Juventus v Udinese
Serie A Week 27 – Friday, 8th March – 19:30 GMT – Juventus Stadium
Despite the positive result, the clash with Napoli was not the ‘flip-the-switch’ and confidence-building moment the fans were eager to see, as the win kind of fell into our laps thanks to Kevin Malcuit’s howler. The approach seemed fine but the events make the game quite impossible to judge.
The only bright spots were Miralem Pjanic finally bagging the first free kick of the season and the intensity with which the squad got after it, up until our red card. However, it is clear that we should never allow the opponents to pin us back for such a long stretch, but unfortunately that seems to happen every time we run into troubles.
The laments by Cristiano Ronaldo where well justified and particularly meaningful as they came from a player that is not particularly prone to public displays of dissatisfaction, which is actually quite remarkable considering his stature.
Even in dire situations, we can not just sit back and let the opponents pull the strings, but we have to find a way to feed him or the other strikers with some decent balls and take advantage of the opportunities to counter. It is unclear whether that happens by a design dictated by the coach or if the players simply can not dig out of the hole they find themselves in, but it is something that must be ditched real soon, also because it simply does not work for us. Napoli and Atletico Madrid managed to break through even if we bunkered up, so what is the meaning at that point.
Unfortunately, with Massimiliano Allegri looking more and more like a lame duck and other signs of bad juju, it just does not seem like there is the right vibe to pull off a feat like coming back against the Colchoneros would be. Perhaps everybody would be able to snap out of the funk within now and then, but it would be quite a turnaround.
The 16-point lead with 12 rounds to go means that seven wins will do it, or even fewer if the Partenopei drop some points along the way, which is obviously likely. The coach has a lot of leeway in fixtures like this as far as deciding who to rest and who to field and I would say sparing everybody important would be the right way to go, but the roster is not super deep and therefore some centre-pieces will have to feature.
Joao Cancelo and Miralem Pjanic are suspended, so that makes two of those on the stands for sure. The Portuguese right back, barring the stellar cameo against Lazio, has unfortunately not been as effective as in the early portion of the season after his knee surgery. Alex Sandro is disqualified on Tuesday, so perhaps he will play here. Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Cristiano Ronaldo will initially rest as announced by the coach, while Moise Kean is poised to feature from kick-off. Paulo Dybala in the XI would make sense to make up for the creativity void, but he has a bruised foot, Mario Mandzukic is sore as well, so it is a toss-up depending on who is healthier. Andrea Barzagli could start, but Martin Caceres could play in lieu of Mattia De Sciglio. The only player that could offer some different solutions, perhaps also as a winger, is Leonardo Spinazzola. A three-man defence can not be ruled out considering who is available and who is not.
UPDATE: De Sciglio has been ruled out because of a thigh injury and Sandro and Spinazzola are likely to feature together on the left wing, but there is still a chance one between Dybala and Mandzukic ends up playing.
4-3-3: Szczesny; Caceres, Barzagli, Rugani, Sandro; Bentancur, Can, Matuidi; Bernardeschi, Kean, Mandzukic.
Costa (quad), Khedira (heart), Cuadrado (knee).
It is not the worst time to catch Udinese as their two most recent wins against Bologna and Chievo have given them some substantial breathing room over the red area, so they will not be necessarily starving for points on Friday night, even though they will try to put up a fight in what could be a weird game.
They have changed dramatically since the last time we faced them, as back then they were trying a different approach with Julio Velazquez at the helm, while they have sheered back to the usual ‘minnow way’ after appointing Davide Nicola.
The have not been particularly consistent, but they have been able to pick points here and there up their last sprint and it looks like they will be able to stay in Serie A, barring a late collapse.
Their style is nothing new, as the new manager implemented a sturdy 3-5-2 which was further solidified by the arrivals of Stefano Okaka, Sebastien De Maio and Sandro during the winter mercato. They will be down two metronomes here as Rolando Mandragora is suspended and Valon Behrami is recovering from a thigh injury, so the ex-Genoa man is expected to get the call even though he is not 100%. If he was not fit enough to start, they would have to opt for some unusual solutions like adapting Seko Fofana or advance a centre-back.
The only two players that represents a detour from the fundamentally sound and physical arrangement are Rodrigo De Paul and Ignacio Pussetto. The first often plays in the midfield now, which is both a way to accommodate them together without making the scheme too offensive, but it also allows him more involved in a team that does not usually have a ton of possession. The ex-Huracan winger is thriving now that he is seeing consistent playing time as second-striker and his skillset is quite intriguing because he has also some size on top of the usual technique of South Americans attackers.
The emergence of Pussetto and the acquisition of Okaka have overshadowed Kevin Lasagna, who was their fulcrum last season, especially down the stretch, but never quite managed to get it going this year. Nicola prefers to have a muscular point of reference spearheading the attack and Okaka is the perfect fit for that role.
They have not scored in five straight road games, so it is not like they are an irresistible force. Their third main creator is Jens Stryger Larsen, despite his position on the right flank, who is extremely dynamic and can be an emergency option in few other roles too, even in the midfield.
They should be again without Marco D’Alessandro, who had turned into a good left wing back, so either Marvin Zeegelaar or Hidde Ter Avest will deputize for him. Okaka is a little banged up and turning to Lasagna would make them quite different considering his blazing speed. A light attack is also a possibility and at that point there would be several moving pieces across the XI. Bram Nuytinck is dinged up but should be good to go, otherwise they will use Nicholas Opoku. The goalkeeper Juan Musso has been quite a revelation thus far.
UPDATE: The favourite solution is a De Paul-Pussetto front-line, with Larsen as box-to-box and Ter Avest in at right wing back.
3-5-2: Musso; De Maio, Ekong, Nuytinck; Larsen, Fofana, Sandro, De Paul, Zeegelaar; Pussetto, Okaka.
Behrami (thigh), Samir (ankle), D’Alessandro (calf), Barak (back).
Juventus & Udinese Performance Statistics