Juventus v Sampdoria
Serie A Week 36 – Sunday, 26 July – 20:45 GMT – Juventus Stadium
The Bianconeri are finding new ways of shooting themselves in the foot as, while mental lapses after scoring and thus giving away leads is nothing new, a late cheap goal while the squad hastily tries to score had not been seen in a while. Giving up two goals to Udinese, who barely bothered attacking and were pinned to their box in three-quarters of the game is inexcusable and the focus of some members of the back-line is just too seesawing for it to return to elite levels. The players have gone through several meetings, but you have to wonder about what they discussed since the blunders have stayed the same throughout the season.
While the Scudetto is eventually going to be bagged, at this point it is pretty ludicrous to think that the current version of the team has any chance of coming out on top in the Champions League’s gauntlet. We knew it was going to be a bizarro season after so much stability in previous years, and the weirdness reached astronomical levels because of the pandemic, but the other Serie A teams should be kicking themselves for not taking advantage of such a golden opportunity.
The head honchos have no alternative now but to put up a façade and say that Maurizio Sarri will remain on the bench, the rumours are destabilizing enough on their own, but very soon the time will come to assess the coach’s performance and estimate whether he can course-correct if given more time, but to me there seems to be too many issues for him to really handle them. Rationalizing the roster will help out, but the roots of the problems appear even deeper.
Since things are not going bad enough, Douglas Costa somehow managed to pick up a substantial thigh injury even though he has been treated with white gloves over the last few matches and, unfortunately, on that front the coaching staff were proven correct in trying to preserve him as much as possible. It did not work out anyway and the official timetable that was issued is extremely optimistic, as it is a given that he will not be available for Champions League. Then the management too will have to evaluate whether they can really afford having a player who, while potentially a difference-maker, is fit in only about half the games and plays well in about a third, to be really generous.
There is no perfect solution to replace him properly, as Federico Bernardeschi and Danilo, advancing Juan Cuadrado in this case, have abundantly demonstrated to be flawed players. Hopefully they will hold it together for a while, then Gonzalo Higuain should be back soon for the jumbo trident, although that is whole different can of worms tactically speaking.
The job was not finished and therefore the XI will be the best possible one, with the usual doubts going on especially in the midfield, where Miralem Pjanic is being spared (for Barcelona?) whenever he has a cold, and Adrien Rabiot, who has really been coming on strong, might be due for some rest since he has run away with the starting job. Aaron Ramsey was poor versus Udinese, and he is another guy the Old Lady could really use having at his peak.
4-3-3: Szczesny; Cuadrado, De Ligt, Bonucci, Sandro; Ramsey, Bentancur, Rabiot; Bernardeschi, Ronaldo, Higuain.
Khedira (thigh), Chiellini (calf), Costa (thigh)
Even though they are coming off a bad beat in the Derby with Genoa, Sampdoria managed to surge in July, winning five of the last seven games and putting themselves out of harm’s way. They are truly one of the most uninspiring sides in the League, but they are a veteran team, and they have good enough players to scavenge the goals they need and then hold on. The return of Fabio Quagliarella and the rise of Federico Bonazzoli helped them build a viable offence and Manolo Gabbiadini has been pretty consistent all season long.
They are not really a counter-attacking team because they have just one or two really fast players, depending on the lineup they chose. They do not have that many creators either, especially in periods when Gaston Ramirez is not in his best shape, like right now, but they have a simple game plan and they have been able to execute it pretty well after the lockdown, which is to defend pretty well, find the strikers in the final third and then let them cook. Quagliarella is so savvy and has also become a decent passer, Gabbiadini can hit from distance, Bonazzoli is relentless and acrobatic.
They have a pretty dynamic midfield that generally includes Karol Linetty, Jakub Jankto and Morten Thorsby, all well-rounded players that hold their own in both phases and can adapt to whatever the game demands. Albin Ekdal is dinged up and that would be a big loss because he is their main pivot and their best ball handler. Should he miss the game, they could replace him with Andrea Bertolacci, who is a similar but less effective player, or go without a true playmaker and deploy Fabio Depaoli. Ronaldo Vieira, who has shown interesting improvements in his second season in Italy and would have been the first candidate to fill in, is suspended.
Thorsby, Linetty and Jankto can all play either central midfield, on the flank or even in the hole and that allows them to switch between 4-4-2 and a diamond formation without a hitch. The second scheme clearly works better with Ramirez as no.10, but Claudio Ranieri probably will not be too daring in this one. As a matter of fact, the Uruguayan attacker has better chances to be fielded as right winger in a 4-5-1, they most conservative option, or as second-striker if he was indeed selected in the starting XI.
Despite what it looks like, their formations tend to be pretty narrow and the fullbacks are not used in very prominent fashion, although Tommaso Augello has been impressive after the hiatus, almost supplanting the regular Nicola Murru. Bartosz Bereszynski on the right flank is instead a defence-first player and will advance only with a clear lane.
They have a second starter that is out due to yellow-card accumulation: giant centre-back Omar Colley who, after a so-so first part of the season, had vastly improved in July. To make up for his absence, they can go with the equally big but a little raw Julian Chabot or with the rugged Lorenzo Tonelli, who recently came up from a knee injury.
They will not do it as blatantly and diligently as Udinese, but they too will sit back and clog the spaces, hoping the opportunity will come to bust out a fast-break and put their strikers in good position. Although, they are also not starving for points as the other Bianconeri and therefore they might be less feisty and not as on point.
4-4-2: Audero; Bereszysnki, Yoshida, Tonelli, Murru; Thorsby, Linetty, Bertolacci, Jankto; Gabbiadini, Quagliarella.