Juventus v Bologna
Serie A Week 19 – Sunday, 8th January – 19:45 GMT – Juventus Stadium
The painful loss in the Supercoppa reminded us while it is imperative for Juventus to keep winning otherwise it becomes the target of silly media narrative. First we got that the management is not fully sold on Massimiliano Allegri and is already thinking about replacing him at the end of the season. Then we had that the coach himself might decide to leave to go abroad. Finally, we had the whole Paulo Dybala brouhaha: he is under-performing, he is unhappy because he is not starting, he is not extending his contract and eyeing a move in the summer, no, he will sign the renewal but that does not mean that he will stay. A lot of ink would not have been wasted had we not missed two penalties or had Dybala scored from point-blank range in the overtime.
Still, there were some useful takeaways from what was a highly entertaining game. First of all, Juventus should have at least scored twice in the first half an hour, when they were completely dominant. Then there are still some flaws when we play with a four-man defence: too often we are burnt on long crosses, where the centre-backs seem out of position and the striker or the cutter is marked by the fullbacks, which creates a disadvantage. Finally, Dybala as no.10 could work only in small stretches when the team is in full-out attack mode: the Argentinian struggled when he had to track back deep to get the ball and distribute it. These are not unfixable issues, but they need some work.
In the meantime, the transfer market re-opened and the management acted quickly to add Tomas Rincon basically to replace Mario Lemina, who is with Gabon at AFCON. This deal was probably a low hanging fruit: as it later become crystal-clear, there were still issue to overcome to acquire Axel Witsel and they wanted somebody ready and tested for battle. Rincon is not a transcendent player by any stretch, but he is a good soldier and adds an element of physicality that sometimes has been missing in our midfield. The executives are clearly looking to improve the left midfielder position in a big way, but I doubt it will happen soon. Some of the names are very interesting, like Corentin Tolisso, Leon Goretzka and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, but these are 20M plus investments which are hard to make in January, where teams are reluctant to sell and always drive a hard bargain. Anyway, I think this is a good idea: Sturaro is ok, but not good enough to be an unchallenged regular starter at Juventus. Adding a stud that combines technique and physicality and possibly some finishing skills is the easiest way to improve the XI. Juventus technically have this kind of player on the roster, but unfortunately after the heavy knee issues he went through, we have no prove that Kwadwo Asamoah is still the beast he was at Udinese in that position. I’d give it a try though.
What could easily happen instead is Patrice Evra leaving to play more. I think he still sees himself starting somewhere else, while here he is clearly, and deservedly, Alex Sandro’s backup. Despite the reports saying that Juventus could rely on Asamoah or Federico Mattiello, I think that would be too risky and adding another fullback, maybe one that can play on both flanks since Dani Alves will be out for a while, just makes sense. Matteo Darmian or Mattia De Sciglio would be the most logical candidates. Anyway in this position Juventus does not need a top player thanks to Alex Sandro, so it should not be hard to find somebody for the job.
On Sunday, Juventus face Bologna: not the most difficult opponent, but the first game after the break could be challenging from the physical standpoint as teams are usually not very spry. As per usual, Allegri will have to deal with some absences. Lemina and Medhi Benatia will partake AFCON so they will be out for a while, on the other hand Asamoah has refused the call up and it could be a very timely decision because he has a real chance to start. Alex Sandro is out with a muscular problem, Evra will be spared because of transfer market implications, therefore Asamoah will play at LB. If not on Sunday, he will for sure play in Coppa Italia, trying to win over the coaching staff that has not showed much confidence in him over the last couple of months.
Dani Alves and Leonardo Bonucci are out, while Gianluigi Buffon is dealing with a persistent flu and Norberto Neto will replace him. In all likelihood, it will be a 4-3-1-2: the doubts are between Andrea Barzagli and Daniele Rugani as Giorgio Chiellini’s partner and Rincon and Sturaro in the midfield. Dybala will start over Mandzukic, re-establishing the pre-injury hierarchy.
4-3-1-2: Neto; Lichsteiner, Barzagli, Chiellini, Asamoah; Khedira, Marchisio, Rincon; Pjanic; Dybala, Higuain.
Buffon (flu), Bonucci (hamstring), Sandro (hamstring), Alves (fibula), Mandragora (foot), Mattiello (nose);
Bologna are very solid financially and have put together a decent roster, yet I find them to be one of the most uninteresting teams in Serie A for many reasons. Their coach has a very mellow personality and has implemented a rather dull playing style. They do not really have any exciting youngster on the roster, other than maybe Federico Di Francesco and Godfred Donsah, who do not play a lot, if at all, and Simone Verdi, who is hurt. We already know that their star Mattia Destro is not a top team caliber player. What bothers the most me is that, once they are in a relative tranquil position, neither the ownership nor the squad seems to care about making a run at the prime positions, but they are content with avoiding relegation. They will easily stay away from the relegation race this year, but it is fair to expect some more investments from such a wealthy ownership.
They are in fifteenth position, ten points above Palermo. They had a decent start then stumbled along the way. They had a seven game stretch where they failed to win and collected five ties. They have won only one game on the road. They play the customary style of the low table teams, sitting back and counter-attacking, but since they have lost Simone Verdi to an ankle injury they only have one weapon on the open field, Ladislav Krejci, who is not a great finisher. I guess their most interesting active player is Adam Masina, whom Juventus is reportedly tracking as a possible addition at left-back: he had a very good rookie year in Serie A, but I think he had a rather disappointing season so far. Donadoni even benched at times in September and October, questioning his effort level in practice. He picked up in December and maybe he needs new motivations: he has excellent physical skills, he is very good going forward but needs a little work on the defensive side.
They will be without Verdi, Saphir Taider who is at AFCON and Sadiq Umar, who recently had ankle surgery. They use 4-3-3, but it really is more a 4-5-1. They have very experienced centre-back duo. There are a of doubts: at right back, it will be either Emil Krafth or Vasilis Torosidis, while in the midfield either Federico Viviani or Erick Pulgar will replace the starter Taider. Then, depending on the approach, either the more defensive Luca Rizzo or the pure winger Anthony Mounier will start on the right. They are pretty dangerous on the set pieces, both direct and indirect: Viviani has a very good right foot. However, they generally do not have much offensive punch: they have scored only 17 goals so far. If Juventus take this game seriously, and I have to reason to think why they would not, they can easily turn this tilt into a cakewalk.
4-3-3: Mirante; Torosidis, Gastaldello, Maietta, Masina; Dzemaili, Nagy, Viviani; Rizzo, Destro, Krejci.
Verdi (ankle), Sadiq (ankle).