Juventus v Parma
Serie A Week 20 – Sunday, 19th January – 19:45 GMT – Juventus Stadium
Juventus are starting to pummel lesser opponents and that is certainly a step in the right direction after a long list of narrow wins in the first half of the season. If we want to nitpick, the performance was so dominant, and Udinese so resigned, that the game did not really allow us to assess the efficacy of some of the new solutions that were tested, such as Federico Bernardeschi playing box-to-box or Paulo Dybala operating more blatantly out of the right flank opposite to Douglas Costa. By the way, the Brazilian winger does not look right yet and this time they are taking it slow with his recovery, which is quite frustrating but also totally correct.
Maurizio Sarri has often been labelled as a rotation-averse coach in Naples, where the squad was nowhere close to being as deep as this one, but he will now have some decisions on his hands because, after the Parma game, we will take the field again in Coppa Italia on Wednesday, in a more demanding bout with Roma on the road, and the visit his old Serie A team next Sunday.
It will be paramount to manage the energies correctly and hopefully bring home a clean sweep: one the best ways to do that would obviously be routing the adversaries and make second halves an exercise of style and possession without having to run too much.
Alex Sandro, Adrien Rabiot and Paulo Dybala have been the only ones starting in each of the last two matches, Matthijs De Ligt played a significant chuck of both and also Aaron Ramsey and Juan Cuadrado were also involved on Sunday and on Wednesday. Therefore, I would not rule out some surprises concerning the lineup, even though it is extremely hard to keep La Joya out at this moment where he is going supernova. Danilo would have to adapt to the left to rest Sandro and Rodrigo Bentancur will finish serving his suspension. It is one of those fixtures where it would make sense to field Gonzalo Higuain, Cristiano Ronaldo and Dybala together as Parma generally welcome the pressure and let the other team have the upper-hand.
It would again be a prime spot for Emre Can, but if the coach is not going to utilize him in a busy stretch and with the midfield being down one man, then it makes very little sense to keep him in the roster and having signed him for a limited amount of money would allow to make a profit even if he is not sold at his projected full price, let alone clear the books from an excessive salary, but that would depend on if he is replaced or not.
It would hinge on whether the management is ready to trust Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey staying healthy and on the manager having confidence that the latter can play box-to-box more often. Some fans will not be pleased, but Sami Khedira is progressing nicely in his recovery, and him coming back might be considered enough for depth purposes, even with an exit.
4-3-1-2: Szczesny; Cuadrado, Bonucci, De Ligt, Sandro; Rabiot, Pjanic, Matuidi; Dybala; Ronaldo, Higuain.
Chiellini (knee), Khedira (knee). Demiral (knee)
Parma have had a tremendous first half of the season, inserting themselves in the conversation for a European berth, as they are just one point behind the sixth-placed Cagliari and in front of the likes of Napoli, Milan, Torino and Fiorentina. They had a similarly blistering start in the previous campaign, only to fall apart from February onward and had to scramble late to avoid troubles. They have probably learned their lesson and the squad figures to be way stronger so, while sneaking into the top six seems unlikely, they should sail smoothly in the next few months.
They were already one of the best sit-back-and-counter teams, then shrewd roster construction further accentuated such strategy. Pairing an artist like Gervinho with Dejan Kulusevski, who is absolutely devastating in open spaces, was almost unfair and the gambit allowed them to pick up points or even wins in games where they had no business to.
Fortunately, Juventus will not have to deal with the Ivorian speedster because he is hurt, so their main weapon will take a hit. Pragmatic and underrated coach Roberto D’Aversa has often advanced a midfielder to the trident rather than using Mattia Sprocati and that could be the case again. They are trying to get Roberto Inglese to an acceptable physical condition after a lot of time on the shelf due to a pair of ankle sprains and, while he is a better player than healthy, Andreas Cornelius has severely outplayed him this season. Inglese would be a sure sub if in the XI. There is also an outside chance they feature together, with Kulusevski playing as true no.10.
Their strategy would not be possible without stout defending and the imposing Bruno Alves has been as good as ever captaining the back-line. Matteo Darmian was a coup for their calibre, and he allowed them to move the perennially unheralded Simone Iacoponi to the middle, in his more natural position. They have brought in Giuseppe Pezzella to man the left flank, but they prefer to adapt Riccardo Gagliolo there, not surprisingly to be more muscular. The two fullbacks do not motor down the wing a lot and despite it being technically a 4-3-3, they mostly attack to the middle.
They have had few injuries in the midfield, where they have not been able to have a consistent combination, and they went above and beyond to fix it, plucking Jasmin Kurtic from SPAL: they now boast a very dynamic pair of box-to-box midfielders, the other being Juraj Kucka – both have five or six goals per season in them.
Hernani has been the choice at pivot over the last few matches, supplanting Matteo Scozzarella after an injury and he is fairly interesting for his rocket right foot, and the trio would certainly be a quality one, but the selection will depend on what will happen up front and it is more likely than not that they will insert a hustle guy like Antonino Barillà or Scozzarella.
While they are dangerous if given the opportunity to fast-break, even with the personnel issues, they also do not really have that desperation and hunger for points that distinguishes the cellar-dwellers and so, if hit hard and early, they might just roll over as they have done against Atalanta two rounds ago or versus Lazio early. That should be the blueprint for the Bianconeri, who could be in trouble if they do not find a way to perforate them in the first half, letting it turn into one of those nerve-wracking contests when the opponents end up netting a cheap goal while you get to unbalanced trying to score and then coming back becomes very difficult.
4-3-3-: Sepe; Darmian, Iacoponi, Alves, Gagliolo; Kurtic, Hernani, Barillà; Kulusevski, Inglese, Kucka.
Gervinho (thigh), Karamoh (knee), Grassi (back).