Benevento v Juventus
Serie A Week 31 – Saturday, 7th April – 14:00 GMT – Juventus Stadium
Another year, another Champions League meltdown for Juventus. Assuming that we will not put together a miraculous comeback at Bernabeu, the Bianconeri’s last attempts to win the big-eared cup will have been derailed by Real Madrid (twice), Barcelona and Bayern Munich. There is no shame in losing against those super teams, but the harsh reality is that the Old Lady still does not measure up against the top clubs in Europe despite the prolonged domestic success. Moreover, it still lacks the needed mental toughness and the baggage, which continues to grow bigger and bigger, rears its ugly head in the most inopportune times.
We have been capable to take out teams that did not really belong in the upper echelon, like Tottenham, Monaco, Borussia Dortmund, but the last signature elimination remains the Merengues one in 2015. We have yet to get over the hump against the giants and, to get there, we need a mix of factors that are not as simple as buying one or two players, changing the tactics or even the coach. It is a long, multi-year process to get there that needs continuity and growth in any level or the organization.
The problem is that the game was pretty well played by our lads up until that goal for the ages by Cristiano Ronaldo. They were unfazed by being sucker-punched at the first chance and created few opportunities taking advantage of the open spaces Real left. However, their top players stepped up, ours did not. Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala had a few opportunities but did not manage to bag one that would have galvanized the whole Stadium, Douglas Costa was imprecise and mostly a non-factor. La Joya is young and will take this night, where he was even foolishly sent off, as a lesson.
Another issue is our defensive phase, which is so formidable in the League, but too lax in Champions League. Tottenham carved us open when he had not conceded in forever, Real Madrid could have easily notched a couple more. The back-line did not have a good game and there was not enough filter in the midfield, even though Rodrigo Bentancur and Sami Khedira had a courageous performance. Perhaps a stouter belt would have been better, but, in the wake of the biggest defeat in the Stadium’s history, the details do not matter much and, bottom line, you need to score to advance.
We still have a Scudetto to lock up, I guess, and the last Serie A weekend was a step in the right direction as we defeated Milan and Napoli surprisingly dropped points against Sassuolo. In that case, we were helped by an early goal, then ‘rope-a-doped’ for about an hour until the coach unleashed a more offensive-oriented line-up featuring Juan Cuadrado and Douglas Costa on the flanks. Sami Khedira basically won the game for us with two brilliant plays, the assist to the returning Colombian and a precise strike later on.
Andrea Barzagli suffered an abdominal strain against Real Madrid, which will sideline him for one or two weeks. Gianluigi Buffon will get a day off, Gonzalo Higuain and Giorgio Chiellini are likely to be spared as well. The rotation could also involve Douglas Costa and Sami Khedira, with Cuadrado and Claudio Marchisio taking their places, even though at this point Il Principino has fallen out of the rotation almost completely. Depending on what the plans are for the Bernabeu game, Kwadwo Asamoah’s could play at left back in lieu of Alex Sandro. Federico Bernardeschi is not in the squad list despite practicing almost fully this week.
4-4-2: Szczesny; Lichtsteiner, Benatia, Rugani, Alex Sandro; Cuadrado, Khedira, Pjanic, Matuidi; Dybala, Mandzukic.
It is probably too late for Benevento to avoid the drop, but that does not mean that they allow opponents to ragdoll them, especially at home, where they are very combative. While their road record could not be worse, as they have lost every single game, they have won four out of their last six home fixtures. The two defeats came against Napoli and against Cagliari, who were able to score twice in the stoppage time. Juventus will need to have the proper level of focus because it will not be a cakewalk, despite what the standings indicate.
Some additions in January helped and appointing Roberto De Zerbi certainly provided more energy. Due to the fact that they are so far behind, they play in a really carefree way, differently from other low-table tables that worry too much about not exposing their defence. They also have some interesting weapons in their roster, as they can hurt you either with speed, with the impressive youngster Enrico Brignola or Guilherme, with power, with Cheick Diabate or Massimo Coda, and they sprinkle in a little bit of technique with Filip Djuricic, Massimo Viola and Danilo Cataldi. Had they built this squad in the summer, they would have had a real shot.
Sandro and Bacary Sagna brought a ton of experience, the midfielder in particular has been a linchpin after joining and the vibe is just different from what it used to be. They are not scared of the opponents and they try to impose their pace and their style. Obviously, that could be detrimental for their back-line, which is one of the worst in the League, but to beat them you have to outscore them and that is a completely different challenge compared to the encounters with other minnows, where you simply have to crack their shell and be just a little wary of their counter-attacking game.
On Saturday, they will be without Gaetano Letizia, who is suspended, Ledjan Memushaj and Vittorio Parigini, who are backups at this point. Bacary Sagna missed some time with a hamstring ailment, but he could be back into the starting XI directly taking Letizia’s spot, with Lorenzo Venuti moving to the left flank, or they can use Alin Tosca as fullback.
They have tried different tactics this year, some 4-4-2 here, some 3-4-2-1 there, but they have implemented mostly 4-3-3 recently. They even had the luxury of doing some rotation in the midweek game, showing that they will not be content with being a sparring partner on Saturday. Guilherme and Sandro are expected to start, while there is a legitimate doubt about who will be the centre-forward. Massimo Coda has done well recently, Pietro Iemmello was hot to start the season but his year was ruined by knee injuries, while Cheick Diabate, who is a giant, has scored a lot after his winter move, but he is probably not completely in tune with his teammates. They also have the option of deploying two strikers, widening Djuricic’s position.
The Bianconeri will undoubtedly have to match their energy and will need to dictate the tempo to avoid being caught by surprise. While the Sanniti are dangerous upfront, they are certainly permissive in the back, so you will be fine as long as you can advantage of the scoring chances they let you create.
4-3-3: Puggioni; Sagna, Djimsiti, Tosca, Venuti; Viola, Sandro, Djuricic; Guilherme, Diabate, Brignola.
Benevento & Juventus Performance Statistics