Juventus v Genoa
Serie A Week 33 – Sunday, 23rd April – 19:45 GMT – Juventus Stadium
What a feat by Juventus. Beating Barcelona 3-0 at home and holding them scoreless in two games is a huge testament to the strength of this squad. Obviously, there were some concerns ahead of the return leg because of their incredible comeback against PSG, but after few minutes I felt confident: The Bianconeri never played scared and therefore would not allow the situation to snowball like the French side did. The Blaugrana kept coming, but the defenders maintained their poise, allowing limited chances. All in all, Gianluigi Buffon had only two saves and many of their shots sailed out of bounds. Our guys could probably have handled some counter-attacks better: winning at Camp Nou would have been pure bliss, but we will take the results, I guess.
Some pretty good news came at the weekend as well. Business as usual for Juventus against Pescara: Gonzalo Higuain is such a competitive advantage against low-level teams that if you do not mess it up defensively, you are going to win every time. Roma drew against Atalanta, which means that the lead ballooned back to eight points. With six games to go, that is a very cozy position to be in.
On Sunday night, we face Genoa and it will be the right occasion to redeem the shellacking we suffered a few months back where they caught us on a very bad day at Marassi. There is a full week without games ahead so Massimiliano Allegri will be able to rotate the players more loosely. The big story before the Barcelona tilt was Paulo Dybala’s ankle, which he injured against Pescara, but it looked like that was not bothering him.
There could be a complete rotation in the defence, with Stephan Lichtsteiner, two between Daniele Rugani, Andrea Barzagli and Medhi Benatia and Kwadwo Asamoah starting. Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini were near perfect at Camp Nou. It is not entirely sure yet that Bonucci and Alex Sandro will indeed rest. One doubt in the midfield as well: Miralem Pjanic is suspended, while Claudio Marchisio was in the stands in Spain because of some calf problems early in the week, but he could recover. Sami Khedira is set to start, with either Marchisio or Tomas Rincon by his side. It would be fitting to start El General against his former club.
Juan Cuadrado suffered a heavy blow to the back and even stayed in Barcelona to visit with a specialist. There were no official updates, so that is relatively good news. He is most definitely out for this one, with either Mario Lemina or Dani Alves taking his place. The rest of the attack should be the same as always.
4-2-3-1: Neto; Lichtsteiner, Barzagli, Rugani, Asamoah; Khedira, Marchisio; Lemina, Dybala, Mandzukic, Higuain.
Genoa have been moribund for a while: they have won only once in their last 16 games. That would be on Andrea Mandorlini’s debut about a month ago, but then thing spiralled downward again and the coach was fired, prompting the return of Milan Juric, who probably should not have been sacked in the first place. In January, the management realized that they had a good enough lead on the relegation zone and were also distant enough from the European places, that they basically had nothing more to accomplish. Therefore decided to cash in on Leonardo Pavoletti and Tomas Rincon, arguably their two best players.
They made few gambles, already looking ahead at next season, but so far they have not worked that well. Serie A rookies Leonardo Morosini and Andrea Beghetto have not found regular playing time, Adel Taarabt has struggled with injuries and conditioning, while Oscar Hiljemark and Danilo Cataldi have been just OK. It also did not help that that Giovanni Simeone, who had started very well in his limited stints, went into an Alvaro Morata-style drought.
That being said, they performed pretty well against in Juric’s first game back, as it is often the case when there is a coaching change. They took it to Lazio and nearly came away with a terrific win. In the first part of the season, they had mostly been a home team.
The former Crotone manager immediately opted for the 3-4-2-1 he forged earlier this year, but he is dealing with some significant suspensions, for various reasons. Armando Izzo has started to serve an 18-month suspension for match fixing-related charges during his time at Avellino. At first the prosecution asked for a whopping 5-year ban for direct involvement, but the judge scaled it back to the usual “failing to report” stuff. He might receive some good news in the next appeals. Mauricio Pinilla has been disqualified for five games for saying all sorts of things to a referee a couple of games ago. Luca Rigoni is out for amassing yellow cards.
Rigoni’s absence is probably the most impactful: he is being used as a tactical attacking midfield, he constantly presses the opponent’s playmakers and is also a sneaky presence in the box. Obviously, more often than not, he moves back to make it a 3-5-2. They do not possess a direct replacement for that role: they have tried Hiljemark there with poor results, while Oliver Ntcham, a pretty different player, has worked better as a super-sub than as a starter. Goran Pandev and Adel Taarabt are dealing with minor muscular ailments: they might feature, but it will be hard to see one of them starting.
Miguel Veloso recovered and started the last game: his partner will likely be Danilo Cataldi, but also Isaac Cofie and Hiljemark are viable options. Santiago Gentiletti replaced Izzo against Lazio and that should continue to be the case, even though Davide Biraschi and Lucas Orban are trying to change the hierarchies. Diego Laxalt has been a force down the left flank, where he seems to have found his home after switching few positions: he is one yellow card away from disqualification and could be preserved for the much easier match up against Chievo Verona. Beghetto or Orban would be the natural replacements.
Even though they lose some flexibility without Izzo, who plays naturally both as CB and RB, their 3-4-2-1 can easily switch to a 4-3-3, with Ezequiel Munoz as fullback, Laxalt sliding back and Darko Lazovic more advanced.
It will be interesting to see if we will face the aggressive side that played against Lazio or the blah team of the weeks before. In any cause, their strongest suit is the flank game. Simeone is tiny but is a header specialist and wiggles out the defenders with craft. It should also be noted that before the last game, they had not scored for four weeks in a row, so at times they get muddled and passive. If Juve are on their A game, or even at their B one, this one should not be a big problem, but you never know.
3-4-2-1: Lamanna; Munoz, Burdisso, Gentiletti; Lazovic, Cataldi, Veloso, Laxalt; Ntcham, Palladino; Simeone.
Rubinho (hamstring), Perin (knee).
Izzo, Pinilla, Rigoni.