Juventus v Benevento
Serie A Week 12 – Sunday, 5th November – 14:00 GMT – Juventus Stadium
Juventus’ Champions Leagues games are always emotional roller coasters and at the end of them you are never truly satisfied. The Sporting tilt was no different: the squad once again started slowly, let the opponents control the ball and conceded an avoidable goal. However, they cranked up the intensity in the second half, when it was like seeing a different team, managed to tie the game and could have won outright. The draw was a missed opportunity because of the Barcelona result and likely takes away the chance to finish in first position, but, all things considered, qualification is within reach.
In the last Serie A match, the Bianconeri obtained a massive result at San Siro against Milan. The match was pretty balanced and both teams had offensive gusts. The main difference was that Juventus have a few superstars on the roster, while the Rossoneri are a collection of good/excellent players, but they are still missing something. Three pretty satisfying days for Gonzalo Higuain, who silenced his critics with two stunners on Saturday and with a pretty finish on Tuesday. It is safe to say that last year’s Pipita is back. On the other hand, Paulo Dybala has had a couple of down weeks: we could not expect him to keep up with his stellar scoring average, but he has not looked spry after the break. There was some talk about him resting this Sunday, but Massimiliano Allegri confirmed that he will start in the pre-game presser.
The coach was quite talkative about the lineup this time: Sami Khedira will get a breather and will most likely be joined by Gianluigi Buffon and Mario Mandzukic on the bench. Alex Sandro will start as he tries to get out of his slump. Miralem Pjanic has picked up a quad injury and has been ruled out, along with Medhi Benatia, whose ankle ailment is becoming worrisome. The absence of the Bosnian ace and Dybala’s being in the XI probably rules out the possibility of a 4-3-3. The coach propped up Claudio Marchisio, but Rodrigo Bentancur could end up getting the nod.
Benedikt Howedes is in the squad list and could make an appearance if things go well. Mattia De Sciglio played in the UCL game, so the emergency at right back is now solved and those three and Stephan Lichtsteiner will battle for the starting job in the upcoming weeks. The other two doubts are in the heart of the defence, where probably one between Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli will rest in favour of Daniele Rugani, and on the right flank, where Federico Bernardeschi has a slight edge on Juan Cuadrado. Marko Pjaca played in the midweek friendly and will get some minutes with the U20 team: he will be ready to contribute after the break, we will see if he actually manages to get playing time.
This is not the toughest match-up of the season, to use a euphemism, but everybody can hurt you in Serie A if given the opportunity. Many brought up the Frosinone game from last season and it is an apropos comparison, even though they were probably more organized than Benevento. In any case, no fixture can be taken lightly.
4-2-3-1: Szczesny; Lichtsteiner, Barzagli, Rugani, Asamoah; Marchisio, Matuidi; Bernardeschi, Dybala, Douglas Costa; Higuain.
Pjanic (quad), Benatia (ankle), Pjaca (knee).
As everybody knows by now, Benevento have had the worst start in Serie A history because of their eleven losses in a row. They sacked the coach Marco Baroni to hire Roberto De Zerbi, who might be a little more energetic and have slightly more experience in the top league, but it is hard to see such change as something more than a lateral move. The problems lie in the roster more than on the bench.
They built a defence that was unconvincing to begin with, because players such as Andrea Costa and Luca Antei were backups elsewhere, but then were hit by a slew of injuries, capped off by the suspension of the captain Fabio Lucioni for doping-related charges. They have fielded a patchwork backline in most of the games, featuring either the fullback Lorenzo Venuti as centre-back or the rookie Berat Djimsiti and things have gone awry. They have not gotten much from the flanks either, even though the possible combinations of Gaetano Letizia, Gianluca Di Chiara and Achraf Lazaar look good on paper for a low-table team.
As a whole, it looks like a team that lacks cohesion and leadership. The absence of Lucioni took away their oldest player and probably letting go Fabio Ceravolo was a mistake. Having a double-digit striker can swing the relegation race and so far Pietro Iemmello, Massimo Coda and George Puscas have not showed yet that they can be that guy, while Samuel Armenteros has been deployed for very limited stints. At least they recently got back from an ankle injury Amato Ciciretti, their most exciting player and the main offensive caterer. Marco D’Alessandro was supposed to be a big contributor, but he has spent most time on the shelf: he is on the squad list for this one, but they have lost Iemmello to a last-minute problem, so they can not deploy their best trident yet. Coda is probably next in line to start upfront, but I would not put it past them to try a false-nine.
In the last game, they used a rather weird 3-4-2-1, with two fullbacks, Venuti and Di Chiara, adapted as centre-backs and Danilo Cataldi and Ledian Memushaj more advanced. A very physical lineup that did little to stop Lazio: at least the insertion of Ciciretti at the break gave them a shot in the arm, even though they did not manage to score. The coach is probably going to ditch that slowpoke formation by putting at least one true more offensive player. Djimsiti could take Di Chiara’s spot in the backline.
3-4-2-1: Brignoli; Venuti, Antei, Di Chiara; Letizia, Viola, Chibsah, Lazaar; Ciciretti, Cataldi; Coda.
Iemmello, Costa (hamstring).