Palermo v Juventus
Serie A Week 6 – Saturday, 24th September – 17:00 GMT – Stadio Renzo Barbera
Juventus rebounded very well after the loss against Inter and dismantled a resigned Cagliari team. The squad just looked relieved to have ended the four-game gauntlet at the start of the season: Massimiliano Allegri has stressed that all the opponents they have faced had finished in the top seven last year. Therefore, nine points should have been considered a very good haul, notwithstanding the garbage outing at San Siro. Personally, I think that every problem goes away when you are on top of the table, therefore all is good and we can move on from the Inter game.
Several things stood out in the amazing showing against Cagliari, starting with Gonzalo Higuain. It looks like the transition to his new side could not have been any smoother and that the lack of playing time is the only thing holding him back from being universally considered one of the top strikers in the world. He has scored four goals in six games, once every 76 minutes. He is a magnet in a box, chances seem to always find him and it is not a case that Juventus netted a couple of goals on rebounds after parried shots. Defenders are so preoccupied with him that it opens spaces for the others. Mario Mandzukic is a terrific worker, but he does not have the same gravitas of Higuain, so the Argentinian ace should play in every game he is healthy enough to feature in.
Hernanes played his best game since he is a Juventus and that is a welcomed sign. If he could hold down the fort every once in a while in these cupcake matches, that would be very helpful for the rotations in the midfield. After all, he is not asked to do much, just not lose dangerous balls in front of the defence and make few passes here and here. Hopefully this would terminate the “Pjanic as regista” plan. Dani Alves and Alex Sandro played great as well: while it has become a standard for the latter, the former Barcelona fullback has had few ups and downs so far, but when he is locked in, he is money.
There was a little case about Juan Cuadrado, who was allowed to leave the Tuesday practice early and then was on the stands on Wednesday. The official version is that he had some familiar issues, the rumours say that he was upset when Allegri told him he would not start and then the coach punished him. We will go with the first one and we will see what will happen going forward, but he will not start on Saturday.
Juventus have already issued the squad list: Sami Khedira returns from his one-game rest, Gianluigi Buffon is good to guy after exiting the last game and Patrice Evra is available as well after banging knees before the midweek game. The only unavailable players are Medhi Benatia, but his situation do not seem very severe, Claudio Marchisio and Rolando Mandragora. Daniele Rugani will replace Giorgio Chiellini in the lineup.
In the pregame presser, the coach said that it is likely that Paulo Dybala will be benched and talked up Mario Mandzukic as second-striker. Marko Pjaca will eventually grow into that role, but he is not there yet, according to Allegri, who stated that the fact that he came from the Croatian league, where the tactical element is not as emphasized as in Italy, has slowed the winger.
The doubts lie on the flanks and in the midfield. It is totally possible that Dani Alves will be spared ahead of the Champions League game, but there is no reason to field Stephan Lichsteiner and Patrice Evra at the same time in a game where Juventus can afford to be a little more offensive. In all likelihood, Lichtsteiner will play on the right and Alex Sandro on the left, but there is a chance Kwadwo Asamoah will be slotted on the wing so the Brazilian starlet will be fresher for the Dinamo Zagreb game. Of course, Asamoah could play in his natural position in the midfield, replacing either Mario Lemina or Miralem Pjanic.
3-5-2: Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Rugani; Lichsteiner, Khedira, Lemina, Pjanic, Sandro; Higuain, Mandzukic.
Marchisio (knee), Benatia (hamstring), Mandragora (foot).
In a shocking turn of events, Palermo have already changed their coach and their sporting director. However, if they could survive the first rocky couple of months, it could be for the better. The president Maurizio Zamparini was never enamoured with Davide Ballardini and only kept him because he salvaged few points last season that helped them avoid a relegation that seemed inevitable. Rino Foschi is flamboyant and was destined to clash with Zamparini at some point, at least with this early divorce they were able to find somebody in the market. Roberto De Zerbi and Daniele Faggiano are talented up-and-comers and they have done extremely well in the lower leagues. Of course, hiring them was a big gamble, but they could have found something that sticks around for a while, and that would be a change, if they both panned out.
That being said, they are among the “favourites” to be relegated and on paper one of the weakest rosters in Serie A. As usual, they have brought in several talented youngsters from abroad and they will need four or five of them to flourish to have a chance to escape the drop. Also some of their other players will have to step up because the team lacks veteran leadership and that is an issue in the relegation race. They have signed Alessandro Gazzi and Alessandro Diamanti for this very purpose, going against their usual policy, but I fear they might have to add some more seasoned players in January.
Among the newcomers, Haitam Aleesami has been the most consistent: he was put right into the starting XI replacing Achraf Lazaar without any drop-off. Ilija Nestorovski is not super young but he might be what they needed: a pure striker with great nose for the goal. De Zerbi is encouraging him to expand his game, but his two goals against Crotone and Atalanta were fabulous and quite meaningful for their standing. Those four points allow them to approach this game with more serenity. The young goalkeeper Josip Posavec has been very impressive as well.
De Zerbi is a Zdenek Zeman disciple, therefore a 4-3-3 believer, but after being demolished at home by Napoli and struggling on the road against Crotone, he reverted back to 3-5-1-1, a scheme Ballardini had already started to work on. He added a little wrinkle: one of the two box-to-box midfielders sometimes is more advanced, to disrupt the opponents’ playmaker. It does not help the trident’s case that his two best wingers, Robin Quaison and Aleksandar Trajkovski, are sidelined with injuries. Diamanti should play be in the hole, but, after missing the preseason, he might not be ready to play twice in three days: in that case, Roland Sallai would be the favourite to take his place, but they do not lack options for that role, including some conservative ones.
The defence and the midfield are pretty much in flux. They are working Giancarlo Gonzalez, their best defender, back into the lineup after that he was on the trade block for the whole summer. The newcomer Slobodan Rajkovic had a very bad nose fracture and should not be available. Edoardo Goldaniga and Sinisa Andelkovic should flank Gonzalez in the back, but Thiago Cionek is pretty physical and reliable and could be given a chance. As for the midfield, Bruno Henrique has been their big summer acquisition but he might need a little more time to adapt: Oscar Hiljemark and Ivaylo Chochev have more experience in Serie A and Gazzi was rested against Atalanta. The coach also praised Mato Jajalo for his performance against Atalanta and I would not be surprised to see him in the XI to add some muscles. Andrea Rispoli and Aleesami will play on the flanks and they are the heart and soul of a team that is still under construction.
3-5-1-1: Posavec; Goldaniga, Gonzalez, Andelkovic; Rispoli, Hiljemark, Gazzi, Chochev, Aleesami; Diamanti; Nestorovski.
Trajkovski (foot), Quaison (hamstring), Rajkovic (nose), Embalo (hamstring), Bentivegna (hip).