Juventus v Bologna
Serie A Week 8 – Saturday, 19th October – 19:45 GMT – Juventus Stadium
It would have been nice to be able to ride the momentum after a tremendous win over Inter, but such is the nature of the early-season schedule, with the international breaks ruining all the fun. It is quite appalling that a better place has not been found for the qualifiers and even more astonishing that other sports are copying what football is doing.
The outing in San Siro was so encouraging that even a tie would not have felt like a negative result. The squad was assertive and had the upper-hand for most of the game, especially in the second half. Being able to do on the road in arguably the toughest match-up in Italy, while not being close to 100 percent is a good omen for the future.
I do not recall Maurizio Sarri standing out for his subs in the past, but he read the clash to perfection, from trying to go all-in with the heavy trident to quickly pulling the plug when Inter had started to take advantage of some imbalance in the midfield. Deploying Rodrigo Bentancur as no.10 was a little odd, it only came out later that Aaron Ramsey picked up a last-minute injury, but he served the assist for the game-winning goal and generally played well, like Emre Can.
The attack is humming and if the third and initially excluded striker can always have an impact, then there is not going to be any problem whatsoever in the rotation. Now it is interesting to see what will happen with Douglas Costa coming back: the initial 4-3-3 worked fine, especially because the Brazilian winger was in marvellous form, but it is tough to match the unpredictability of 4-3-1-2, where nobody up front has a set position, which always keeps the defenders on their toes and has led to some fantastic interplay. Hopefully they will be able to keep the same level of movement once Costa will resume being a regular, which he thoroughly deserves.
He is not ready to come back in this one, but he has a chance for the matches coming up next week. His return could lead to some much-awaited changes to the midfield: Sami Khedira had a strong start, but over the last few games his effectiveness has abated. The ball is reaching the strikers more quickly and, for the most part, they are the ones that engineer and finalize the scoring opportunities. If the German world champion does not contribute to the offence, then he, differently from Blaise Matuidi, brings very little to the table. The final destination will likely be deploying Aaron Ramsey there, as has already happened once, but in the meantime the dynamism of Bentancur or the muscularity of Can would be more helpful.
Mattia De Sciglio and Danilo will be back from their muscular problems, but they will have a tough time unseating Juan Cuadrado at right back and that is where he should continue to be used. If the coach, who prefers lefties as left-backs, can make do with De Sciglio backing up Alex Sandro, and he has a lot of experience there, then that will no longer be an area of concern.
Aaron Ramsey spent the break nursing a muscular injury: he is fine now, but he is usually treated with white gloves, and rightly so, therefore Federico Bernardeschi, who got some confidence-boosting performances with Italy, is primed to get another start in the hole. Gonzalo Higuain has a little edge over Paulo Dybala because he stayed in Turin during the break.
4-3-1-2: Szczesny; Cuadrado, Bonucci, De Ligt, Sandro; Khedira, Pjanic, Matuidi; Bernardeschi; Higuain, Ronaldo.
Costa (thigh), Chiellini (knee), Perin (shoulder), Pjaca (knee).
Bologna have assembled an ambitious squad, but they have run into a sticky patch after a promising start, as they have not won in four rounds, where they lost to Roma and Udinese and tied with Genoa and Lazio. The two displays against the two minnows were particularly lackadaisical, while they held their own against the two Rome-based clubs as they were pipped at the post by La Lupa. This means that they tend to struggle when the opponents bunker up and clog up the spaces, while they have the quality to sting even the top teams if they have room to counter.
They went on a majestic run late last season and had started with two wins in the first three matches before the ongoing slump, but they have not been able to rekindle that magic yet. The invested a lot during the summer, first of all to retain three linchpins of last season’s streak, Riccardo Orsolini, Nicola Sansone and Roberto Soriano, who, however, have plateaued a little in the current campaign.
They hired former Roma director Walter Sabatini, and he is well-known for taking gambles on young and usually foreign prospects: some have panned out right away, like Takehiro Tomiyasu, who has been a force as right back. However, he picked up an injury during the break. Two have not got much playing time so far: Jerdy Schouten and Andreas Skov Olsen, despite the buzz and their production before coming over, will have their opportunities, perhaps even in this one. The jury is still out instead on their duo of new centre-backs Stefano Denswil and Mattia Bani, who are not as green and have both been a little shaky at times. One of them will partner with the old reliable Danilo.
Their main problem is that Rodrigo Palacio remains their best option to spearhead the attack as a false-nine, but, while he contributes a lot with his playmaking, he is not a consistent scorer. Soriano, who mostly plays as no.10 this year, is often the recipient of their best chances, but he does not have much aplomb in front of the goal. Orsolini and Sansone are both good and prolific finishers, but the enemies caught up to the fact that they are the main threats and so the element of surprise has been taken away.
The former Parma player has found the target twice on penalties, the (ex?) Juventus attacker just once, even though he is by all accounts their go-to guy and arguably their best player on offence with his dribbling skills, technique, pace and shooting prowess. Finding a productive striker would have immensely helped them and would have opened up opportunities for everybody else. Mattia Destro has been inconsistent for years now, and currently out with another knee thing, while Federico Santander does not offer much besides his physical presence.
They lost Gary Medel, who was already suspended and also suffered a thigh strain. He was a pretty substantial stabilizing presence as pivot in such an offensive-minded scheme like a pure 4-2-3-1 is. They could go with the veteran duo of Andrea Poli and Blerin Dzemaili to replace him, but also Schouten could be an option.
Soriano has experience there, but the match-up is a little too daunting for that. They have been talking up Matthias Svanberg after his good showing versus Lazio and perhaps he will get another chance in the hole here, but more likely off the bench. He surely has impressive physical tools, but he has to put it all together.
Their plan counts on the flank game a lot, which is natural considering the talent of Orsolini and Sansone, but also of the fullbacks, but that takes a hit with both Tomiyasu and Mitchell Dijks sidelined, as the back-ups, while serviceable, are not as effective. However, the design is a little hamstrung by the fact that they usually do not one forward that dominates in the air, so their actions are mostly funnelled through the wingers cutting inside, which can get stale after a while. Palacio adds an element of surprise peeling back and moving around, but that does not necessarily translate in goals. They have few long-range shooters. Their defence has been subpar so far and also Lukasz Skorupski has not been totally reliable.
4-2-3-1: Skorupski; Mbaye, Danilo, Denswil, Krejci; Poli, Dzemaili; Orsolini, Soriano, Sansone; Palacio.
Tomiyasu (thigh), Dijks (fooot), Medel (thigh), Destro (knee).