Through first two games of the 2023-24 season, we’ve seen the following:
- A Juventus that was very good in the first half.
- A Juventus that was not very good at all in the first half.
Whether you’re sitting here waiting to ride things out before the first international break of the season or smashing the panic button already like you’re playing Whac-A-Mole, the simple fact that Juventus’ need to get back in the win column against one of the true struggling sides to begin the season is undeniable. As cliché as it sounds, starting the season with seven points out of a possible nine sounds relatively solid even if all three were very winnable games is a whole lot better than dropping points in two of the first three you’ve played.
We know that Juventus’ level of play the last few years has always meant that the second of those two possibilities is possible. But, as we head into Sunday night’s trip to Empoli, there’s going to be that first half against Udinese just dangling out there for all of us to see and hope to see more of compared to what we saw last weekend in Turin.
The question: Which Juve will we see?
Through two games, there’s been a good first half, there’s been a bad first half, and pretty much the same equal distribution when it comes to quality of play in the second half. Not to say Empoli has been anywhere close to good this season, so the hope is that the first half from Udinese is there. Or at least there’s the potential for it as compared to the mighty struggle that was the opening 45 minutes against Bologna.
The unfortunate thing is that the last few seasons have essentially conditioned us to expect the worst and be (momentarily) optimistic whenever the good comes about. Juventus playing one of the teams that survived relegation last season but has struggled to begin the new campaign should bring a sense fo belief, but even then there’s the hope that it’s more Udinese performance than Bologna performance.
So maybe there’s something to break the deadlock?
Like, ya know, a third game before we head into the international break?
If there was ever an opponent that is expected to be in the lower part of the table that you’re going to try and hit at the right time, the version of Empoli that we’ve seen to begin this season certainly fits that kind of billing.
Empoli’s start to the season is about the opposite that any team that could be in for a relegation battle wants to see take place. They are the only Serie A side to have not score a goal yet this season. They’re relying on whatever is left in Ciccio Caputto’s legs and just signed free agent Mattia Destro in hopes of getting some sort of goal tally going. They have lost both of their first two games of the season to known Italian powerhouses Monza and Hellas Verona. They’ve already been ousted from the Coppa Italia by another known powerhouse, Cittadella.
In short, Empoli’s start to the season has been bad. Very bad.
That is very much the kind of matchup that Juventus should just breeze through, right? Well, if they play like they did against Udinese, then yes. But if Juve comes out and plays like they did against Bologna and lets Empoli hang around — or, dare I say, even score a goal — then things are going to be more than interesting against a team in which things shouldn’t be anything close to interesting.
Empoli enter Sunday night’s game sitting dead last in the Serie A table and have yet to do much of anything right. Juventus’ goal besides just winning? Making sure it stays that at a stadium in which not much of anything went right just a few short months ago.
At least there won’t be the off-field drama happening 15 minutes before kickoff. So at least there’s that, I guess.
- Wojciech Szczesny has returned to partial training and but will not retake his spot in the starting lineup after Mattia Perin filled in last weekend. Szczesny, who has been dealing with a knock that he picked up last week in training, has not been called up again this weekend.
- Mattia De Sciglio continues to be Juventus’ lone long-term absence due to injury.
- Dean Huijsen, Juve’s big teenage Dutchman, was not called up for the trip to Empoli due to his involvement with the Next Gen squad’s game against Zdenek Zeman’s Pescara on Saturday night.
- Another player who was previously thought to be one to potentially bounce between the Next Gen and senior squads, Kenan Yildiz, is in the Juve traveling squad to Empoli. That’s another clear sign that the 18-year-old Turk may be in the senior squad for good.
- Allegri said at his pre-match press conference that his only decision in defense is between Alex Sandro and Federico Gatti.
- Allegri’s only decision will likely come down to choosing between starting Fabio Miretti or Nicolo Fagioli.
- Filip Kostic, who has yet to play a single minute so far this season, could start against Empoli, according to Allegri.
- Allegri said he is well aware of the fact that Paul Pogba’s minutes need to be managed right now, which probably puts to rest talk of him starting any time soon. “When Pogba is only at 70% he is still decisive, he is different from the others,” Allegri added.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
He’s scored two goals in two games. He’s also had two goals called off in two games.
His name is Dusan Vlahovic and these are the kinds of pictures we are getting of him IN TRAINING because he is just that damn locked in and competitive right now ...
That is from Wednesday’s training session at Continassa. The quads are poppin’. The biceps and triceps are poppin’, too. Vlahovic is the walking embodiment of a dude who has taken the beginning of the new season as a sort of redemption tour to prove he can hang at Juventus.
So far, the results have been pretty solid.
In Juventus’ two games this season, Vlahovic has found the back of the net both times. While the overall team performances have been very different from Matchday 1 to Matchday 2, Vlahovic has been able to take advantage of the chances he has gotten. Those chances haven’t exactly been plentiful because Juve’s gonna Juve and they’re still struggling when it comes to creating scoring opportunities, but their No. 9 is one of the early leaders on the Serie A scoring charts.
Here’s another thing: The Serie A summer transfer window is now a thing of the past, so Vlahovic can very much focus on football rather than being the subject to being the center of transfer rumors that are spread across the front pages of Italy’s biggest outlets.
Vlahovic is staying. There is now no questioning it. Vlahovic is playing well to begin the 2023-24 season even with all of the chatter regarding his future Those two things may well go hand in hand.
But as he’s proven over the first two weeks of the new season, just because he hasn’t gotten a ton of scoring chances doesn’t mean he’s not going to get on the scoresheet. That’s the Vlahovic that Juve need going forward, the Vlahovic they need more often than not if they’re going to have any shot at the top four. It’s really just that simple even if getting him the ball seems like the total opposite of that sometimes.
When: Sunday, Sept. 3, 2023.
Where: Stadio Carlo Castellani, Empoli, Italy.
Official kickoff time: 8:45 p.m. 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 1 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport 251, Sky Sport 4K, Sky Sport Calcio (Italy).
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.