Bologna v Juventus
Serie A Week 25 – Sunday, 24th February – 14:00 GMT – Stadio Renato Dall’Ara
It is rough to pick up the pieces after the disastrous night in Madrid. We will see in the return leg whether Juventus’ lack of offensive punch was caused by Atletico Madrid’s defensive aptitude, but certainly after preaching the importance of scoring a goal at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, the squad did not look very interested in attacking and seemed to settle for the nil-nil, which never works for us. The difficulties in the last games of the group stage were chalked up to the qualification already being in the bag, but the Bianconeri again struggled to get up and rally in Champions League.
There was hope that the mere presence of Cristiano Ronaldo could lift all of his teammates and instill some self-belief, but I guess nobody can fix going into the game with the wrong posture on his own. The team still does not play with the same commands as other giants and always has troubles weathering the storm, so adversities tend to snowball on them.
The usual issues in Europe like having a glass jaw and giving up cheap goals arose again and were the natural consequence of a subpar game plan, insufficient intensity and physicality and an underwhelming game plan.
Diving into the nitty-gritty of the lineup and tactical choices is pointless when so many things go wrong and it is certainly not fair to pin everything on one individual. The only thing I did not like from the get-go was Mattia De Sciglio in the XI for Joao Cancelo, not for the player himself, who was in the midst of a nice run but was severely overmatched on Wednesday, but because it tipped what strategy we were going with.
I figured before the fixture that we would have been in a nice spot if we had to score just once to advance in the return match, but now having to do it at least twice just to make it to overtime in a kind of game that will right up the Colchoneros’ alley is a nightmare scenario. Miracles do happen in sports, but there is only hope, and not belief, for the next 20 days. Certainly being eliminated this early, albeit against a potent foe, would be a humungous disappointment.
The Sami Khedira news comes at an inopportune time, because, while it is the best version of what it could have been, he was finally getting into a groove, adding a different dimension to the midfield, and he will need time to get his legs back underneath him once he can resume practicing. We are equipped to go with just four, or even three, players in that area, but it is just a bummer.
As for the Bologna game, Miralem Pjanic is still not 100 after playing with the flu on Wednesday and the suspension of Emre Can does no favour, so only Rodrigo Bentancur and Blaise Matuidi are up and running in the midfield. Douglas Costa is having a hard time coming back from a quad injury, so there are not many viable alternatives. It would probably be too audacious to switch to a 4-2-3-1 with Federico Bernardeschi on top of the usual trident from the kick-off, so Cancelo could be advance to form a 4-4-2, with Bernardeschi on the left and one of the attackers resting. The favourite as of now seems Paulo Dybala, but they would be interchangeable in this system. Giorgio Chiellini is likely to have a day off, while Martin Caceres might play over Mattia De Sciglio at right back, with Daniele Rugani deputizing in the middle.
4-4-2: Perin; De Sciglio, Bonucci, Rugani, Sandro; Cancelo, Bentancur, Matuidi, Bernardeschi; Mandzukic, Ronaldo.
Costa (quad), Khedira (heart), Cuadrado (knee).
Bologna have made few changes since Juventus easily eliminated them in Coppa Italia back at the beginning of January. Filippo Inzaghi was on his last legs back then and was axed after an embarrassing home loss to Frosinone and they appointed the Sinisa Mihajlovic to replace him. In three games with him at the helm, they have defeated Inter at San Siro, they have tied with Genoa at home and they have lost against Roma on the road, but putting up a great fight in the final minutes.
Mihajlovic has expedited the process they had signaled with their January acquisitions and therefore they have switched to a 4-3-3, featuring Nicola Sansone and Roberto Soriano in prominent roles. They will have to go on a run to avoid relegation, as they are currently 18th, three points behind Empoli, four behind SPAL and Udinese.
They try to have a more proactive style now and the two newcomers from Villarreal certainly give them two big nexuses in the attack and in the midfield. Sansone scored his first goal last week and he is always venomous against top teams, while Soriano had few changes and has already put together season with five or more goals.
Mihajlovic has even revived Mattia Destro, who snapped out of a year-long slump against Genoa, but he then picked up a thigh strain and will be on the stands on Sunday. Rodrigo Palacio, even at his venerable age, still runs around and makes stuff happen, but he will not be available on Sunday, alongside Federico Mattiello, who has an abdomen injury.
So few absences, but compared to last week they have recovered Giancarlo Gonzalez, Lyanco and Riccardo Orsolini: one of the first two will pair up with Danilo in the back, while Orsolini will be precious, most likely off the bench, in light of the Palacio injury. Either Ibrahima Mbaye or Arturo Calabresi will man the right flank, with Mitchell Dijks on the left. They allowed 37 goals, which is fourth worse in the League, but not catastrophic.
Federico Santander will lead the front-line, sandwiched by Sansone and probably Simone Edera, so two speedy wingers. Scoring has been a major problem and they have found the target just 19 times so far, but they have shown some improvements under the new regime there, not necessarily in terms of end product, but surely with a higher number of chances created.
Compared to the squad we faced at the beginning of the year, we will likely find a side that will not back down as easily and has a little more pizzazz. This is the time of the season when relegation strugglers not just roll over on the first sign of difficult, but are desperate for points and look for them in every situation, even the direst one.
4-3-3: Skorupski; Mbaye, Danilo, Lyanco, Dijks; Poli, Pulgar, Soriano; Edera, Santander, Sansone.
Palacio (thigh), Destro (thigh), Mattiello (abdomen).
Bologna & Juventus Performance Statistics