Juventus v Napoli
Serie A Week 2 – Saturday, 31st August – 19:45 GMT – Juventus Stadium
A classic tale of two halves in the debut against Parma, as the squad looked dominant and even showed some early stages of Sarri-ball in the first half, but completely ran out of gas in about an hour. Fortunately, they understood when it was time to scale back on the high pressure and defended pretty well relying on the well-oiled machine from previous years, which is a sign of maturity. Hopefully the conditioning will soon be good enough to sustain a complete game with the adequate amount of intensity.
Considering we are at the beginning of the season, the front-line worked pretty well: Douglas Costa is as effervescent as ever, Cristiano Ronaldo just lacked some aim but had several good chances and Gonzalo Higuain, despite being a little washed, can be useful in this role as facilitator. He can be a viable second banana since Juventus have somebody who can take care of most of the scoring and he has some built-in chemistry with that certain somebody.
Ronaldo also played much more central than the past year, but he was not bottled up thanks to the quickness of execution and the velocity with which the squad attacked after recovering the ball. This is set to make a big difference and the rest, such as the cuts by the midfield and the fast and precise combinations will arrive over time, making the offence much more unpredictable, if not even uncontainable.
Another positive element was Alex Sandro’s liveliness in both phases after being lackadaisical for a long time. He will have the whole flank at his disposal if Ronaldo’s interpretation does not change and could resume being a weapon like his early days in Turin. Mattia De Sciglio was passable and his diligent work on Gervinho prove he can be deployed in tougher match-ups, where Danilo would not be totally trustworthy.
The coaching staff opted for the safe choice in a particular situation, the season opener against a veteran and solid team, without throwing Matthijs De Light, Danilo and Adrien Rabiot into the fire or experimenting with Paulo Dybala as false-nine. Logic says that they will probably do the same in an even tougher spot, the first major clash of the year. Rabiot’s technique is evident, but he needs to adapt to Serie A’s rhythms very soon to provide a meaningful contribution. He is the one with most chances to start this week. Emre Can is pretty much missing in action due to transfer market reasons.
Dybala remains in a holding pattern as the Neymar domino could start in any moment: if he ended up staying, the duo formed by him and Higuain as main options for the centre-forward position would represent an appealing mix of skillsets, upside and certainty and would be better than anything that can be found in the market.
It is such as drag to have the session still going on, but all-in-all, the surplus players are more of an economic problem than a technical one. The roster, barring the Dybala situation, has been set for a while and the ones who have been reluctant to leave will have a rude awakening when they will realize Maurizio Sarri’s short rotation and the Champions League list will be submitted.
Aaron Ramsey is reportedly dealing with a back problem on top of his rough summer preparation due to a hamstring injury, so he will not be able to play until the break, while Costa, who subbed off due to a minor ankle problem in Parma, is expected to be good to go.
UPDATE: Devastating news on Saturday night as Giorgio Chiellini suffered an ACL tear in practice and is out for five-six months, but it could be tough for him to come back from such a major injury considering his age and previous physical problems. It is a proper bummer, especially for his leadership. The only silverlining is that De Ligt and Demiral are more than ready to step up and the Dutch defender has the chance to prove to be worth of all the hype now, while the Turk youngster is fairly similar to Chiellini in terms of skills. This development expedites the renovation the executives had already planned for. Daniele Rugani has not left yet so he could now stay as fourth centre-back.
4-3-3: Szczesny; De Sciglio, Bonucci, Chiellini, Sandro; Khedira, Pjanic, Matuidi; Costa, Higuain, Ronaldo.
Perin (shoulder), Pjaca (knee), Ramsey (back).
Napoli’s summer has not been super-eventful, yet it is set to have massive ramifications on their make-up and the roster was shored up in a very intelligent way. Kostas Manolas is a clear upgrade over Raul Albiol and will allow them to play with a higher offside trap, Giovanni Di Lorenzo was one of the most interesting right backs in Serie A last season and, while the jump from Empoli is obviously enormous, he gives them a pair of offensive-minded fullbacks on each flank.
The cherry on top was Hirving Lozano, who was extremely productive in Eredivisie and, thanks to his quickness and unpredictability, could quickly become an incredible weapon for them and probably the heir to José Callejon on the right flank. Eljif Elmas is another fascinating addition in their never-ending quest to find technical midfielders that can feature in multiple positions.
In that regards, apparently at Lorenzo Insigne’s request, they have switched to 4-2-3-1 with the Italian forward moving back to the left wing, where he has spent most of his career, whereas last season he was mostly used as second-striker. It does not change much for him, and he is off to a terrific start as he was involved in all four goals in Florence, but the decision affects few others,
For instance, Arkadiusz Milik and Dries Mertens could play together more often, with the Belgian attacker gravitating just few meters behind. Fabian Ruiz, Piotr Zielinski and Elmas can interchangeably be deployed either as pivots or as no.10, also alternating within the duration of a game to catch the opponents by surprise. The obvious downside is that the formation could turn out to be a little unbalanced, as Zielinski still had big defensive responsibilities as left-winger last season: Allan is the only muscular guy. Conceding thrice to a very young Viola squad was pretty alarming, but half the back-line is brand new and could struggle until the members get to know each other.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, this move and the newcomers give them a gigantic upside offensively simply due to various combinations they will be able to throw at the opponents, solving the issue that their game plan had grown a little stale by the end of the past campaign.
As a quick aside, they are, or were, in the race to sign Mauro Icardi and it is a little baffling: outside of the obvious mediatic impact such a move would have, it makes very little sense as, if he could, Carlo Ancelotti would play all the time with Mertens as false-nine and all of his more technical players supporting him. He tolerates fielding Arkadiusz Milik, who is a far more modern and mobile striker, because sometimes you just need some presence in the box against the minnows, but he is also easily bench-able. Icardi would put him in a pickle and would force significant tweaks to the way they play, as having so many potential scorers, and thus not focusing on feeding only one, is their strongest suit.
The Polish striker will at most be on the bench in this one as he has been dealing with a thigh injury for a while. The only doubts concerning the line-up are in the back, as Mario Rui and Faouzi Ghoulam are neck-and-neck at left back, while Elseid Hysaj was said to have a chance to play over Di Lorenzo for his defensive prowess, but some recent transfer market-related developments might nix that move. Perhaps they will trot out Nikola Maksimovic as they have done in some tough Champions League games last season.
4-2-3-1: Meret; Maksimovic, Manolas, Koulibaly, Rui; Allan, Zielinski; Callejon, Ruiz, Insigne; Mertens.