Juventus v Hellas Verona
Serie A Week 4 – Saturday, 21st September – 17:00 GMT – Juventus Stadium
The squad was too flat to be true in Florence and we can consider it a blip after seeing the performance in Madrid, where the team had the boldness and effectiveness it showed in the first couple of matches of the season. Perhaps the heat was indeed a factor as Maurizio Sarri lamented, because they had virtually no juice there.
Winning at the Metropolitano would have been tremendously encouraging and also deserved, but there is still a lot to like out of that match as the lads had rarely been that upfront in Europe in recent years. They took the bull by the horns rather than have a wait-and-see approach and it almost paid off. This the next step and we are well on our way to doing it and it is also the reason for the coaching change.
On the negative side, obviously, the flaws on set pieces need to be addressed and fixed. The Colchoneros are clearly exceptional in that area, but the problems involved the whole scheme, rather than one or two guys, and that is indeed worrying. We can not let details spoil big time performances: the two times it happened are already more than enough.
Douglas Costa unfortunately got hurt while he was cooking and hopefully it will not become a trend this year too. The ones behind him need to step it up and, while Federico Bernardeschi failed to do that in Florence, Juan Cuadrado delivered against Atletico Madrid. His effort is never in question, but sometimes his technique and decision-making are. Bernardeschi has higher potential, the coach likes him, but it is up to him now to bounce back now as he was clearly affected by the summer demotion. He is capable of big boy performances, but he has never done it with the required consistency even when he was playing a lot at the end of last season. Maybe then Sarri will also find a way to feature Cristiano Ronaldo, Higuain and Dybala together if needed, which was one of major gripes of last season, with Mario Mandzukic in the Higuain spot.
Next up is the Verona game, which is the easier one yet, and the rumours go in the direction of a heavy turnover. Sticking with the same XI to build an identity, as the manager indicated, is all well and good, but some guys will soon be running on fumes if they continue to play this much and this often.
The midfield is very well stocked and Sami Khedira is more replaceable than Blaise Matuidi, who is instead doing a job that is pretty hard to replicate. The coach kept it close to the chest, but the changes could involve Wojciech Szczesny, Alex Sandro, Miralem Pjanic, who was banged up, and Sami Khedira. Gianluigi Buffon, Rodrigo Bentancur and one among Adrien Rabiot, Aaron Ramsey and Emre Can could get in on the action and perhaps even Merih Demiral in the back.
It might also be finally the time to see Paulo Dybala as a false-nine: Gonzalo Higuain’s contribution has been flawless and his large skill-set allows him to be both a playmaker for others and be a menacing presence in the box, which is exactly what we need, but I think La Joya can do that with a touch more unpredictability. There would simply be a higher upside to the attack. We do not use long balls often, as a matter of fact we mostly rely on them to spring players loose on the flank or past the offside trap, so the physical gap between the two, while evident, should not impact the overall plan.
4-3-3: Buffon; Danilo, Bonucci, Demiral, Sandro; Ramsey, Bentancur, Matuidi; Cuadrado, Dybala, Ronaldo.
Costa (thigh), Chiellini (knee), De Sciglio (thigh), Perin (shoulder), Pjaca (knee).
Verona have actually fended for themselves pretty nicely to open the season, and they would be delighted if they were able to keep up this pace, as they have got four points in three matches, thanks to a precious win in Lecce and a good tie with Bologna. They also held up against Milan, down to ten men for most of the game. That is unlikely to happen though, and they are set to be one of the bottom-feeders throughout the year.
They brought in a lot of help at all levels during the summer, so they are still figuring out where all the pieces fit together and what the pecking order should be. The midfield is the best equipped area thanks to the technical leadership of Miguel Veloso, the smart pick-ups of Darko Lazovic on a free and of Sofyan Amrabat from Club Brugge, who has great motor and adequately replaced Emmanuel Badu, who is out indefinitely due to pulmonary micro embolism.
Marco Faraoni was solid in the right flank last season and Mattia Zaccagni is probably their most interesting player as he can serve as very proactive box-to-box or as trequartista, and he is a pretty effective playmaker despite not being super flashy. They also got Daniel Bessa back from Genoa, and he played pretty well here and the tactics suits him, but he is out with a thigh injury.
The question marks are more in the back and up front and especially on the bench, as Milan Juric has struggled in his three separate stints with Genoa, and they probably should have given a chance to Alfredo Aglietti, who successfully guided them in the Serie B playoffs. I find it distasteful to change the coach after a promotion, especially when the subsequent hire is not particularly strong.
The rearguard has been led surprisingly well by 19-year-old rookie Marash Kumbulla, who won the new coach over during the summer. The newcomer Amir Rrahmani is towering but not very mobile and, since Salvatore Bocchetti is dealing with a calf strain, they have to trot out one between Koray Gunter and Pawel Dawidowicz, who are both rather sketchy.
They went all in on Mariusz Stepinski up front, who was underwhelming last season at Chievo despite being their main striker after the departure of Roberto Inglese. He will not be available on Saturday since he was red carded against Milan. The other solutions are Samuel Di Carmine, a career Serie B forward, and Giampaolo Pazzini, who is more of a veteran presence than a regular at this point.
They have taken the gutsy route of adding two of the second league’s best players, Valerio Verre and Gennaro Tutino, which is a laudable but intrinsically risky strategy. Verre excelled as trequartista, Tutino is a pure right-winger, so they will have to adapt if they manage to get consistent playing time.
They use a very compact scheme, either a 3-4-2-1 or a 3-5-1-1, relaying on the flank game, where they have pretty energetic players, and on the natural robustness of such formations: the doubt is between Liam Henderson, Matteo Pessina and Verre. They can also be used as false-nine but the coach made it pretty clear that Di Carmine is getting the start here, so it will be a more traditional look, and he should help him keep the ball up with his physicality, but he also capable in attacking the offside trap and opening up room for the cuts of the midfielders, which are a primary concern here, as Zaccagni is very technical, Verre is pretty prolific and Pessina has already scored once. They have been plucky and very aggressive so far so the main peril, as always against the minnow, is taking things for granted.
3-5-1-1: Silvestri; Rrahmani, Kumbulla, Gunter; Faraoni, Amrabat, Veloso, Henderson, Lazovic; Zaccagni; Di Carmine.
Bocchetti (calf), Bessa (thigh), Crescenzi (thigh).