Juventus v SPAL
Serie A Week 6 – Saturday, 28th September – 14:00 GMT – Juventus Stadium
Another somewhat flawed performance by the Bianconeri, but another win in the bag after the second comeback in a row, this time against Brescia. The start was very confusing with a few uncharacteristic long balls and the sucker-punch goal was caused by a collective blunder and the bigger, final one by Wojciech Szczesny. However, after taking too much time to settle down, the defence did not concede much and the guys created a bunch of chances in the second half, legitimizing the result. Putting the games away has been an issue so far, you can not let the opponents hang around, otherwise you will get burned sooner rather than later.
Maurizio Sarri’s flexibility both in terms of team selection and schemes has been a minor surprise, while his preparedness is just a confirmation of his worth. It seems to me that he is just going with the most logical solution in each given match. We do not have the horses to play 4-3-3 without Cristiano Ronaldo right now, hence 4-3-1-2 made a lot of sense and it did not look improvised either.
Now the question is whether he will stick to it even with the Portuguese ace and it could be a sound idea since Juan Cuadrado will be forced to play right back for a while and both Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain have been better than Federico Bernardeschi, who has had a slow start. Ronaldo played pretty centrally in the first pair of fixtures but then returned very wide, either way accommodating him is perhaps easier defensively, and he would still have a ton of freedom.
Aaron Ramsey was excellent in the hole in the first half when the others were running around without much purpose. The focus for him is now just to stay healthy and grow physically, but he will soon become a major weapon. Kind of ironic that we got a quality trequartista only after the end of the Massimiliano Allegri era. Adrien Rabiot drew his first start as Blaise Matuidi, who at this point works in unison with Cristiano, was spared, but he did not fare so well. He has a feathery touch and a complete game, but the pace in Italy is much quicker than in Ligue 1 and therefore he will have to adapt. He should manage to improve through playing time.
Danilo got hurt and we are down to one option at right back, but fortunately Cuadrado is in top-notch form and can do no wrong in this moment even though that role is tricky. When it rains it pours and the fullback position is the one with the least depth, Alex Sandro might be forced to sit out one because he flew to Brazil midweek because his father passed away.
All sorts of options have been thrown out to fill in for him, from Merih Demiral to Emre Can, but smart people pointed that Sarri prefers a lefty there and the frontrunner for now is Blaise Matuidi, who should have the required amount of discipline and it is not that different from what he usually does. Federico Bernardeschi is the alternative and did play wing-back at Fiorentina, but on the right flank. U23’s Pietro Beruatto is the final resort. If Matuidi got the nod in the back, Rabiot or Emre Can would get the call in the midfield. It might be a good spot to rest Leonardo Bonucci.
4-3-1-2: Buffon; Cuadrado, Bonucci, De Ligt, Matuidi; Khedira, Pjanic, Rabiot; Ramsey; Dybala, Ronaldo.
Danilo (thigh), Costa (thigh), Chiellini (knee), De Sciglio (thigh), Perin (shoulder), Pjaca (knee).
Juventus face SPAL at the right time as they are still figuring out their roster and have been defeated four out of five times and there is bad juju all around in Ferrara, considering the results and a pair of major injuries. They were defeated by Atalanta, Bologna, Sassuolo and Lecce and pulled off an improbable comeback against a sloppy Lazio to get their only three points so far.
Their summer has not been particularly convincing as it was fair to let Manuel Lazzari move to a bigger club, but they really did not do much with the money they brought in. They got enamoured with the strategy of pulling off some reclamation projects after the success they had with Andrea Petagna last season and therefore took a bunch of gambles during the summer, but will need most of them to succeed in order to be passable. So far, they have looked like a team that has lacked a technical leader.
The wing-backs were major parts of their design last season and surely one of their strong suits, but they lost both of them, as Mo Fares tore his ACL in the summer. They were not going to find as big of a playmaker in Lazzari’s role: Marco D’Alessandro would have been fine, but he suffered the same injury earlier this week and is out for the foreseeable future. They are now down to Jacopo Sala, a fine back-up at Sampdoria who can do okay in a larger role, Arkadiusz Reca, who did not get into the rotation at Atalanta last season, and Gabriel Stefezza, who played much more offensively in Serie B last season.
They deployed their big-ticket acquisition, Federico Di Francesco, there in the midweek round to raise the quality. He opened the season as their top option as second-striker and is generally used to more offensive roles and could have troubles containing opponents. He has found the target twice and has looked pretty exuberant, but he might have picked up a muscular injury in the midweek round and forced to sit in the one, which would be a break.
Beyond that, if he is needed elsewhere, their attack is very short-handed and the lack of firepower really glaring. Petagna could repeat himself and has already bagged two goals, but other than Jasmin Kurtic, who can be very prolific but after all is a midfielder, they do not have consistent scorers. Sergio Floccari took over the position late last season he can not keep it up for an entire year, while Alberto Paloschi’s skillset clashes with Petagna’s and the two have not been able to play together. Gabriele Moncini was pretty good in Serie B but he too is a centre-forward, so they do not really have anybody creative there. The wildcard, other than a tactical switch, could be Marko Jankovic, but the coach has not showed much trust in him since he joined last January.
The coach might have no option but to scrap the scheme that allowed them to have success in their two seasons in Serie A and cobble together a 4-2-3-1, as Nenad Tomovic and Thiago Cionek can be used as fullbacks and Kurtic can be a decent weapon in the hole. They turned to it out of necessity against Lazio and it worked. However, the Slovenian international is out for his one due to a knee problem.
They replaced Emiliano Viviano with Etrit Berisha in goal, which is not dramatic but still a downgrade, and were unable to retain Kevin Bonifazi, so, factoring in also the loss of their leader Lazzari, their squad is clearly inferior to 2018/2019, where they had a sterling campaign. They will have to scratch and claw to avoid relegation this season and, even if the odds are not in their favour right now, they have been there before and Leonardo Semplici has proved to be an underrated skipper.
They are usually a stout bunch, but they have always conceded so far and gave up multiple goals in three matches. Since the newly promoted teams have been fairly proactive, they are one of the few sides that still utilizes a pure and physical old-fashioned catenaccio style and then try to strike quickly and Petagna is fairly mobile despite his size. Mattia Valoti is banged up as well, so they could be really depleted in the midfield: if he is not good to go, Simone Missiroli could go back to playing as box-to-box as he used to, with Mirko Valdifiori anchoring the midfield, which would be completed by Alessandro Murgia, like Valoti, is a pretty interesting youngster and has to be held in check on his cuts.
UPDATE: Valoti has been ruled out, while Felipe made the squad list.
3-5-2: Berisha; Cionek, Vicari, Tomovic; Sala, Murgia, Valdifiori, Missiroli, Reca; Floccari, Petagna.
Kurtic (knee), Fares (knee), Di Francesco (thigh), Valoti.