It wasn’t perfect nor decisive, but finally, Juventus had a good game and won at home in Europe, which had been a true Achilles’ heel until now. The crowd was finally rewarded for its warmth and support and for quickly embracing the second-tier competition, which wasn’t a given after the demotion. At this point, there’s not much to add about Angel Di Maria, who’s the gift that keeps on giving at the continental level. But the qualification is wide open, and the return leg will be a war, which will inevitably influence this game too. The formation will be a real conundrum, as a few players are hurt or gassed, and Moise Kean’s silly red card shortens the rotation up front. The match-up is ideal, but there are no walks in the park in Serie A.
The point deduction makes any loss look like the end of the world, but the Roma one was quite fluky, and the performance was solid considering the team’s standards. They created enough to prevail and was decently sturdy, but the ball just didn’t bounce their way. The bar is exceptionally high at Juventus, and it’s basically impossible to shoot for real objectives unless they win every game. Still, missteps here and there are to be expected, especially in such a busy schedule.
It’s still unclear, but very possible, whether the Bianconeri’s efforts in domestic play will wind up being completely moot, as the second sports trial could easily lead to a heftier punishment, but the timetable was pushed back again, and it probably won’t take place until May, while the result of the first appeal will arrive in late April. This limbo is almost worse than any sanction, and while justice has its due times, it feels like it’s part of a strategy to completely ruin this season. According to a host of experts, the Old Lady might get some points back, if not all, due to a few technicalities, as the sentence was hastened and the judges were lax in their interpretation of the rules. On the other hand, the second tranche will be put together by the letter of the law, given the basis provided by the first one, and the alleged infractions are more severe. The longer it takes, and especially if it goes into the offseason, the easier it will be for the prosecutor to ask for huge penalties and for the courts to hand them, which is bleak.
Dusan Vlahovic’s dry spell turned into a full-fledged crisis as five matches without scoring are too many for any striker, let alone Juventus’ top one. The health concerns are in the rearview mirror, so the technical reservations have resurfaced. The first few showings after his return were promising, but he has gone back to being a foreign body in an offense that’s the most enthralling in the world but has functioned adequately for a few months now. The chemistry with his teammates is non-existent, and that’s the weirdest part, as there are always willing passers on the pitch. His slump is a mix of defects and mental elements, as he hasn’t been properly engaged and got frustrated too quickly in the last few fixtures. His best utilization would be in open space, with him having multiple opportunities end eventually netting one, but Juventus rarely have the chance to counter. Therefore, they need him to fine-tune his first touch and back-to-goal game because he has to operate with little room most of the time, and technique is vital. There’s no alternative to riding him, and hopefully, a goal will be enough to get him going for a good.
Thankfully Di Maria and Federico Chiesa’s injuries aren’t severe, especially in the second case, but the attack will be down to bare bones for this one. It’ll be either Fabio Miretti or Matias Soulé in the hole, with Samuel Iling-Junior likely to serve as a super-sub. One of the regular midfielders will rest, with Manuel Locatelli being the main candidate, since the coach stated that either Leandro Paredes or Enzo Barrenechea would start. Alex Sandro is on the mend as well, and his absence removes some flair from the back three. Either Daniele Rugani or Leonardo Bonucci will substitute him, but there’s also a chance one between Gleison Bremer and Danilo rest too. Mattia Perin will man the sticks.
3-5-1-1: Perin; Rugani, Bremer, Danilo; De Sciglio, Fagioli, Barrenechea, Rabiot, Kostic; Miretti; Vlahovic.
Absences: Kean (suspension), Di Maria (thigh injury/rest), Chiesa (knee soreness), Alex Sandro (thigh strain), Milik (thigh strain), Kaio Jorge (patellar tendon tear).
Sampdoria are putting up a bigger fight than they have any right to do, considering all the turmoil and troubles behind the scenes. They are most likely headed for relegation barring a true sporting miracle, but they haven’t given up. It’ll be tough for them to register for Serie B next season, but that’ll be a matter for the summer.
