With no Champions League football for Juventus, we haven’t been able to use the kind of line that I’m about to use much at all through the first 21 rounds of the Serie A season. But when it comes to Saturday evening’s matchup at the Allianz Stadium between Juve and relegation battler Empoli, there is one thing that certainly rings true:
The visit to Turin by an Empoli side currently sitting in the bottom three is very much a situation where it’s the game before the big game. And there really is no denying that what is lying in the distance next weekend in Milan is very much a big game with massive stakes that Juve haven’t played in much at all over the last 3 1⁄2 years since they last sat atop the league table.
But the thing is, to ensure that Juventus are the ones sitting atop the table when they roll into the San Siro and line up against their biggest rivals in Inter Milan, business has to be taken care of against 19th-placed Empoli, a team that has won just twice since the beginning of November. That is the easy way to say it. And for pretty much all of the month of January, the close calls against teams in the lower third of the Serie A table haven’t been there compared to what we saw during the first half of the season when it was corto muso galore and trying to eke out a win by the thinnest of margins.
Over the last four weeks, Juventus and Max Allegri’s corto muso ways have gone by the wayside. Instead, it’s been lungo muso and a whole lot of good vibes — and even more than before when Juve were winning but doing so by a whole lot of one-goal scorelines. It’s allowed Juventus’ unbeaten run in Serie A to hit a sweet 16 games, with a win on Saturday night not only extending that figure to 17 but also putting the pressure on second-place Inter to get the win over Fiorentina 24 hours later and prevent next weekend’s Derby d’Italia from being an occassion where Allegri’s squad could have a three- or four-point lead.
You can describe the situation in any one of the now-many quotes Allegri has thrown out in recent weeks and they will all remain true. It could be cops and robbers. It could be like Yannik Sinner and Novak Djokovic. It could be something else that will pop into Max’s head over the course of the next eight days as the Italian press hypes things up like only they can.
No matter what, though, to get to next weekend with a lead atop the table and being able to say they’re not sharing it with Inter, this Saturday is very much a one that Allegri isn’t taking lightly.
““We have worked on our limits, we are physically and mentally well, knowing however that tomorrow the match must be won,” Allegri said Friday. “Empoli changed coach, (Davide) Nicola presented himself with a good victory: he provided solidity, but matches must be won on the pitch.”
Empoli have been much in the same kind of form as just about every Juve opponent outside of Roma over the past month and a half. They have lost five of their last nine games, drawing three others going into last weekend’s matchup against Monza. That’s where things turned for the better for Empoli, who brought in the infamous Nicola last week following their loss to fellow relegation battler Hellas Verona at the Bentegodi. That ninth and final game of their nine-game run since their last win in mid-November resulted in a rather impressive 3-0 victory over Raffaele Palladino’s side, giving Nicola a positive first step in what he hopes will be his latest magic trick for a relegation-threatened club.
Nicola, who has a reputation as a manager who is able to somehow get clubs out of the relegation zone, last visited Turin in September 2023 with Salernitana. The result? A 2-2 draw against Juventus that was marked be refereeing blunders galore, including a VAR blunder that cost Allegri’s squad all three points.
With how well Juve are going, a tight match like we saw the last time they played against a Nicola-managed side may not seem all that likely. They seem truly locked in on what they’re doing and not looking forward toward what’s happening next weekend. But now that the Derby d’Italia is actually next weekend, the mind can always play a few tricks on you. We’ve seen it happen with domestic and European showdowns in the past, and Allegri is very much somebody who remembers some of those instances. So as much as he says something along the lines of “We’ll only think about Inter once we get past Empoli,” the fact remains that his team will have to go out and prove it.
No matter if it’s lungo muso or corto muso, a win over Empoli will set things up quite well for both a Sunday when they can kick their feet and watch what happens in Florence on Sunday night and for next weekend as a whole.
- The two long-term suspensions, Paul Pogba and Nicolo Fagioli, are still suspended.
