The performance versus Verona was reminiscent to the early-season ones, when the squad was still getting to know the demands of the new coach. They intensity was sky high in the early going, but that lasted for about 20 minutes, then they went back to the usual plodding pace of recent weeks. The goal arrived anyway thanks to an invention by Federico Chiesa and the usual clutchness by Cristiano Ronaldo, but as it has happened so many times at the beginning of the campaign, they were unable to hold onto the lead. On the contrary, Juventus was quite lucky not to lose since Verona created a lot more in the final stretch.
There situation within the squad is surely suboptimal with all the absences and players being forced into heavy minutes, but their struggles when facing competent teams were clear even when they are at full strength. In the more challenging matches, it just becomes very hard for them to pull the strings and attack stingy back-lines with proper efficacy. Goals appear more random than the product of a well put-together design and there is a very thin line between patiently working around hard-to-perforate defenses and lack of urgency or simply of ideas, which are way more troubling aspects.
It is unfortunate that the main question mark heading into the game, who was going to fill in for Danilo, ended up being the deciding factor as Alex Sandro got beat in the air on the goal, but it is tough to argue going with experience in this situation and we can not say for sure others would have done better. Other choices, instead, like insisting on the Rodrigo Bentancur-Adrien Rabiot combo in the midfield that is more often than hot tossed around by the opponents, and on Federico Bernardeschi were more questionable calls.
The ball is squarely on the other teams’ court as it pertains to the title race, Juventus will just have to try to persevere and hope they stumble, but it is looking bleak on that front. It is evident that the Bianconeri have to work on themselves rather than look at what the others are doing in this trying times. If anything, they need to start worrying about what happens behind them.
Since Spezia play with width and attack a lot on the flanks, this is probably more of a game for a four-man defense. The tactical flexibility is an asset, but only if it does not teeter into lack of identity, which has at times be the case. It does not looking there will be any return from the injured players and Alvaro Morata will at most be available off the bench. Nicolò Fagioli is questionable with an illness, but he might start if he shakes it off. He is contention with Aaron Ramsey and Rodrigo Bentancur, who might get the day off if Weston McKennie, who is dinged up, is considered healthy enough to start. Federico Bernardeschi is pushing Alex Sandro and his presence would make the scheme a 3-5-2.
4-4-2 Szczesny; Danilo, Demiral, De Ligt, Sandro; Chiesa, McKennie, Rabiot, Ramsey; Kulusevski, Ronaldo.
Dybala (knee), Bonucci (thigh), Chiellini (thigh), Cuadrado (thigh), Arthur (lower leg).
Spezia have gone from one of the favorites to get relegated to one of the most aesthetically pleasing sides to watch in the span of few months, also because the situation on that front has lagged in Serie A, especially on top of the table. While their roster is quite decisively inferior to some of their richer competitor down low, differently from most, they have a precise identity and a chemistry that can be built only by sticking together for few years. Plus, the courage and cleverness of coach Vincenzo Italiano’s tactics do the rest and the young manager will certainly go places, maybe as soon as the upcoming summer.
They do not have many stars, maybe M’Bala Nzola can be called that, but he missed a lot of time due to an ankle injury and they have been able to weather the storm anyway. They made up for that by having no fulcrum and attacking with basically the whole team and bamboozling the opponents with quick and quality combinations that seem to always find a way to spring somebody loose. They operate at a tempo that is matched only by Atalanta in Italy and it never feels like they are completely out of a game, as the recent comeback with Parma proved.
Now Nzola is back and he is a terror in the box thanks to his size, quickness and nose for the goal. But, barring the two center-backs, all their other players are offensive threats, from the two fullbacks Simone Bastoni and Luca Vignali thanks to their crossing, the former in particular has been outstanding, to their central midfielders because of their technique, shooting and channel runs and obviously the front-line, where the two wingers have a lot of freedom to pick their spot, playing off the other men on the flank.
Massive midfielder Tommaso Pobega has been their second top guy for a long time, but he has been banged up lately. Giulio Maggiore and Nahuel Estevez have picked up the slack and, while probably not as talented, they are quite peppy and well-rounded too. Matteo Ricci instead has been a very viable anchor, although Lucien Agoume has more than held his own when the teammate had to miss time due to COVID.
They have mostly rationalized the squad in January, getting rid of few veterans that were key pieces in Serie B but, while helping out with the transition to their new crop, had not really contributed much. The only addition was Riccardo Saponara, a versatile attacker that they have been using a pseudo-winger, since he is more of a playmaking no.10 than a wing player. He got some run while Diego Farias was hurt, but in generally they keep everybody fresh and involved by rotating a lot.
Emmanuel Gyasi has been their second fiddle and a steady hand up front: he adds a ton of dynamism and he is basically the guy that knows the coach’s demands to perfection. While his finishing is not always on point, he is coming off a brace. Kevin Agudelo has done pretty well as false-nine while Nzola was out, now they are looking for ways for keep both in the XI as Agudelo is arguably the most gifted and unpredictable up front.
While the overly offensive style has allowed them to overachieve, it can have major flaws when the opponents figure out how to attack them or few players have an off day together. It can cause wild swings, for instance in the past month alone they have gone from trouncing Milan to being blown out by Fiorentina, so they can be trick or treat.
They are strong when they have the ball, but the defensive phase is not even close to be on the same level and the daring offside trap generally does not help. It often looks like a fire drill when they are under pressure. They have lowered their rhythm just a couple of times throughout the campaign when facing sides as attacking as them, but the results were inconsistent, with only the heroics of the goalie keeping them in the game. It will be paramount to tackle them with clear ideas and try keeping the ball rather than being caught in their whirlwind, as it would inevitably lead to some mistakes. Trying to lull them into submission has generally proven a successful gambit against Spezia.
Their gaffer rotated the squad a lot the last time they had a midweek game, therefore Julian Chabot, Salvador Ferrer, Riccardo Marchizza, Leo Sena and Lucian Agoume, who are usually back-ups, have some chances to sneak into the XI for this one, while veteran Claudio Terzi should get the nod after some time off.
4-3-3 Provedel; Ferrer, Erlic, Terzi, Bastoni; Estevez, Sena, Maggiore; Verde, Nzola, Gyasi.
Pobega (thigh), Saponara (foot), Mattiello (thigh), Rafael.