Hellas Verona v Juventus
Serie A Week 23 – Saturday, 8th February – 19:45 GMT – Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi
It was not a wire-to-wire victory despite the perfect result, but the Old Lady did bounce back against Fiorentina, besides a worrying lapse in the first half where Wojciech Szczesny prevented things from going sideways. The attitude was the right one from the get-go and, to be honest, that has been the case for many of the home fixtures, where the problem has mostly been giving up cheap goals and keeping opponents in the game rather than being too passive. The true tests to assess the growth of the team will come versus quality teams on the road, but actually there are not many of them in the remainder of the Serie A schedule.
The most positive news of the day was Douglas Costa looking like his best self, and there were traces of that against Napoli too. Hopefully he will be able to stay healthy for a while because he can be a difference maker like no other, either starting or off the bench. His return re-opens the tactical debate between 4-3-1-2 and 4-3-3 – since the Brazilian speedster resurfaced, it has tipped toward the latter, also in Naples when he was not there.
Things are fluid and probably there will not be a permanent choice. It is possible a certain Cristiano Ronaldo whispered in the coach’s ear that he prefers it out wide. Each scheme has its merit: the pure trident avoids being bottled up centrally and opens some lanes for midfielders; having a no.10 and two strikers makes the squad more unpredictable because the forwards can move around and pick their sports and combine better since they are closer to each other and the best goals of the season have arrived from those tight interplays.
Coach Maurizio Sarri has not tried Costa in the hole in recent games after trying it out before the latest injury, maybe he will do it shortly or perhaps the idea has been set aside. The biggest question is whether Paulo Dybala and the ex-Bayern winger can actually feature together with La Joya as a not-so-false nine as, no disrespect to Gonzalo Higuain who has been a trooper, the ceiling of the squad is much higher with Dybala out there and seeing him on the bench is always a stab in the heart.
He has done it a little in Palermo, Sarri pulled it off with magnificent returns with Dries Mertens, but the Belgian striker, who was originally a winger, already had a tendency to look more to score than to assist, he simply finessed his craft after the switch. Dybala instead has always played centrally and likes to peel back to get things going and that would lead to a big void in the box, which was an issue that had already transpired with the other tactic and could be further exacerbated with having two attackers starting off from a more distant position.
The manager will have to weigh that against having the more electrifying and pacier Costa compared to Aaron Ramsey. The roster remains pretty awkwardly constructed and arguably there is not a solution that works in every situation, and versatility, as long as it does not become confusion, is an advantage; it is just a matter of putting the top players in the best possible conditions to succeed.
As for this week, Federico Bernardeschi is out with a calf ailment: Juve are turning him into a box-to-box but we are not really in a stretch of the season when there is time for experiments, especially because Rodrigo Bentancur and Adrien Rabiot continue to be very solid and there is not a glaring need there. Depending on the percentage of risk, Costa could get another start over Ramsey and/or a striker, so we might see the atypical front-line.
4-3-3: Szczesny; Cuadrado, De Ligt, Bonucci, Sandro; Bentancur, Pjanic, Rabiot; Costa, Dybala, Ronaldo.
Chiellini (knee), Khedira (knee), Danilo (hamstring), Bernardeschi (calf)
Given the fact that were considered a lock to be relegated before the start of the campaign, Verona have been pound for bound the biggest surprise so far as they sit pretty in 9th position, just below the Europa League zone and more importantly with a 16-point cushion over the last three spots. It is not a fluke either: Milan Juric, who had very little success in his previous stops, managed to get his message across to a pretty young and unproven bunch and transformed it into a testudo. They have given up just 23 goals, which is just two more than Juventus and it is kind of mind-blowing.
They do not just park the bus and clog up the box, they actually defend very aggressively, with a high pressing line. Juric is a Gian Piero Gasperini discipline and the formation, 3-4-2-1, is pretty similar, with two of the centre-backs often advancing to forestall opponents deep.
Standout performances from a few players have done the rest to complement a very sound design: Amir Rrahmani has been imposing right away since joining from Dinamo Zagreb, Marash Kumbulla, fresh from their youth academy, has been a revelation, Sofyan Amrabat immediately stood out for his dynamism in the midfield after being a late addition from Club Brugge. They already turned in a big profit in two of them, and they will cash in on Kumbulla this summer.
A few other contributors were looking to bounce back after underwhelming stints, for instance Miguel Veloso, who has been a tremendous leader and a big part of their plan with his set pieces, Darko Lazovic and Koray Gunter had not played this well in Genoa. The rest of the regulars, Marco Davide Faraoni, Valerio Verre, Mattia Zaccagni, Matteo Pessina and Samuel Di Carmine, simply wanted to prove they belong in the top league. The different factors combine to shape a very determined and intense squad, so the Bianconeri will have to come out with right fire to combat that.
With the focus being mostly on the opposite side of the ball, their offence is pretty uninspiring, they scored just 26 goals, but they are quite sneaky and actually, before the nil-nil tie with Lazio, they had set a new club record for most consecutive games with at least a goal in Serie A. They do not have a go-to-guy but every player has chipped in and the channel runs of their midfielders are pretty dangerous.
Juric alternated all three centre-forwards, Giampaolo Pazzini and Mariusz Stepinski being the other two, but recently preferred going with Verre as false-nine to further bolster the XI. They recently added Fabio Borini to have a different kind of option up front. They do use the counter-attacking game, but they actually do not have that much speed, if not on the flanks. Their centre-backs are threats on corner kicks. What goes around comes around because, if Juventus had some disadvantage in the Supercoppa, the Scaligeri faced Lazio Wednesday and are not accustomed to playing every three days. They are not very deep, but they could make some unexpected changes to their XI.
3-4-2-1: Silvestri; Rrahmani, Gunter, Kumbulla; Faraoni, Amrabat, Veloso, Lazovic; Zaccagni, Pessina; Verre.