOW TO WATCH
Television: CBS Sports Network (United States); TNT Sports 1 (United Kingdom).
Online/Streaming: Paramount+ (United States); fuboTV Canada (Canada); discovery+, discovery+ app (United Kingdom); DAZN, 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.