If the Bianconeri had showed encouraging signs of improvement in the Dynamo Kyiv game, they then took three of four solid steps backwards in the following matches against Verona and Barcelona, where their displays were very worrying. The situation is obviously different without fans, but it was rare to see Juventus being smacked around by the opponents at home in the past and the Blaugrana team that visited team was surely not mighty given all their absences and recent form. The Scaligeri were too imposing as well.
In the early stages of the Andrea Pirlo era, it looks like the squad is in a pickle as it does not like to defend when the other team has possession, nor does it effectively, but it is not yet able to command games, pin the opponents in their box and outgun them. Other teams that are aggressively offensive-minded across Europe, as Juventus likely aspire to be now, rely on high pressure to recover the ball quickly. On top of fueling the attack, it makes up for some shortcomings in the back: either high on the pitch or in your own final third, somewhere you have to be able to defend to stop the adversaries.
So far, the Madama has not had the intensity or the cohesiveness to pull off a convincing high pressure and therefore the defence has struggled because it was too often outmatched, which is inevitable since the lineup choices have always gone in the direction of having the most offensive and technical players on the pitch together and the roster overall is short on hustle and grit. Therefore, either the coach manages to have his ambitious plan quickly come to fruition, or he will have to go in another direction and solidify the back-line, but it is uncertain whether there is the manpower to do that. The fixtures will keep coming while the process is in motion and there is no time to waste.
For once, some good pieces good of news are coming from the infirmary as Cristiano Ronaldo shook off COVID: while it would be better to be cautious with the Portuguese ace to avoid muscular ailments after almost three weeks on the mend, keeping him off the pitch will be tough even the coach stated that he will not start. Giorgio Chiellini is close but will not return in this one, while Matthijs De Ligt could be back in a week. Leonardo Bonucci has not have lingering issues after gutting it out Wednesday, while Aaron Ramsey is not a 100 percent.
Leonardo Bonucci bit the bullet in the past game despite a sore thigh and will likely be spared in this one, with either Chiellini or Daniele Frabotta taking his place. There could be some rotation in the midfield now that Weston McKennie is fully available and the duo could change altogether as Arthur is poised to start. The play there has certainly left a lot to be desired, but it is better to wait to pass judgement until the four contributors are all in acceptable physical shape and fully acclimated and comfortable with each other. As it will be the case for most of the season, Dejan Kulusevski, Aaron Ramsey, Federico Chiesa and Federico Bernardeschi will be in the contention to start in a pair of roles on Sunday.
4-4-2: Szczesny; Cuadrado, Demiral, Bonucci, Danilo; Kulusevski, McKennie, Arthur, Chiesa; Dybala, Morata.
Sandro (thigh), De Ligt (shoulder).
Spezia have navigated the challenging start of the season pretty decently, as they have stayed afloat by picking up five points in the first five rounds of the season. They got smoked by two of the best sides in the League, Milan and Sassuolo, but took advantage of Udinese’s early struggles and beat them soundly on the road and are collected two straight two-two ties, but very different-looking, as they rallied back versus Fiorentina, while they got pipped at the post in Parma.
The Aquilotti share some similarities with one of the teams Juventus recently faced, Crotone, as they too like to keep the ball and be proactive even when facing better opponents, but also have some solidity issues in the back. They use quick counter-attacks more and better than the Sharks, as they have few speedy players. It is the usual too-short blanket problem, but it is pretty refreshing to see several minnows adapt an offensive-minded strategy in the usually conservative Serie A. It remains to be seen whether it will work out in the end, but so far so good for the Aquilotti.
They are managed by the rising star Vincenzo Italiano, a brilliant midfielder in his playing days, who has been coaching for just four years and has already earned three promotions from each of the four lower divisions with three different teams, capping it off with the most important one in the past campaign, doing so in stunning fashion as they were an underdog. They are obviously one of the main candidates to go down, but I would not bet against them as they can get hot in a hurry. Granted that it happened in Serie B, last year they were dead last after five matchdays, Italiano was on the ropes and about to get fired, but then they ripped off an incredible run that took them to the playoffs, where they were ultimately successful.
They assembled a young and very large roster during the summer, which is helpful as they are already dealing with few injuries and with a small COVID outbreak as three starters, Martin Erlic, Giulio Maggiore and Riccardo Marchizza tested positive, but the last two shook it off and could return to the XI Sunday. Despite singing a myriad of new players, they also have the option of leaning on the core that brought them to the top league because, besides one or two new pieces, the gap in quality is not blatant.
They utilize 4-3-3 but the two offensive wingers are pretty narrow and prefer cutting back rather than launching crosses, especially in this stretch where they are missing their giant reference point Andrej Galabinov due to a thigh injury. They have two options to replace him, the more mobile M’Bala Nzola, who did not do the pre-season with them as he re-signed late, and Roberto Piccoli, who is similarly big but is a rookie. Nzola got the nod in the past fixture. Whoever is picked will be joined by two pacey attackers among Emmanuel Gyasi, Daniele Verde, Kevin Agudelo and Diego Farias.
Giulio Maggiore is out after recently dealing with COVID: he is their most well-rounded midfield, but they have other good options like Paolo Bartolomei, who is fine assist-man, and the massive and dynamic Tommaso Pobega. The more defensive-minded Alessandro Deiola and prospect Lucien Agoume are also in the mix. Matteo Ricci will resume anchoring the midfield after being sidelined by a false positive swab and his level of efficacy in the top league has been a small surprise.
Without Erlic, the veteran Claudio Terzi is set to join Julian Chabot, who is on loan from Sampdoria and has been pretty imposing so far, but the duo of centre-backs is rather slow overall. Fullbacks are not really a big part of their design: on the left they have gone with the more cautious choice, either Riccardo Marchizza or Simone Bastoni, while Jacopo Sala recently got hurt, therefore last year’s standout will reprise the starting job. Cristian Dell’Orco can be an alternative either at centre-back or at left-back, while Federico Mattiello is out. Between the sticks, the starter Jeroen Zoet quickly suffered a major injury, Ivan Provedel got the start over Rafael in the following matches.
They will not bunker up and will try to switch field position quickly. Juventus will have to match up the intensity of another peppy outfit, but they can easily exploit the leakiness of their back-line if they take their time and do not go attack recklessly, exposing their own well-known defensive flaws.
4-3-3: Provedel; Ferrer, Terzi, Chabot, Marchizza; Deiola, Ricci, Bartolomei; Verde, Nzola, Gyasi.
Galabinov (thigh), Ramos (thigh), Mattiello (calf), Mastinu (foot), Zoet (thigh), Sala (thigh), Acampora (thigh), Maggiore (COVID).