- The two long-term injury absentees, Mattia De Sciglio and Moise Kean, are still out injured.
- Kean, by the way, is still waiting for his proposed move to Atlético Madrid to go through, but Angel Correa has not finalized his deal with Al-Ittihad. (Yes, the same Saudi Pro League club that reportedly offered Juve €30 million to try and sign Matias Soulé last week.)
- Adrien Rabiot and Federico Chiesa will be out injured for the second consecutive weekend due to injuries. Both players are working to be healthy enough to play against Inter, according to Allegri. (That would be quite nice.)
- Allegri said that it will likely be Fabio Miretti who is the one who steps into Rabiot’s currently vacant spot in the starting lineup. “(Miretti) needs to mature, but that’s normal for a player born in 2003,” Allegri added.
- Allegri eluded to potential rotation on the wings and in defense —namely with Danilo — when it comes to his starting lineup. Alex Sandro, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Friday, is rumored to be the one who would step in for Danilo.
- There’s a good reason for Juve’s captain not playing against Empoli: Just like last Sunday’s game, Danilo is the only Juventus player who is a yellow card away from having to serve a one-game suspension. And considering who Juve’s next game is against, this is a very important piece of information to consider.
- Allegri didn’t say for sure whether new signing Tiago Djaló would be in the matchday squad, but said that he will “little bit little” inserted into the team, which could be a hint that it might be a bit before we see him make his Juve debut.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
The thing with Juventus this season is that there simply isn’t as much starting lineup churn because there aren’t as many games being played. With not as much games being played, there aren’t as many minutes being logged compared to previous years, injuries happening and lack of recovery time between each game.
Therefore, we’ve talked a lot about the same handful of players in this section rather than spreading the wealth around. And, my friends, this week is going to be no different.
While there are some question marks out wide based on what Allegri said during his pre-match press conference, the general feeling amongst the folks who do predicted lineups is that it will still be Filip Kostic and Andrea Cambiaso starting out wide.
So let’s go ahead and talk about Cambiaso, a player who continues to impress and show just how important he has become to a squad that is very much short on natural wingbacks.
As we sit here a little over halfway through the 2023-24 season and there are a couple of names atop the Juventus assist leaders list that are rather surprising. The man who is atop the list, Weston McKennie, is very much the most surprising considering we didn’t exactly expect him to be a Juve player during the first few weeks of preseason training. But one of the names that is one assist behind McKennie, that of Cambiaso, is also pretty surprising considering the simple fact that we weren’t totally sure where he fit into Allegri’s plans entering the season. That was mainly because, at first, he was thought of to be a direct backup to somebody who he has just as many assists as, Filip Kostic, on the left wing.
But it’s the fact that Cambiaso is now doing a lot of his work on the right wing that is continuously almost impressive as just how immediate as his impact has been from the first week of the season onward.
The potential of him playing on the right as more of an experiment rather than something even close to full time was something we heard about here and there during the summertime months. It was more of a theory about what could be rather than something that Allegri was going to use time after time like he has in recent months. Yet, as Cambiaso continues to play well, the man who we thought was going to be the main guy out wide on the right, Timothy Weah, is now more of an option off the bench more than anything else. (Which is totally fine, by the way, because having somebody like Weah and his speed as a second-half option to run at tired defenses is nowhere close to a bad thing.)
So here’s to hoping that the Cambiaso train can continue to roll as we stand a week out from the clear-cut biggest game of the season. And you know that Cambiaso, a boyhood Juventino, is going to be totally jacked up to play his first Derby d’Italia at the San Siro next weekend.
When: Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024.
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy.
Official kickoff time: 6 p.m. in 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 2 (United Kingdom).
Online/Streaming: Paramount+, CBS Sports Golazo (United States); fuboTV Canada (Canada); discovery+, discovery+ app (United Kingdom); DAZN Italy, 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.