Bologna v Juventus
Serie A Week 17 – Sunday, 17th December – 14:00 GMT – Stadio Renato Dall’Ara
Juventus did not manage to defeat Inter at home, but four points in the two colossal clashes at the top of the table is still a pretty good haul. It stings because the Bianconeri played a good game and created few chances to score, but did not finalize. Contrary from the Napoli game, we controlled the pace and the ball for most of the time since the Nerazzurri came to the Stadium with a rather defensive approach. Luciano Spalletti was content with not losing and who can blame him. Roma and Napoli failed to take advantage of the draw so everything remained the same up there.
Juan Cuadrado was once again spry and efficient, while Gonzalo Higuain was trapped among their centre-backs and Mario Mandzukic did not convert a couple of sitters. Blaise Matuidi, Kwadwo Asamoah and Medhi Benatia continued their string of good games in a row, while Miralem Pjanic was a little more assertive with two flankers on his side, but he is still not 100%.
Up next is the Bologna fixture: there is some trap game potential as it is sandwiched between the Inter and the Roma tilts. It is imperative that Juventus do not drop point here as this portion of the schedule is filled with big games. Unfortunately, it will take place at 3 pm and it looks to me that weird things always happen when we play in the standard Serie A slot.
A few updates from the infirmary where things did not get much better despite a rare full week of rest: Gianluigi Buffon is still dealing with a pulled calf and Giorgio Chiellini is out with an undisclosed minor hamstring ailment. As already mentioned, Pjanic is dinged up but available. Stephan Lichtsteiner is out but not far behind. Benedikt Howedes will return in 2018.
Paulo Dybala was benched in the Inter game and that is obviously newsworthy. He has not been himself over the last two months, basically since the first international break, and the reports about the reasons why are all over the place: some say the early success got in his head, others that he is distracted by some legal stuff with his previous agent, or that he is out of shape. Whatever it is, Juventus need to get him going. Let’s not forget that Gonzalo Higuain was held out for a couple of games at the beginning of the season when he was struggling and then found the best condition and started producing.
The reports about the starting XI are mixed and we will get more clarity after Allegri’s presser. Daniele Rugani and Andrea Barzagli will battle it out to start at CB, while Alex Sandro will cover the left flank. Pjanic could be spared for next week, with Rodrigo Bentacur taking his place in a three-man midfield, while Claudio Marchisio would be the frontrunner with 4-2-3-1, giving also Sami Khedira a break. In all likelihood, Cuadrado will not be risked, so Douglas Costa is set to start, but Federico Bernardeschi has a shot as well. Obviously there would be room for both with the five-star lineup and La Joya sitting.
4-3-3: Szczesny; De Sciglio, Rugani, Benatia, Alex Sandro; Khedira, Bentancur, Matuidi; Douglas Costa, Higuain, Mandzukic.
Buffon (calf), Chiellini (hamstring), Howedes (quad), Lichtsteiner (hamstring).
Bologna are enjoying a pretty decent season: they are in 11th position, well above the relegation race, but probably still not quite ready to concretely compete for a European spot. The problem with them is that it is never quite sure what their seasonal objectives are and, despite a very rich ownership, their reinforcement campaigns are never that compelling. They have feasted on smaller clubs, while they have collected a grand total of one point in the games against Inter, Roma, Napoli and Lazio.
They are streaky, both when they are up and when they are down. They had a lot of roster continuity and this has helped Roberto Donadoni. They have benefited from big improvements from a few youngsters: Federico Di Francesco made the leap before hurting his knee and will be major contributor in 2018, Ibrahima Mbaye and Erick Pulgar seem to have finally put it all together and become regular starters in Serie A and Godfred Donsah is back on track after a down year.
After spending few weeks in the doghouse in the fall, Mattia Destro has found playing time and is doing well, as he tallied two goals and two assists over the last two games. Rodrigo Palacio has been an excellent addition: even though he has not scored much so far, he has been a playmaker and a leader on the pitch. Unfortunately for them, it does not look like he will be available in this one due to a hamstring contracture. He will be replaced by either the speedster Orji Okwonkwo, who has had success coming off the bench this year, or Ladislav Krejci, who was last season’s starter but has fallen out of favour after Di Francesco’s rise.
After a quiet start, Simone Verdi reaffirmed his star status over the last month and a half, with terrific plays all over the pitch and great efficiency in the box. He has exquisite technique and can kick with both feet, which makes him a unique threat on set pieces. It will probably not be long before a top team deservedly snatches him.
In the midfield, they have an interesting mix of muscles and dynamism and the department, usually formed by Andrea Poli, Pulgar and Donsah, has grown together after Roberto Donadoni settled on a trio rather than shuffling players in and out. The same has not happened in the defence, where they do not a go-to combination yet, which could be risky in an area where chemistry is key. It appears that Vassilis Torosidis could get the start over an ailing Mbaye, who missed the last game with a small muscular problem, while Giancarlo Gonzalez is set to anchor the back-line, alongside one between Filip Helander and Domenica Maietta. Donadoni has relied on the veteran defender a lot when healthy.
Their biggest strength is countering: Verdi is an artist, Okwonkwo is one of the fastest players in Serie A and Donsah is very dangerous when he gets loose, so Juventus will have to watch out for that. However, they tend to struggle when their defence is put under pressure and they do have a lot of ball possession because they do not have the traits of those typical scrappy teams.
4-3-3: Mirante; Torosidis, Gonzalez, Maietta, Masina; Poli, Pulgar, Donsah; Verdi, Destro, Krejci.
Palacio (hamstring), Di Francesco (knee), Avenatti (heart).