Juventus v Udinese
Serie A Week 1 – Sunday, 22nd August – 17:00 GMT – Juventus Stadium
Serie A is finally back, a much appreciated break from the transfer market routine that will continue to intoxicate us for the next ten days. A particular extenuating window not only due to the never-ending trequartista saga, but especially because in the mid of July everything looked in place for a quiet August focusing on the actual matches. At that point, we just needed to put the final touches on the Draxler acquisition, but the impromptu sale of Arturo Vidal put us back to square one and shattered every hope of chilling till the start of the real games. The management has done a terrific job so far adding Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic, Sami Khedira and Simone Zaza and I certainly did not expect them to pay €26M for a fullback, although a quality one like Alex Sandro. However, it is necessary to finish off the job with an attacking midfielder and maybe a central midfielder too: the squad could really use some creativity.
Juventus have had no trouble dispatching Udinese in recent years: Udinese last won in 2011 and then the Old Lady tallied six wins and two draws since, with only two Udinese goals in eight matches. Juventus steamrolled the opponents at the Stadium in the past season: 16 wins, three ties, 45 goal scored and 11 conceded. Solid numbers that indicate that Juventus should have a good start of their Serie A campaign.
However, there are some little problems regarding the lineup as the midfield, not our deepest department at this stage, has been hit by a number of injuries. The absences of Claudio Marchisio, Sami Khedira and Kwadwo Asamoah mean that Massimiliano Allegri will have to be creative and postpone the debut of his trademark diamond formation, opting for a 3-5-2 that would allow him to have more alternatives on the bench. The coach suggested that Paul Pogba could develop into a deep-lying playmaker and actually tried him in that position in Villar Perosa, but he admitted that it was just an experiment. I think that Stefano Sturaro has the poise, the presence of mind and the passing skills to play there, but on Sunday the choice in that delicate position will fall on Simone Padoin because of his experience, as Allegri confirmed in the pre-game press conference. That will leave Sturaro and Roberto Pereyra battling out for the final spot in the midfield.
Giorgio Chiellini is fully recovered from his thigh strain and is expected to play, anyway Martin Caceres and Daniele Rugani are reliable options if Allegri decides to be cautious. Mario Mandzukic suffered a knock to the knee in the midweek friendly: he did not sustain a significant injury, but he is questionable for this match, we will see if he will be part of the squad list. With Alvaro Morata still recovering from a calf strain, Fernando Llorente, who has not been sold yet for a reason, is the frontrunner to pair up with Paulo Dybala. Simone Zaza has struggled a bit during the pre-season and still need to climb the pecking order, while a Coman-Dybala duo does not make much sense. Coman has been tested as attacking midfielder: he has not been particularly impressive but it could an interesting move to add some zing during the game and I think he could eventually shine in that position if need be, in the event the management does not find the talented and reasonably priced no.10 they are looking for.
3-5-2: Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Sturaro, Padoin, Pogba, Evra; Dybala, Mandzukic.
Morata (calf), Khedira (thigh), Marchisio (thigh), Asamoah (knee), Mandzukic (knee)
Udinese have been mostly quiet this summer, so far they have lost only Allan from their ideal XI in 2014/15, but they were pretty deep in the midfield and added the veteran Manuel Iturra to fill the void. I expect them to sell Silvan Widmer too: they brought back Edenilson whom they had loaned to Genoa so they have two above average players at the same position, which is a waste, and a couple of Serie A giants are looking for a right-back. Maybe Thomas Heurtaux will depart too, he could be a decent contingency plan if some top clubs fail to acquire their primary targets.
After a disappointing year with Andrea Stramaccioni at the helm, they have appointed Stefano Colatuono: a solid choice, but not very exciting. They have added Ali Adnan, which could end up being either a brilliant acquisition or a bust, and Marquinho, who could find a nice niche in their schemes. They are going to use 3-5-2 at least at the start of the season, we will see if they will switch to Colatuono’s pet 4-4-1-1 later on: they have the men to deploy it.
The jewel of their reinforcement campaign has been Duvan Zapata, who joined on a two-year loan from Napoli in the Allan deal. The Colombian striker had an insane goal-per-minute ratio, but of course the situation is much different now: Udinese are not as offensive-minded as Napoli was, but he has the tools (physicality, quickness, finishing skills) to establish himself as an excellent centre-forward. He is not in perfect physical condition yet, so Cyril Thereau should start on Sunday.
With Molla Wague sidelined by a suspension (watch out for him, he could have a big year), Heurtaux, Danilo and Ivan Piris should play in front of Orestis Karnezis. The nominal starter Guilherme is out with a thigh injury that is still being evaluated, Colatuono stated that he will choose between the newcomer Iturra, the veteran Giampiero Pinzi and Alexander Merkel to replace him. Probably Iturra has more experience as pivot in front of the defense. The midfield will be completed by Emmanuel Badu and either Bruno Fernandes or Panagiotis Kone, who will have the task to add some creativity.
In any case, we can expect a defense-first approach and quick counter-attacks to exploit Antonio Di Natale and the flank game, which should be very strong. They were blah on the road last season: four wins, six draws and nine losses, only 17 goal scored and 27 conceded. They hope that a charismatic coach like Stefano Colatuono will be able to right the ship after a year where they underachieved and were never able to find the most suitable tactical identity.
3-5-2: Karnezis; Heurtaux, Danilo, Piris; Edenilson, Badu, Iturra, Fernandes, Adnan; Thereau, Di Natale.