By hook or by crook, Juventus took advantage of the schedule easing up before the second break. It was not pretty nor commanding, but the Bianconeri needed a winning streak and successfully put together one. Now the clashes with Roma and Inter will be acid tests to see whether they have the stuff to continue coming back and re-enter the title race.
Since the playing style of Massimiliano Allegri is never going to be eye-catching, what happened in the Derby is the blueprint of what a strong performance will look like this season. The squad will often allow the opponents to hold the ball and sit back without giving up too many big chances and still looking somewhat in control. And then they will unleash 15/20-minute salvos where they up the tempo and possibly hit the net.
The break has not brought many improvements from the injury standpoint. Paulo Dybala is out and Alvaro Morata is not fully fit, and the lineup will be somewhat experimental again. Plus, there is the issue of the South American heading back late, but this one is played on a Sunday, differently from the Napoli clash. While they may not be in ideal condition, the coach should consider starting them in this one and maybe partially rest them midweek, as Juventus have some cushion in Champions League.
The absence of Adrien Rabiot opens up a pretty significant hole, even though he is not particularly impactful as a left-winger. But he has excellent chemistry with Alex Sandro, and the chain on the flank works pretty well. Also, the only other pure option for the role, Federico Chiesa, is needed elsewhere since the top two strikers are on the mend.
Whoever the replacement is, it will dictate the posture of the whole team. I would be curious to see what Weston McKennie could do in such role, and he hopefully rediscovers his touch in the box, but probably Federico Bernardeschi has better chances to be chosen, with Dejan Kulusevski as a distant third. Although the Swedish winger played some of his best minutes in a year in the last game.
The very light frontline worked well in the second half versus Torino, but it would probably be too harsh on Moise Kean to confirm it here, especially because it would require major adjustments in other roles. Unfortunately, it does not look like the striker has improved much during his time abroad.
He is shifty on the open field and can bust out great goals out of the blue, but his ability to take care of the dirty work and interplay with his teammates still leaves a lot to be desired. Opposing defenders have just manhandled him so far. The coaching staff needs to key in on him in practice. Despite the formula of his acquisition, he will be here for the long haul, and he needs to get better to be deserving of a spot. Instead, Kaio Jorge looked good for somebody making his debut after three months without playing. It would not be out of character for the coach to trust him in a prominent spot.
Maybe also due to the fact that Rabiot is out, the latest reports suggest that Alex Sandro could be the only South American to be spared, with Mattia De Sciglio taking his place and thus maintaining the balance. Rodrigo Bentancur and Danilo are currently rumored to make the XI, but it would not be too surprising if the latter did not, with De Sciglio playing as right-back instead. Morata has only minuscule chances to start, while Matthijs De Ligt is out with a late thigh problem.
Juventus (4-4-2): Szczesny; Danilo, Bonucci, Chiellini, De Sciglio; Cuadrado, Bentancur, Locatelli, Bernardeschi; Chiesa, Kean.
Injuries: Rabiot (COVID), Dybala (thigh pull), De Ligt.
Roma embarked onto the first full season under the new ownership this year, and that has brought investments and renewed ambition. They moved on from Paulo Fonseca and astutely rolled the dice with José Mourinho. While they had a pair of slip-ups, he has certainly done better than his most recent underwhelming stints in the Premier League. He is also an umbrella for his players whenever things go wrong. He was a swell choice for a passionate town.
They were one of the few Italian teams that could splurge last summer. They did not stop Edin Dzeko when they asked out and quickly got Tammy Abraham. That was about the only linchpin they lost compared to last season because Pedro’s role was erratic.
The Giallorossi went with quality over quantity in the transfer market. They got uneven performances from Pau Lopez and Antonio Mirante and jettisoned them both to bring in Rui Patricio, who has been way more reliable. The early performances of Abraham have been splendid. They acquired Matias Vina to fill in for the injured Leonardo Spinazzola and Eldor Shomurodov to add depth to the front-line, as he can feature in multiple positions.
It is tough to poke holes into any of the moves they pulled off. One could argue that they overpaid in some cases, but that is really nitpicking and also an enviable position considering the shortage of cash throughout the league. They could have used another central midfielder, but they tried long and hard to get one.
Having Abraham or Shomurodov and not Dzeko up front makes them a quicker and more explosive side. Mourinho reintroduced 4-2-3-1, which they had used extensively before Fonseca opted for a sturdier 3-4-2-1. The previous coach did not have Nicolò Zaniolo though, and that is a substantial difference.
The Italian starlet, who is coming back for two major knee injuries in a row, has had some highlights, but their best performer so far has been Lorenzo Pellegrini, who has just entered a different stratosphere in the past year. He has always been a quality midfielder, but he has made the final leap since he committed to serving as a no.10 and has found a great scoring touch, on top of dishing a plethora of assists. The difference in budget with other Serie A teams is also underlined by the fact that they were the only ones that already managed to reach agreement with their star on an expiring contract.
Mourinho has so far forgone using a particularly defensive style, also because their backline is not exactly lockdown, and he adapted to the players he found. The absence of Chris Smalling has been impactful, but the opposing goals have mostly come from structural issues or collective lapses rather than from individual blunders. Gianluca Mancini has grown into an indispensable pillar, and Roger Ibanez is a pretty good modern and mobile center-back.
The passive phase is an area where the lack of a proper maestro in midfield has reared its ugly head. Bryan Cristante and Jordan Veretout are not pure pivots and would be more apt to more dynamic roles. At times, their offensive tendencies have left some room through the middle, and pacey teams like Verona and Lazio have exploited that.
The Portuguese gaffer, despite the hype around him, is not one to reinvent the wheel. Their plan is simple: give the ball to their best players and let them cook, preferably in space, where their trio of trequartisti and the strikers thrive. Compared to the Fonseca days, Pellegrini is now a more meaningful hub than Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but the veteran can pull off a winning play at any time. And they are much more intense, although still more mercurial than other top sides.
When they are on their day, they have a borderline untamable amount of quickness and physicality throughout the formation. But that is not always the case, and things can look ugly and disjointed if they come out flat or overhyped. On the other hand, they possess the ability to turn the tables even when they look off if somebody makes a play that ignites the whole squad. And they have a few contributors capable of doing that.
Roma (4-2-3-1): Rui Patricio; Karsdorp, Mancini, Ibanez, Vina; Cristante, Veretout; Zaniolo, Pellegrini, Mkhitaryan; Shomurodov.
Injuries: Spinazzola (Achilles tendon tear).