Juventus V SPAL
Serie A Week 13 – Saturday, 24th November – 17:00 GMT – Juventus Stadium
Juventus gear up for the third and final stretch of the 2018 calendar year, which will see them take on SPAL, Fiorentina, Inter, Torino, Roma, Atalanta and Sampdoria in Serie A and Valencia and Young Boys in the Champions League. Not many easy pickings domestically, while most of the work has already been done in Europe despite the faux pas against Manchester United, and hopefully the qualification will be clinched in the next game and the first place will be soon to follow.
Looking back at what happened before the break, Juventus got the job done against Milan. Perhaps they could have put the game away earlier, but overall it had just one scare defensively, a big one where Wojciech Szczesny was magnificent, but they never really felt in danger against an undermanned team, especially in the second half. It is a recurrent theme, but with some demanding match-ups coming up, it would be apropos to have a fiercer mindset.
Massimiliano Allegri’s choice to bench Leonardo Bonucci to spare him a meeting with a roaring crowd was certainly something and unfortunately Medhi Benatia continued his trend of performing pretty solidly throughout the game but also being involved in key mistakes or unfortunate episodes. The return of the prodigal son had already hurt the Moroccan defender’s stock, then he proceeded to voice his malcontent for not playing much. He is certainly a starting caliber defender, but that is not on the horizon in Turin, especially with Giorgio Chiellini not slowing down one bit, so it seems that we are headed for a divorce, either in January or in June. Daniele Rugani is always lurking and could move up one spot in the depth chart and Giangiacomo Magnani is blossoming in Sassuolo, also the management should not have much trouble finding a cheap replacement.
Unfortunately for Milan, the reasons why Juventus decided to upgrade their attack by bringing in Cristiano Ronaldo for Gonzalo Higuain were on full display in that game. The Portugal ace is a cold-blooded assassin that steps up in the seminal crucibles, while at times El Pipita lets emotion get the better of him and has a tendency to be a bottler in big matches. Still, it would be hilarious to see what happens if Milan opt to not pick up the option to buy him outright in the summer.
Emre Can has returned to Turin after the thyroid operation, but the illness and the surgery took a toll on him and the fact that he is also being constantly medically monitored means that he will not be able to play for a while. Massimiliano Allegri hinted that he is at least two weeks away from contributing. The midfield continues to be pillaged by injuries as Miralem Pjanic picked up a minor muscular injury with Bosnia and Sami Khedira rolled his ankle while practicing during the break. The Bosnian maestro is expected to feature from the get-go, while Khedira will be out for a couple of weeks.
Considering that the coach has hinted at a maintenance day for Blaise Matuidi, there could be a tactical switch. Juan Cuadrado and Joao Cancelo have been mentioned as fill-ins in the midfield, but the choice is more likely to be a 4-4-2 with Juan Cuadrado and Douglas Costa manning the wings. Joao Cancelo and especially Giorgio Chiellini could get the night off, so Mattia De Sciglio and one between Rugani and Benatia will slide in the XI. The alternative is a 3-4-3 with Andrea Barzagli over De Sciglio and other players moving around in the scheme. Federico Bernardeschi will skip this one with the thigh problem that has been bugging him in the last few weeks, but he could return soon. Mattia Perin will be between the sticks.
4-4-2: Perin; De Sciglio, Bonucci, Rugani, Sandro; Cuadrado, Pjanic, Bentancur, Costa; Mandzukic, Ronaldo.
Khedira (ankle), Bernardeschi (thigh), Can (thyroid).
SPAL had a surprisingly hot start with three wins in the first four fixtures, showing pretty convincingly too, but then they went quickly into a downward spiral with six losses in the their past eight games, with a pair of clunkers in manageable match-ups and some listless performances. They abruptly regressed to the mean and are back in their usual neighborhood in the standings.
They have changed a little compared to last season: their biggest achievement was to retain Manuel Lazzari, who is hands down their best player and always creates havoc motoring down the right flank. You rarely see a wing back having that kind of impact and you have to wonder whether, in his next stop, he could make a further leap by playing as offensive winger, with fewer defensive obligations, or if he will turn out in a full-fledged full-back.
In the summer, they decided to try to better exploit their flank game by signing a more physical centre-forward in Andrea Petagna. He his logging better numbers than his Atalanta stint, he is already at four goals, which was his total a year ago and one short of his personal best in the top league. Still, it does not feel like he is as deadly as some other specialists, perhaps because he uses a lot of energy combining with his teammates and battling for positioning with defenders.
Mirco Antenucci was a big weapon last season, but had a slow start until picking up in the very last few matches as he scored both against Lazio and Cagliari. The combo with Petagna works well because they have different skills, as Antenucci can move around the reference point, attack the offside trap and has some creativity.
As for the other additions, they stayed true to their 3-5-2 and bolstered the depth. Mo Fares from Verona and Simone Missiroli from Sassuolo were interesting purchases, while Johan Djourou was an ambitious one but it has not panned out yet, as he has been unable to win the starting job. Same for Mirko Valdifiori, who has not been able to recapture his Empoli glory days and has been a second choice behind the stouter Pasquale Schiattarella in the midfield, who helps them accommodate two pretty offensive-minded box-to-box players. Jasmin Kurtic has recently returned from an elbow fracture and his shooting and playmaking is crucial for them. Some hits and some misses in their reinforcement campaign, but they seem to be a little better equipped that some of the other cellar-dwellers and they have more experience now, so they should be fine as long as they are able to stop their current slide quickly.
Their game plan is not particularly fancy as they generally try to defend diligently and bust out some quick fast breaks, especially through Lazzari. The first part has not worked well recently as they have kept just one clean sheet in their last eight outings, conceding two or more goals in all the others. In their rough stretch, weirdly enough, their only win has come in two-nothing blitz at the Olimpico against Roma, so, even though the Estensi have some flaws, the Bianconeri will have to be careful to not look past them too much.
Both Francesco Vicari and Felipe subbed off from the last game due to injuries: the latter should be okay, the former has been ruled out by coach Leonardo Semplici. Thiago Cionek and Mo Fares are a little fatigued, so Kevin Bonifazi and Mo Fares could enter the XI. Djourou should be the choice to replace Vicari. The coach has gone back and forth on goal, but Alfred Gomis has generally done better than Vanja Milinkovic-Savic.
3-5-2: Gomis; Cionek, Djourou, Felipe; Lazzari, Missiroli, Schiattarella, Kurtic, Costa; Antenucci, Petagna.
Juventus and SPAL Performance Statistics