Juventus v Brescia
Serie A Week 24 – Sunday, 16th February – 14:00 GMT – Juventus Stadium
While the result against Milan was pretty positive given the nature of the clash, the performance was again pedestrian at best. One of the things that has been missing this year have been those stretches where they crank up the intensity to the max, try to score at all costs and can not be contained. The goal did arrive at San Siro, but almost by accident, with the squad operating at the usual, not-so-suffocating rhythm.
Coach Sarri pulled a fast one tactically and advanced Juan Cuadrado to the trident on Thursday. Maybe it was just a counter-move to limit of the best left fullback in the League, and it worked fine, but it is rumoured to be an option for Sunday’s match too. While a dose of pragmatism is sane, I am afraid the coach might be loosening his principles in order to face adversities, falling back on what the players have been doing for years.
While that might work out in the short-term, if the defensive lapses, which for the most part have been individual errors, are cleaned up, the manager should remember that his mission is to deliver a different kind of football compared to the past, even at the cost of taking some lumps here and there, otherwise there is no point in going through with this. The upcoming fixtures will be key to see if he and the team can get back on track.
Gianluigi Buffon played, and did it pretty well in the Coppa Italia, so he will likely have to wait for another time to break the Serie A appearance record. Mattia De Sciglio once again proved to be unreliable, so if Cuadrado sticks to the attack, or is simply rested, the choice at right back would be Danilo. This could be the right spot to rest one of the two centre-backs. Adrien Rabiot is set to play at box-to-box and, while the Frenchman has not exactly lit the league on fire, the comparison with the recent displays of Blaise Matuidi has been brutal and at least he is a good ball handler.
MASSIVE UPDATE: Cristiano will rest in this one and it makes a lot of sense given the three-game week and how depleted the opponents are, now it will be up to Dybala and Higuain to pick the scoring. Miralem Pjanic and Matthijs De Ligt are also rumoured to be getting a day off. It would be a diamond formation is the Bosnian is out there, or an hybrid trident with Cuadrado if he is not, with Rodrigo Bentancur anchoring the midfield and Ramsey next to him.
There is no denying that the Arsenal man has struggled to adapt to the Italian league and to his new team and has shown very little on the pitch besides some quality passing here and there, however, also due to health reasons, he has not had that month-long stretch where he plays consistently. Rabiot emerged in a big way once he went through that: with Douglas Costa on the shelf, it should be time to unleash Ramsey and see what he can do.
4-3-1-2: Szczesny; Cuadrado, Bonucci, De Ligt, Sandro; Bentancur, Pjanic, Rabiot; Ramsey; Dybala, Higuain.
Chiellini (knee), Khedira (knee), Bernardeschi (calf), Demiral (knee)
Brescia find themselves near the bottom of the standings even though they are slightly more talented than some of the outfits that precede them. They are onto their third coach after four changes on the bench, from Eugenio Corini to Fabio Grosso, back to Corini and now with Diego Lopez. Other than under Grosso, where they had three collapses in a row, they have been constantly been hampered by the same issue, as they have put up good fights versus most teams, but rarely got Ws, or even a single point, out of acceptable outings.
The multiple losses inevitably create some malaise throughout the club, then add to that an owner that is too hands-on and impatient, some untimely injuries, a roster with a pair of glaring holes and an underwhelming Winter window, then you have the recipe for a poor season that could end in despair. They have a some guys that could carry them, but they need to get it going as soon as possible because some teams in front of them are gaining steam.
Said players would be Sandro Tonali, who has confirmed all his talent in the top league, and Mario Balotelli, who has been fine when healthy, but he missed time with a couple of suspensions and also been a bit banged up, so he has not really been a real difference-maker so far.
While they have gone through different managers, the scheme has for the most part stayed consistent: 4-3-1-2, with the most changes coming at the no.10 position. Romulo has been pretty disruptive there under Corini, but Diego Lopez used the more inventive Nikolas Spalek in his debut match, then bringing Jaromir Zmrhal off the bench in relief. The sneaky Birkir Bjarnason would be another option, but it depends on what they decide to do in the midfield.
Two of their linchpins are dinged up and highly unlikely to play: Tonali and Ernesto Torregrossa, who has really come into his own recently, became an ideal partner for Balotelli for his work rate but also found the target with consistency. The back-ups are Alfredo Donnarumma, who dominated in Serie B and got off to a strong start but then faded when they begun to rely more heavily on Balotelli, and the bouncy Florian Aye, who will probably get the start. Two major parts of their back-line are also iffy: underrated goalie Jesse Joronen and talented centre-back Andrea Cistana, so they might have to go with a make-shift defence that includes either Ales Mateju or Massimiliano Mangraviti at centre-back. They have given up a ton of goals even when completely in full force. Second-stringer Enrico Alfonso held up fine when previously called upon.
The only other time Tonali was unavailable this season, they deployed fellow youngster Mattia Viviani, who has similar but more subdued traits, however, that was under a different regime. Now they could instead move the muscular Dessena to pivot and trot out Bjarnason or Emanuele Ndoj as box-to-box, completing the midfield opposite to the energetic Dimitri Bisoli. There are no right choices considering how much pull Tonali has on the proceedings.
On top of being a precise distributor, he is also grittier than a standard deep-lying playmaker and can rip off some galvanizing runs, making him a mouth-watering prospect that should be very high on Juventus’ list of targets in the midfield.
They do not really have a strong suit and that is an issue: their defensive phase is shoddy, and they do not counter with that much velocity, although they have a pair of sprinters. They look for Balotelli, but sometimes they leave him stranded because they sit back too much and have just one or two good passers, with fullback Stefano Sabelli being one of them. Given how poorly things have gone at Juventus recently, nobody can be underestimated, and they have some players that can get hot and become threats if the match is tackled with too much nonchalance. They are fine in the air and on set pieces.
4-3-1-2: Alfonso; Sabelli, Chancellor, Mateju, Martella; Bisoli, Dessena, Bjarnason; Spalek; Balotelli, Aye.
Torregrossa, Joronen, Gastaldello, Cistana, Tonali, Romulo.