For the first time in the season, Juventus are coming off two wins in a row, which is always healthy even though the opponents surely were not formidable and the one against Spezia was a tad tenser than it needed to be. Hopefully the positive stretch will propel them heading into one of the most challenging fixtures of the early season, even though Lazio are no longer the great foe they were in the past campaign.
While the system has stayed the same, the coach did implement a little tweak to make it more solid and so Weston McKennie was used as attacking midfielder/winger in the last Serie A game and Aaron Ramsey interpreted the role with more emphasis on the passive phase on Wednesday, before getting hurt and making room again for the young American. It is a quick and easy fix to have a grittier and more balanced formation, but it will have to be tested in more difficult matches to see if it will hold up and the first half in Cesena still was not convincing defensively.
However, it produces some issues as the Old Lady do not have many players for that role, arguably only McKennie is perfectly suited, and it risks of putting aside of the best contributors so far, Dejan Kulusevski, who has ridden the pine in the last two matches. In all likelihood, he would have to alternate with Federico Chiesa, while both would be deserving to be regulars, also given the size of the investments to bring them in. It is unquestionable though that something had to be done to improve the defensive system, we will see if this compromise will prove to be fruitful and if the youngsters will react positively. The move could also be the harbinger for the deployment of the star-studded trident, which for various reasons has never been available up to this point and surely requires a stouter midfield.
In the past two tilts, one of the unanswered questions was solved as Alvaro Morata has fitted extremely nicely next to Cristiano Ronaldo and the Spaniard so far has passed every test with flying colors: his improvements in the complementary areas of the game have been remarkable. He might naturally lose some playing time since Paulo Dybala are Ronaldo both back, but this is the kind of match that would suggest using the best available XI and right now most effective pair up front is hands-down Morata-Ronaldo. La Joya straight-up has not played well so far, hindered by the lack of conditioning after he lengthy absence, but at least he got to score versus Ferencvarosi, which is a nice morale boost.
Ramsey picked up another muscular injury and will not be available, while Giorgio Chiellini returned midweek but got hurt again, so Merih Demiral will be back in the XI. Arthur is coming along nicely and also Rodrigo Bentancur is rounding into the shape, so the doubts in the midfield remains since Adrien Rabiot has been steady. Unless the manager quickly reverses path, McKennie will be fielded in the aforementioned diverse role, where, to his credit, he has fared pretty well, even though he does not have the same playmaking ability of some of his teammates.
4-4-2: Szczesny; Cuadrado,, Bonucci, Demiral, Danilo; McKennie, Bentancur, Arthur, Chiesa; Morata, Ronaldo.
Sandro (thigh), De Ligt (shoulder), Ramsey (thigh), Chiellini (thigh).
Lazio have begun the season in puzzling fashion as they appeared to be still shell-shocked for what happened in the June restart, where their lack of depth got exposed by the super crowded schedule and their ambitious plans to win the title went pear-shaped in a hurry. It was a sort of Super Bowl hangover that led to rough losses against Atalanta and Sampdoria.
However, they have gotten some of mojo back in the past two weeks thanks to a decent win over Bologna and a dramatic one over Torino thanks to a late rally and they have been pretty strong in Champions League as well, even though they are going through a very strange COVID crisis. Ciro Immobile, Lucas Leiva and Thomas Strakosha were not cleared for the European fixtures, but played last Sunday as the tests are different. Their management, who is obviously being scrutinized by the League for their handling of the situation, is adamant that these three players are not contagious and so good to go, but we will see: the latest developments are on the negative side.
Luis Alberto has been more transparent on his own and he tested positive a week ago but then turned negative a couple of days ago, like Manuel Lazzari and Djavan Anderson. They have added some pieces in the short transfer market window, but the presence of their stars still makes all the difference in the world. Immobile single-handedly changes their configuration as Felipe Caicedo and Vedat Muriqi are completely different and much less dynamic type of strikers.
The design (3-5-2) as stayed the same even when they were very depleted, at most some players have adapted to different roles. The recent absences in the midst of a very busy stretch have taken a toll in terms of fatigue on some elements, for instance Francesco Acerbi looked completely gassed in the Zenit game, but that has not stopped them from coming back late in a couple of occasions. Caicedo in particular has spearheaded their efforts in that regard.
Their other two cornerstones Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Joaquin Correa have gone through the whole ordeal scot-free and they have stepped it up scoring-wise. When in full force, they can boast a four-headed monster that is hard to contain as Milinkovic-Savic and Alberto have become full-fledged box-to-box midfielders and provide a ton of quality from those spots, Correa is extremely slippery and they have just mastered the art of putting Immobile in perfect position to score, constantly feeding him with through ball or creating opportunities to go on fast-breaks. With Caicedo and Muriqi, instead, they have a set reference point.
They lose some quickness without Lazzari, but Adam Marusic and Mohamed Fares are serviceable and useful release valves when they get stuck while trying to attack through the middle, which is generally their preference. Leiva is a better distributor, but Marco Parolo has proven to be an adequate anchor of the midfield in recent tilts. Jean Daniel Akpa Akpro has been a ball of energy when called upon, Andreas Pereira can play in a couple of positions and adds to their list of technical players, but has not been very consistent.
Their defence has not been airtight and neither between Patric, Luiz Felipe and Wesley Hoedt is particularly polished, so they could have some slip-ups if put under pressure. They would be a little faster with Patric, who can also fill in as wing-back if they chose to, taller and slower with Felipe and Hoedt together. The back-line needs to hold up its end of the bargain if the primary strategy is to sit back and counter as you can not go far if you concede too easily. They will get back veteran Stefan Radu after a calf injury and he is reportedly immediately in contention to start, likely replacing Hoedt.
However, it would be reductive to reduce their game plan to just that since they are can produce overwhelming waves of offense and pin the enemies back when their best players are in a groove as they possess a ton of unpredictability and can easily pin back the opponents and hit them in a multitude of ways. Milinkovic-Savic is particular is well-know for delivering in pivotal matches.
3-5-2: Reina; Hoedt, Acerbi, Felipe; Marusic, Milinkovic-Savic, Parolo, Akpa Akpro, Fares; Correa, Muriqi.
Escalante (thigh), Lulic (ankle), Proto (arm), Immobile, Anderson, Leiva (COVID).