When you think back to Juventus’ season-opening win over Udinese, there’s a lot of good things that come to mind. It was, at the time, talked about as a new beginning for Max Allegri’s squad after a 2022-23 campaign full of off-field issues, points penalties and plenty of drama in the league and in Europe.
But on that mid-August night at the Friuli, there were new tactics, a new look and a bright start to the new season that certainly had folks excited about what could be afoot.
A lot has happened in the five-plus months and22 Serie A fixtures since these two faced one another on the opening weekend of the season back in August. Sans the month of January in which Juve were beating up on the lower part of the Serie A table, those high-flying ways from Allegri’s squad have been more or less replaced with the same kind of corto muso ways. We’ve seen Juventus finish a matchday atop the table for the first time in a couple of years. Juventus may or may not be still in the title race depending on who you ask and what kind of mood they are in.
But when Juve take the Allianz Stadium field Monday night to face that same Udinese side they beat with room to spare on opening night, these two things will ring true:
- Inter’s comeback win over Roma on Saturday allowed them to open up a seven-point lead atop the Serie A table.
- Milan’s slim win over Napoli on Sunday means that the difference between second place and third place is all of one single point. That’s it.
So, yeah. This is not a sudden type of development (other than the Milan win), but Juventus facing a team that is now just barely in the relegation zone is very much an important matchup for a variety of reasons. It doesn’t matter if it’s to keep pace with Inter as they get closer and closer to playing that game they have in hand or if it’s to get some breathing between Milan in third, it’s important.
There’s also this little piece of the equation: We saw Juventus slip up just a couple of weeks ago against an Empoli side that, until the arrival of Davide Nicola, was where Udinese are now. We saw Juve drop points against Empoli, thus opening the door for Inter to retake the lead in Serie A before the Derby d’Italia.
Now as Juve enters a situation where they any more potential slip-ups could spell the end of the Scudetto race, they look to avoid what happened against Empoli when they face a Udinese squad that is very much on the struggle bus just like they were to begin the season.
Parting ways with sideline zaddy Andrea Sottil in late-October hasn’t exactly resulted in a stark improvement in form for a team that was one of the worst in the league when the equally as handsome Gabriele Cioffi was brought back to the club after they parted ways with him in 2022. With Empoli and Hellas Verona both getting points this weekend, Udinese’s officially in the relegation zone come kickoff time Monday night — which, judging by their results, is pretty understandable. They’ve won just one game since the first weekend of November, a 3-0 victory on Dec. 30 over a Bologna that currently sits in fifth.
This is not only Juventus’ chance to get back on the horse — something that Allegri emphasized during his press conference Sunday — but also to hopefully get some momentum going again and do what they did for pretty much all of January. Playing those types of opponents worked out quite well, and the more they can do that again means that their hold on second place is here to stay.
Because, at this point, unless Inter can show they’re actually going to slow down and drop points, that is a train that is just waiting to truly break away from the rest of the field.
- Monday night will be Max Allegri’s 405th game in charge at Juventus, putting him level with Marcello Lippi for second on the club’s all-time list behind Giovanni Trapattoni.
- The most notable injury news is that Dusan Vlahovic was not able to recover from the thigh injury he picked up during Juve’s Derby d’Italia loss last weekend. It is still unclear just how much time Vlahovic might miss beyond the Udinese game as he is still training away from the group.
- The other injured players are: Mattia De Sciglio, Moise Kean and Mattia Perin, who picked up a right knee injury during training earlier in the week.
- Danilo is suspended after picking up a yellow card against Inter. it is still somewhat unclear who will take his spot in the starting lineup between Daniele Rugani and (gulp) Alex Sandro.
- The two suspended midfielders, Paul Pogba and Nicolo Fagioli, are still suspended. We could, however, be hearing a Pogba suspension verdict in the next couple of days, so we’ve got that going for us. (Exciting!)
- Allegri said that January signing Carlos Alcaraz, who made his Juve debut last weekend, still isn’t ready to start after going through his first full week of training with his new team.
- With Vlahovic and Kean both out injured, Leonardo Citti will be called up from the Next Gen squad to provide some depth, according to Allegri.
- Despite the disappointing loss to Inter last weekend, Allegri said his team is “in good shape” mentally and that there’s no shortage of motivation to get back to winning ways Monday night.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
The last time Juventus and Udinese faced one another, a season opener that is now nearly six months in the past, we got to see this happy version of Federico Chiesa ...
Personally, I miss seeing a happy Chiesa showing his emotions like that. Much better than the frustrated one even if we get funny Chiesa faces that can be used as a meme at a later date. With four months in the season to go, I would love for the happy Chiesa be much more present than the grumpy one.
So let’s just hope that the good times can start again against the same Udinese squad.
With Vlahovic out injured, Arek Milik is the odds-on favorite to pair with Chiesa up front. That is probably a disappointment to some considering that the other option with Vlahovic out would be to pair Chiesa and Kenan Yildiz together for the first time all season.
Of course, it was just a few days ago that we were wondering if Chiesa was even going to be available for this game after he was hanging out with Vlahovic at J Medical undergoing scans for a bruised and swollen foot. That latest injury worry is a thing of the past now, with Chiesa ready to go and make only his second start in the last couple of months.
And that’s just the thing with all of these minor muscle injuries or knee (and foot) issues popping up more and more to end 2023 and into 2023 — Chiesa simply can’t get the strong early-season form that he had going again because he’s constantly being forced to stop for a week or two or having to play limited minutes. Allegri has had to manage Cihesa (and Vlahovic) quite a bit to keep them healthy — or at least try to! — this season and sometimes that means simply preventing the minor injuries from becoming ones that get worse.
So now, as Chiesa is fit again, what version of him will we see? The hope is the same one from the last time Juventus played Udinese because that sure was a fun version of Fred Church. And maybe, just maybe, we can see him celebrate scoring a goal again, too.
When: Monday, Feb. 12, 2024.
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, 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 1 (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.