Juventus being banned from Europe wasn’t a surprise. In fact, it was the expected, and that means having the kind of schedule that Juve have in front of them this season is pretty much what we all thought it would be. But that also means, for much of this season, there will be at least five or six days in between games. The result of that, as we’ve already come to experience, means one of two things:
- You’re either going to be waiting anxiously for the next time Juve play after a really good performance, or ...
- You’re left to stew on a bad performance for a week and hoping like all hell that Juve don’t come out and replicate the badness of the weekend before.
The past six days since Juventus’ big 3-1 win over Lazio have certainly been more of the former rather than the extremely grumpy latter. It was the kind of performance we’ve seen few times during the second managerial stint of Max Allegri, and it’s the kind of day that you hope Juventus can build on going forward as the month of October and bigger games get closer and closer — hopefully. Yes, hopefully. Because there have been a handful of times over the last two-plus years in which a good performance has been followed up by ... not that.
So now, as Juve head to Reggio Emilia, it’s the same kind of deal as it was after the season-opening win over Udinese — what’s Allegri got for his team next as they prepare for a team that is currently 17th in the Serie A table?
Last Saturday’s win over Lazio was as good as we’ve seen Juventus play in a long, long time. Throw into the equation that it was a matchup of teams that are direct rivals for the top four and Juve going out and doing what they did was just an unquestionably great way to come out of the first international break of the season.
While we don’t know which Juve will show up, we do know this: Sassuolo come into Saturday evening’s game both in desperate need of points and a week removed from one of their more wild results in Serie A so far this season. What was a 2-0 lead against Frosinone didn’t just fall apart but went to absolute hell, with the newly promoted side that has a Juve flavor to it scored four unanswered to flip the script completely and hand Alessio Dionisi’s side another tough result in the first month of the season.
Then again, let’s go ahead and list who Sassuolo have played through the first four weeks of the 2023-24 season:
- Hellas Verona
All four of those teams are in the top half of the table, with Frosinone’s draw on Friday putting them in fifth place. (Stop the count now! Frosinone in Europa League! Lecce in Champions League! Absolute chaos! Or maybe just that part because stopping the count would also mean the Scudetto going to Inter and we don’t want that now, do we?)
So, there’s essentially two paths here: Juve could be facing a team whose 17th-place standing is representative of the Sassuolo shine finally coming off them or simply just having a tough schedule to open the season and they’re paying for it.
For Max Allegri and Juventus, this is a situation much like that of when they faced Empoli right before the international break in that simply getting the three points is what matters the most. Would it be great to play just as well as they did against Lazio seven days earlier? Of course! But not falling into the trap and dropping points against a team that has won just one game in its first four this season is the big theme of the weekend.
You do that, you keep the good, early-season vibes going into the first midweek fixture of the new campaign and a month of October that sees some bigger names on the schedule.
- Paul Pogba — still provisionally suspended for his failed doping test. The results of Pogba’s “B” sample are expected to come back around Oct. 5.
- A week after having just one player on the injured list, a pair of Juve players picked up injuries in training during the week: Alex Sandro and Adrien Rabiot.
- Sandro picked up what has been diagnosed as a medium-grade hamstring injury that will keep him out at least a few weeks, Juve announced Thursday. It could very well be an injury that sidelines the veteran Brazilian for four to six weeks, according to reports out of Italy.
- Rabiot’s injury, however, was much more minor and he is expected to be in the starting lineup against Sassuolo.
- Mattia De Sciglio, who is now starting to work with a ball at his feet again in his personalized training program, is Juve’s only long-term injury as we wait to see just how long Sandro is going to be out for.
- Max Allegri said at his pre-match press conference that Dusan Vlahovic (back pain) and Federico Chiesa (muscle fatigue) had to train away from the group on Wednesday. Allegri described both of his starting attackers as “fine” and “Fully available” to face Sassuolo.
- With Alex Sandro’s injury, Allegri said that Dean Huijsen has joined the senior squad on a permanent basis after playing with the Juve Next Gen squad the last few weeks.
- Kenan Yildiz, who hasn’t appeared in a game since Matchday 2, will drop down and play with the Next Gen squad on Saturday to get some much-needed minutes, per Allegri.
- Allegri said he expects there to be squad rotation on Tuesday against Lecce.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
He’s coming off a great game this past weekend. He used to play for Sassuolo. Thanks, Serie A schedule makers, for putting things on an absolute tee for me to hit this one out of the park.
Yes, I’m sticking with the midfield again this week. This time, I feel a little more safe about my pick actually being in the starting lineup. That was a gamble. This seems like an absolute lock. We’ll go with the lock, Manuel Locatelli, who’s facing his former team back at the stadium in which he called home for a couple of years before his move to Juventus.
Locatelli has had an up and down season so far. That’s no breaking news. But part of the “up” is the performances he’s coming off of for club and country. (Or should it be country and club based on the order in which they took place? I don’t know. Feel free to correct me.) He was very good in Italy’s win over Ukraine and the San SIro, and he was probably even better in Juventus’ win over Lazio just a few days later. It was easily Locatelli’s best pair of games of the young season — and you have to believe he’s feeling pretty good about where he’s currently at.
Now, as always with Locatelli, it’s about consistency.
This is not new. Locatelli is probably known for being consistently inconsistent more than anything. He has good stretches. He has bad stretches. He doesn’t have extended good stretches — and that’s part of the catch when it comes to evaluating him. You’re waiting, probably hoping, that the start of a good stretch will last more than a couple of weeks before it seemingly slides back into the middle area like it’s Homer Simpson going back into the shrub.
Maybe these last two games in which Locatelli has played quite well in kicks off one of those good times. Maybe those good times will last a little longer than the last period of good form. Maybe it won’t. But, at least we knew he’s going to be fired up to play well at the Mapei Stadium because that’s what he’s done so many times before.
When: Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023.
Where: Mapei Stadium, Sassuolo, Italy.
Official kickoff time: 6 p.m. Italy and the Central European time zone, 5 p.m. in the United Kingdom, 12 p.m. Eastern time, 9 a.m. Pacific time.
HOW TO WATCH
Television: TNT Sports 1 (United Kingdom).
Online/Streaming: Paramount+, CBS Sports Golazo (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.