Juventus remain a little too content with a one-goal lead for anybody’s comfort, but they did not pay the price for it against Bologna thanks to a defensive masterclass by Leonardo Bonucci and Matthijs De Ligt. The second score eventually arrived, allowing for a rare tranquil finish. With Atalanta losing, the Bianconeri have made up some ground to the Champions League zone. It will be paramount to take advantage of another favorable match to go into the break with strong morale, and maybe things would finally start looking up a little.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri could have gone in a few directions with Paulo Dybala missing, and he chose a pure 4-3-3, with Moise Kean wide. It worked out fine, thanks to the fact that Weston McKennie fared pretty well in his first game back, bringing the necessary dynamism that was lacking in previous fixtures.
Even Arthur looked fine with two men flanking him, and it will be interesting to see what will happen with him. The rumors about him leaving are intensifying, despite what the front office declared publicly. The squad could use somebody with his traits, which would allow to move Manuel Locatelli to box-to-box more consistently, where he has thrived with Italy.
On the other hand, his ever-precarious physical conditions and some careless passes make him very hard to trust. It is impossible to gain something financially from his departure given the bloated price tag in the swap with Miralem Pjanic. So there might be more upside in keeping him until the end of the season and see whether he could turn into a useful cog rather than in moving on from him.
The choice between the two types of midfield will remain one of the biggest conundrums until the end of the season. Most of the players in the role are better equipped for a three-man line; on the other hand, it is hard to fit Paulo Dybala in schemes based on that. It may never be solved, and Juventus will probably have to settle with adapting the formation to the men that are available in each match.
It is suboptimal as any tactic could use some consistency to oil the mechanism, but it is what it is, and the roster has been ill-constructed for a few years now. Things should be okay as long as the gaffer fields everybody in their proper role and no longer goes for lousy solutions like Rabiot out wide and McKennie as a no.10. Thankfully, Federico Bernardeschi has been a boon in any position, and hopefully, Dejan Kulusevski will get there as well to have more flexibility.
Allegri hinted that Cuadrado could be spared to avoid a suspension. Locatelli will be back in the XI, but it is not given he will replace Arthur. Luca Pellegrini suffered a calf problem and, while he has not been ruled out, Alex Sandro will most likely start. Mattia Perin might also get a shot. Paulo Dybala and Giorgio Chiellini remain unavailable.
Juventus (4-3-3): Szczesny; De Sciglio, De Ligt, Bonucci, Alex Sandro; Bentancur, Locatell, Rabiot; Bernardeschi, Morata, Kean.
Injuries: Chiesa, Danilo (thigh strains), Ramsey (thigh injury), Chiellini, Dybala.
Cagliari have been arguably the most disappointing team in Serie A so far, at least in the lower portion of the table. While it was to be expected from other sides to struggle this much out of the gate, they have the experience and talent to be in much better shape in the standings. More so considering that they truly stared into the abyss last season and should have learned their lesson. Instead, they keep having trouble turning things around, and they are coming two putrid performances.
The fact that they are one of the few clubs that use a very defensive style likely has not helped. And their management has doubled down on it with a coaching change, going from Leonardo Semplici to Walter Mazzarri. There is not really much difference between the two, only the fact that the latter has a better resume and much higher wages. They have confirmed him despite the two recent drubbings at the hands of Inter and Udinese, but we will see how long that will hold. They are squandering opportunity after opportunity, and the contribution of the manager has not been noticeable, if he has not made things worse altogether.
They are the only other side that deploys the 3-5-2/4-4-2 hybrid scheme that Juventus used for too long at the start of the season. It generally looks more like the latter, but they will be without Razvan Marin, Diego Godin, and Martin Caceres, and the remaining men are better suited for the second one. Marin is suspended, which, even though he has not been great this season, is a significant blow in terms of creativity and free kick prowess.
Instead, they have decided to freeze out the two Uruguayan veterans ahead of their likely departure in January, as they are eager to shed their wages off the book. It is more understandable for Godin, who has been often hurt and very slow when he played, while Caceres has mostly been fine, but something might have happened behind the scenes.
The only leader capable of carrying them so far has been Joao Pedro, who is putting up titanic numbers given how little they create. He is one of the most well-rounded and tenacious strikers in the league. They signed Balde Keita to partner him last summer, but he can either look like a million bucks or straight-up irritating depending on the match. They can not field Leonardo Pavoletti all the time as he does not have a lot of minutes in his legs. He adds much-needed physicality to the frontline, single-handedly allowing them to keep the ball up more.
The rest of the squad has been pretty subpar. Strootman has been nowhere near the level he was at Genoa, and he is currently on the mend with a knee issue. Nahitan Nandez is their second-best contributor, as he brings to the table in both phases with his motor. However, his continuous requests to leave cast a shadow on his level of commitment, and he had some costly errors too. He is available but not a lock to start due to a recent injury.
A couple of youngsters have been able to emerge despite the challenging situation. Andrea Carboni has become a vital starter in the span of a few months, and he is tailor-made to play in this system since he is mobile and can push forward too. Raoul Bellanova has snatched the starting job out wide through relentless runs on the flank and accurate crossing. They tend to be rather one-sided because Dalbert has been quite disastrous on the left, while Charalampos Lykogiannis is slightly steadier and has a pretty good left-foot too. They would both feature in a 4-4-2.
It is not hard to see why they have not picked up many points so far. They do not score much and are lax in the back. They have the men to mount a comeback, but they will need to acquire the dogged mindset that is necessary to prevail in the relegation struggle, where every ball and every point counts. At times, they have given up too easily. They were eventually able to flip the switch and go there last season once Semplici took over, and it is not too late to do it again. Maybe their recent cull, even if it cost them some quality on paper, could be helpful and rally the troops.
Cagliari (4-4-2): Cragno; Zappa, Ceppitelli, Carboni, Lykogiannis; Bellanova, Nandez, Grassi, Dalbert; Pavoletti, Joao Pedro.
Ruled Out: Godin, Caceres (team’s decision),