To summarize, their owner Massimo Ferrero was arrested a couple of years ago for financial misconduct, and the club has been self-financing ever since. The board of directors tried to push him out, but he refused to sell the club. Moreover, it’s difficult to find a buyer since they are massively indebted, and potential investors have been scared away by their internal feuding. They have struggled to make payroll, but the players helped them by delaying wages, so they avoided a point deduction. They have been given four months to find a solution to avoid bankruptcy, just enough to finish the season and spare the league the embarrassment of a size capsizing.
Despite that, they made some moves in January, other than cashing in on whoever had suitors, like Omar Colley, Bartosz Bereszynski, Francesco Caputo, and Abdelhamid Sabiri, who was acquired by Fiorentina but stayed on loan. However, such choice has had more drawbacks than benefits, and he was subbed out in the first half of the past game because he had poor attitude and was a liability. It’s undoubtedly challenging for a mercurial technical player who isn’t gritty to fare well in this situation, also because he has very few teammates to interplay with properly.
They made up for the departures with free-agent acquisitions or loan spells, bringing in players that had fallen out of favors that just wanted regular minutes, like Bram Nuytinck, Koray Gunter, Mickael Cuisance, who was Venezia, or Sam Lammers. They should have added some more youngsters, as their fate has been apparent for a while, so they were a good destination for talents that needed top-flight experience without too much pressure. Instead, they signed just Alessandro Zanoli and Emirhan Ilkhan from such a standpoint. The Napoli loanee has been promising and displayed unsuspected versatility.
Other clubs would have probably tried to shake things up with another coaching change at some point, but the reality is that they can’t afford other another manager, and Dejan Stankovic has been decent enough. Somebody would need to have a magic wand to turn things around. Their problems come from afar and are way above the boss’ head. He’s surely better equipped for the relegation race than Marco Giampaolo, who’s more finesse. He instilled the right spirit and determination into the squad. While their mentality is on point, scoring has been a significant obstacle, and it’s tough to rack up wins when that’s the case.
Injuries haven’t helped either, and they have had revolving doors up front. Lammers hasn’t been particularly impressive, but his mobility opens up a few interesting situations, but he’s out with an ankle sprain. Jesé Rodriguez got his first start last week, and while he might be their best shot at mitigating their offensive woes, his conditioning is severely lacking. Fabio Quagliarella is only a part-time contributor at this point. Manolo Gabbiadini is their only consistent player in the role, but he’s not exactly a goal poacher either, even though his shooting skills are tantalizing.
They have mainly used 3-4-1-2 in recent games, with some flexibility as, if Zanoli plays in the back-three, he has more freedom to venture forward than a standard defender. The pairing with Mehdi Leris is one of their best attributes, as it brings a lot of dynamism. Tommaso Augello is a quality crosser on the other wing, so their flank game is one of the few sure things they have going. Harry Winks has been a minor surprise and a great equalizer in the midfield once he finally recovered from an ankle injury. They are in good shape there since Cuisance is an adequate distributor too and can take care of a few roles. However, he picked up a late injury.
Despite their terrible state, this can easily become a trap game if Juventus don’t put enough effort into it. Since it’s sandwiched between two Europa League ties, with the Inter clash just around the corner, and the XI will be weird, there are all the premises to look past the Blucerchiati. But that shouldn’t be the case, as they have been in a relative groove as of late. They held the Nerazzurri, Monza, and Salernitana to a draw, and they were competitive against in-form sides like Lazio and Bologna, which only narrowly bested them.
They have some big lineup issues too, as Emil Audero hurt his shoulder in practice, so they’ll have to go either with a rookie making his Serie A debut, Martin Turk, or a journeyman that has been a third-stringer for most of his career, Nicola Ravaglia. Filip Djuricic is back from an injury and will replace Cuisance as attacking midfield if in acceptable shape; otherwise, they’ll probably move pieces around the formation and use Leris there, making it look like a 3-5-2. Sabiri would be the best solution, but he’s a long shot to start or even play, given what happened last week. 3-5-1-1 is also on the table, but only if Djuricic is fit enough to make the XI.
3-5-2: Turk; Gunter, Nuytinck, Amione; Zanoli, Leris, Winks, Rincon, Augello; Gabbiadini, Jesé.
Absences: Audero (shoulder sprain), Lammers (ankle sprain), Pussetto (knee surgery), Conti (ankle surgery), De Luca, Murillo (undisclosed injuries)