Juventus v SPAL
Serie A Week 10 – Wednesday, 25th October – 19:45 GMT – Juventus Stadium
Juventus are coming off a very bizarre, but successful, game against Udinese. The defence was once again too leaky, but the offense stepped up in a big way and lead to precious 6-2 win that allowed us to slightly close the gap with Napoli and Inter, since they tied in their big match. A commendable performance by the Bianconeri, who managed to come away with a win despite the red card to Mario Mandzukic and the 2-2 by Danilo at the beginning of the second half. A one-two punch that would have knocked down anybody, but we took advantage of two set pieces and then feasted late on counters when Udinese came unglued.
Daniele Rugani made a mess on the first goal, but he redeemed himself by scoring the vital 2-3 and assisting on the 2-4. The offensive contribution is a bonus with defenders, but it was nice to see him bounce back after a rough start. He obviously needs to clean up all blunders, like the rest of the backline, because you can not go very far with these results, as Gianluigi Buffon stated.
Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala did not score, but their contribution was crucial. El Pipita went to war with Udinese’s defenders and helped the team stay high, while moving La Joya to the left and going with a 4-4-1 rather than with a 4-3-2 was the key to the victory. We were too passive with a three-man midfield featuring Juan Cuadrado and we were lucky to escape the first half without conceding the second goal. Even though we did just that right after the break, thanks to Dybala’s sacrifice we were much more balanced and assertive. He obviously had a big role with those two free kicks that set up Rugani and Sami Khedira.
The German international was obviously the man of the match with his hat-trick and confirmed to be our best attacking midfielder. Even starting from the usual holding position, he always manages to find himself in the thick of it. He is pivotal to a potential move to a more constant use of a three-man midfield, which I do not endorse but is possible since the defence is reeling so much. Also, I know many dislike Juan Cuadrado, but he has been one of the top performers this season.
The marquee game against Milan will certainly have an influence on the decisions about the lineup. There are only a couple of doubts: Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini will rest, with Wojciech Szczesny and Andrea Barzagli replacing them. Stephan Lichtsteiner and Alex Sandro will continue to cover the flanks. Mattia De Sciglio is back in the squad list. Douglas Costa, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain will start. Federico Bernardeschi and Cuadrado will battle it out on the right, with the Italian as a slight favourite. Blaise Matuidi has not been called up but his problem is not serious: Massimiliano Allegri will have to decide what to do here as Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira have both recently come back from injury. Rodrigo Bentancur is ready anyway. Claudio Marchisio will at most make a cameo. Medhi Benatia and Stefano Sturaro remain sidelined.
4-2-3-1: Szczesny; Lichtsteiner, Rugani, Barzagli, Alex Sandro; Bentancur, Khedira; Bernardeschi, Dybala, Douglas Costa; Higuain.
Matuidi (hamstring), Benatia (ankle), Sturaro (hamstring), Pjaca (knee), Howedes (hamstring)
After an incredibly successful Serie B campaign last year, which ended in an unexpected but totally deserved promotion, Spal have struggled to adapt to Serie A. They elected to bring most of the band back, a move that often pays off because you avoid having chemistry issues at the start of the season, but so far they have not been able to take advantage of their forte from last season, the home field advantage. They beat Udinese on the first game, then lost to Cagliari and Sassuolo and tied with Crotone, so they have already let a few good opportunities slip and therefore they find themselves almost at the bottom of the table, since, after the draw at Olimpico with Lazio, they have always lost on the road.
Their best game came against Napoli, where they went toe-to-toe with one of the league’s finest, but Napoli’s final effort took them down and they have not been able to replicate that kind of performance in easier match-ups.
They are dealing with a number of injuries. Alex Meret has been out all summer and recently underwent sports hernia surgery, so it will take him a while to come back. There were high expectations on the youngster after a great season here, in the meantime Alfred Gomis has been serviceable. Sergio Floccari got hurt at the beginning of the year and has been missing since. The newcomer Alberto Grassi, who was attempting a comeback season, has barely played because of muscular ailments. Two regulars, Filippo Costa and Sauli Vaisanen, are questionable with small issues. Juventus loanee Federico Mattiello would take Costa’s place if he was not fit enough.
They use a standard 3-5-2, but their defence has let them down so far, both as a department and with individual blunders. Their main weapon are the energetic Flavio Lazzari down the right and the runs of Luca Mora through the middle. They hoped Marco Borriello could keep up his stellar Cagliari work but that has not happened yet and he has also been plagued by nagging injuries. He has great experience, so he can snap out of it in any moment and with his big frame he is always hard to deal with. As a result, goals have been hard to come by. Alberto Paloschi has been in a slump for the better part of the last three seasons, Floccari has been absent most of the time. Their lone spark offensively has been Mirco Antenucci, who is their most mobile striker and can do damage from distance as well.
On Wednesday, they could go with a stouter look, putting Luca Rizzo and/or Eros Schiavon in the midfield in lieu of the more offensive-minded Pasquale Schiattarella and Mora. There have been revolving doors in the defence, where any centre-back in the roster has gotten a shot, but they have not settled on a trio yet. They will benefit when they find the right one, but nobody has clearly stepped up yet. It will be either Mario Oikonomou or Bartosz Salamon on the right, with Francesco Vicari in the middle and Felipe on the left.
They have a strong wing game, they also shoot a lot from long range. In general, though, they have had trouble when teams started pressing them and they do not have many quick counter-attackers. They have yet to embrace the grit-and-grind style used by most low-table teams.
3-5-2: Gomis; Oikonomou, Vicari, Felipe; Lazzari, Schiavon, Viviani, Mora, Mattiello; Borriello, Antenucci.
Meret (groin), Floccari (hamstring), Vaisanen (hamstring), Grassi (hamstring), Della Giovanna (hamstring).