Juventus v Fiorentina
Serie A Week 1 – Saturday, 20th August – 19:45 GMT – Juventus Stadium
There will be a time and place to judge this reinforcement campaign once it will be completed, in the meantime, real football is here as Juventus host a perilous game against the long-time rivals of Fiorentina. Obviously, it would have been optimal if the management succeeded in giving Massimiliano Allegri a full squad by the start of Serie A, but waiting until the final two weeks of the transfer market window, when prices go down and new opportunities show up, routinely happens in any club.
We can cherish the fact that we enter the 2016/2017 season with far more certainties compared to the last year and I bet that awful start is in the back of everyone’s mind in Vinovo. Mounting such a comeback was an incredible feat and it would be better not to challenge the Football Gods in the next few months, especially considering that you are up against history: nobody has ever brought home six Scudetti in a row.
Despite what the past says, Juventus are heavy favourites to win the title because of a very strong roster that was thoughtfully built. Wrapping up the Miralem Pjanic deal early was great, Gonzalo Higuain comes off a record-breaking season, Dani Alves is a proven champion, Medhi Benatia is an experienced defender, Marko Pjaca is an intriguing prospect that could add another layer to the offence. Sure, one or two more midfielders are needed, but the acquisitions have been more than adequate so far.
Circling back to what I mentioned, there is not much uncertainty this time around. Pjaca is the only youngster who joined the club in the summer: the others are seasoned players who will contribute right away. Furthermore, Paulo Dybala, Alex Sandro, Daniele Rugani and Mario Lemina are in their second year at the club and poised to feature in prominent roles as their adaptive and formative period is done. While Juventus certainly had a busier summer than expected, at the end of the day, the new pieces of the starting XI will be at most four, and probably none in the first match, so there is a lot of continuity.
Waiting for new acquisition, the midfield rotates around Pjanic in his new, but not unprecedented position as deep-lying midfielder. It is a nice turnaround for Allegri who has decided, after the Andrea Pirlo fiasco that contributed to push the Maestro away from Milan, to use a similar player in front of the defence; especially considering that that was not the Bosnian’s role at Roma and that he could have asked for a pawn with different characteristics.
While primarily a left-hand offense-first midfielder, Pjanic has the stigmata to become world class in this position and be constantly in the thick of it. In his first few years at Roma, the knock of him was that sometimes he was too passive and deferent for a footballer with such exquisite technique. Rudi Garcia used to move him in the hole to get him more involved, Allegri will try to the opposite and move him backwards. If the gamble does not pay off, they can always go back to his original role. However, we might have to wait for his debut since he came out of the last friendly with a sore hip.
In the pre-game presser, Massimiliano Allegri stated that he has already chosen seven players for tomorrow: my educated guess is that they are Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Sami Khedira, Paulo Dybala and probably Kwadwo Asamoah. Khedira has not played much in the pre-season after a muscular injury in the Euros but he is fit and ready to go. The BBC joined the group late as well, I would not be shocked to see Benatia or Rugani start early in the season but most likely not tomorrow.
That leaves us with four other members of the XI to be determined: Stephan Lichtsteiner is the favourite over Dani Alves on the right, Alex Sandro over Patrice Evra on the left, Mario Mandzukic over Higuain. The absence of Pjanic would be a hiccup, but Mario Lemina could fill in for a night, even though he has spent the pre-season trying out as box-to-box midfielder, a role where he has showed some promise. Hernanes would be the other option, but he seems on his way out and it would be odd to field him in a big match.
One thing to watch will be what happens on the flanks: we know that last season the coach liked to pair the wing backs to have balance between the defensive and the offensive phase, so Lichtsteiner played with Alex Sandro and Evra with Cuadrado. However, Dani Alves had a stellar preseason, while the Swiss train returned late. Alves-Sandro would make the most sense, but Allegri might deem the duo too offensive, so Lichsteiner has very good chances of starting. Or of course he could opt for the other couple: Alves-Evra.
Claudio Marchisio will miss the game as he is rehabbing from the ACL tear that happened in April: he is expected to return in October. Stefano Sturaro is nursing a knee sprain and should be available after the first international break. Rolando Mandragora will be out approximately until January after having a second surgery on his fractured foot.
3-5-2: Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichsteiner, Khedira, Pjanic, Asamoah, Sandro; Mandzukic, Dybala.
Marchisio (knee), Sturaro (knee), Mandragora (foot).
Fiorentina have not had a great summer. Despite the shake-up in the management that led to the return of the Pantaleo Corvino, the whole window was underwhelming and rather poor in the department where the veteran executive excels: discovering under-the-radar, cheap youngsters. On that front, Bartlomiej Dragowski, Kevin Diks and Hernan Toledo do not really warm the fans’ hearts and are not expected to break into the starting XI anytime soon, but Corvino has a neat track record. However, it was fair to expect more moves like those.
It is telling that their biggest reinforcement could be Giuseppe Rossi. With around ten days left, they need to sign one more centre-back, possibly a really good one, something that has inexplicably turned into a never-ending saga in the last two summers for them. The technical director has mostly worked on the edges of the roster, prioritizing keeping the core together rather than spending big: an indication that has probably come from the ownership.
While a big-ticket acquisition in any area would have helped, they were pretty good last year and will benefit from being in year two of the Paulo Sousa system. The main issue for them does not really come from within, but from the improved competition in Serie A: they need to be better than last season to grab a Europa League spot, while a Champions League berth looks like a pipe dream right now.
They are set to use the hybrid 3-4-2-1/4-2-3-1 system, thanks to the versatility of Federico Bernardeschi, Nenad Tomovic and Marcos Alonso who can cover multiple positions. The Italian starlet, who really helped his career by learning the right wing back position last season, would obviously play in a more advanced position in the second case.
The amazing Borja Valero suffered an ankle sprain in the last friendly and his presence is in jeopardy, even though there is some optimism coming from Florence. If he missed the game, Paulo Sousa could go in several different directions to replace him: last year’s regular starter Josip Ilicic, who now seems to have lost his spot to Giuseppe Rossi, Cristian Tello, who has just re-joined the team, or Mati Fernandez, who is the most similar to the Spaniard but has never really been impressive or consistent.
Fiorentina have not particularly bolstered the roster, but they were pretty sweet to watch last season and that will continue. The downside of their tiki taka-like style is that they do not have a stingy defence that can be exposed by strong opponent. However, the emergence of Milan Badelj and Matias Vecino last season gave them a complete pair of midfielders that allowed them to unleash Valero in a more offensive role. Marcos Alonso has flourished on the left and he is now a constant threat, also on set pieces.
Juventus have had decent success against Fiorentina in recent years, especially in Turin, but there were some devastating losses as well. The first few match days are usually full of surprises and you can see the Viola creating some problems to Juventus, especially with their speed up front and the flanks. It is definitely a match that should not be taken lightly considering what happened last year.
3-4-2-1: Tatarusanu; Tomovic, Rodriguez, Astori; Bernardeschi, Vecino, Badelj, Alonso; Rossi, Valero; Kalinic.