Juventus v Udinese
Serie A Week 28 – Sunday, 11th March – 14:00 GMT – Juventus Stadium
Two enormous results for Juventus in the last two outings against Lazio and Tottenham and the fact that they have done that in spite of pretty mediocre performances is a testament to the resourcefulness and the experience of this squad. We rope-a-doped for most of the Olimpico bout, but our pace improved in the second half and then Paulo Dybala pulled one out of the hat to win the game in the stoppage time. Three points that, if we do not fumble in the Udinese game, will give us the opportunity to leapfrog Napoli in the midweek tilt with Atalanta.
While we had seen this script in Serie A before, the outcome of the Tottenham fixture is even more astounding. Spurs basically looked in control for the whole 180 minutes, but for the first ten minutes of the Stadium match and five minutes in the middle of the second half in the Wembley one. Those small lapses cost them the four decisive goals. We knew that we could hurt them because their back-line is pretty leaky, but we still let them have the ball for most of the match. Outside of the two goals, we did not create much, but we still prevailed and hopefully this is a good sign ahead of the next European challenge, where the competition will get better and better.
It is hard to fathom, but the game really changed when Stephan Lichsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah were subbed in as these moves gave us two complete chains on both flanks. Blaise Matuidi was not having his best game, while it is weird that Andrea Barzagli is still being used as a right back where there are other options available. Anyway, those substitutions allowed us to play with more width and that was key in the first goal. Gonzalo Higuain gutted it out on a sore ankle and his contribution was vital as I do not think many would have chased that header by Sami Khedira and the through pass to Paulo Dybala was perfect.
Another interesting aspect of the Spurs bout was the tactics: we know things are fluid with Massimiliano Allegri, but it was the first time in a while he had both Dybala and Douglas Costa at his disposal. Rather than both serving as trequartists, the Brazilian was used as right winger, with Matuidi covering the other flank, and La Joya as second-striker. It was de facto a 4-4-2.
Next up is the Udinese game and it is imperative to avoid a let-down. It is a 3pm match, something I despise because the Bianconeri should always be on their own time slot. Alex Sandro, who has grown into an essential offensive weapon in 2018, and Stephan Lichtsteiner are suspended; Mario Mandzukic missed the last match due to some hamstring ailment and Medhi Benatia was subbed off with an ankle sprain, but their injuries are not believed to be serious. With the Udinese game sandwiched between two demanding match-ups, some energy management is inevitable.
Mattia De Sciglio is back after missing time with a hamstring strain and he is slated to start, while in the heart of the defence Benatia could be spared, in favour of either Daniele Rugani or even Benedikt Howedes. There is a little chance Giorgio Chiellini is rested as well. Wojciech Szczesny will be on goal. Mandzukic is said to be healthy enough to play, so Paulo Dybala could get a breather to avoid overloading him. Claudio Marchisio could take Sami Khedira’s spot in the midfield, but also Stefano Sturaro is in contention to be in the XI. In the pre-game presser, the coach admitted that he has yet to decide what to do in the midfield and with Dybala.
Federico Bernardeschi and Juan Cuadrado will both take soon take more tests and we will see then where they are in their recoveries. The Colombian is obviously much closer, while the status of the Italian starlet remains uncertain as the coach ruled him out for 20 more days.
UPDATE: Miralem Pjanic and Blaise Matuidi could both be rested as well, with Rodrigo Bentancur entering the XI and perhaps a lighter midfield and one more attacker. Mandzukic is good to go.
4-3-2-1: Szczesny; De Sciglio, Rugani, Chiellini, Asamoah; Marchisio, Pjanic, Matuidi; Douglas Costa, Higuain, Mandzukic.
Bernardeschi (knee), Cuadrado (groin).
Lichtsteiner, Alex Sandro.
Udinese had an impressive spurt when Massimo Oddo was hired to replace Luigi Delneri at the end of November: they possess more quality than some of the minnows they were battling with at the beginning of the year, so it was not surprising to see them climb the standings. However, they’ve cooled off when they realized, or decided, that they were not going to challenge for a European spot. Furthermore, some key injuries hampered them: Kevin Lasagna went down with a severe hamstring strain and they have yet to find somebody that could replace him properly upfront.
Lasagna is a perfect striker for a low-to-mid table team because he is excellent on the counter, but he can also link-up with his teammates and is capable in the air. Stipe Perica is still pretty raw and also has different characteristics, while Maxi Lopez is more of a distributor than a finisher. Rodrigo De Paul has had decent number so far this season, but he has not been an indispensable starter. They have also tried some different solutions, like deploying a light attack, with two false-nines such as De Paul and Jakub Jankto against Sampdoria, but that did not do the trick. They have lost three straight games, against Roma, Torino and Sampdoria. Their last two goals were actually own goals by opponents.
We might see an unusual solution again on Sunday, with Jankto in the attack with De Paul or supporting a pure centre-forward, and Seko Fofana back in the starting XI to bolster the midfield. Valon Behrami has recovered from an injury and Oddo deems him a vital part of the line-up. Jankto is considered a pretty exciting prospect, with some top teams in Italy and abroad coveting him, but he has not taken the next step this season where he has received consistent playing time. He is explosive on the open field, but he is a little bit of a one-trick pony because his contribution on other areas is lacking. Maybe the box-to-box position is not the most suitable for him because the heavy lifting in the defensive phase tire him out; maybe a more external, or advanced role, would allow him to shine so he could have some decent opportunities down the stretch.
They will miss two-thirds of their starting back-line on Sunday: Danilo has suffered a hamstring strain, while Jens Stryger Larsen is suspended. Moving to a four-man defence is an option, but for now it looks like Gabriele Angella and Bram Nuytinck will simply slide in. While they are not as solid as the ones they will replace, they are both experienced.
The wing game is their main strength, with both Silvan Widmer and Ali Adnan constantly powering down the flanks and also cutting in the box when the ball is on the opposite side of the pitch. Antonin Barak is their best youngster and, even though he has stopped scoring consistently, he is an all-around midfielder whose ceiling is extremely high.
3-5-2: Bizzarri; Angella, Nuytinck, Samir; Widmer, Barak, Behrami, Fofana, Adnan; Jankto, De Paul.
Lasagna (hamstring), Danilo (hamstring).
Juventus & Udinese Performance Statistics