Another week, another underwhelming win for Juventus. But at least the three points are coming consistently nowadays, differently from the start of the season. And the Bianconeri built up some breathing room in the Champions League race. They will never excel for style points, but until they are consistently successful, all good in the hood.
Surely, it would be preferably to seal matches early rather than play with fire all the time. Still, it is tough to expect more than the bare minimum due to the usual style of Massimiliano Allegri and the fact that the squad is running of fumes with all the injuries. Better game management would be highly beneficial, but it has been an issue for multiple years now.
For instance, Juventus had Spezia on the ropes in the first half last week. However, instead of going for the jugular, they lowered the rhythm and were content with aimlessly holding the ball. Then the opponents turned it on and came close to tying a fixture that should have been in the books after 45 minutes. Sometimes opportunities are there for the taking, and it is counterproductive not to exploit them just to save some energy. The fact that Dusan Vlahovic, who leads the league in shots, did not have a single attempt is a blemish that shall never have an encore.
On the more positive notes, the defense and Wojciech Szczesny are trending in the right direction. The pairing of Arthur and Manuel Locatelli has paid dividends. The latter dished a great assist and, while he was serviceable in the deeper role, he has the potential to be properly brilliant a few meters up and with more liberty. He has never been a pure deep-lying playmaker, and it would not be advisable to turn him into one. His stamina and physical skills are apt for a more mobile and impactful position.
Locatelli’s early role was likely devised just out of necessity. Arthur had not really shown up consistently up until recent weeks, and the former Sassuolo-man is way better with the ball on his feet than Rodrigo Bentancur. But the current trend could, and probably should, alter the future transfer market strategies. It would be foolish to think the midfield can stay as presently constituted or that the ex-Barcelona man can hold up for an entire season. It may be better to look for a regista rather than a flashy box-to-box. Ideally, both pieces will be added in the summer, but that is neither here nor there.
The infirmary slightly emptied out as Alex Sandro and Mattia De Sciglio are available. The latter figures to have better chances to start since his problem was less tricky, but Luca Pellegrini remains the frontrunner at left-back. Juan Cuadrado dealt with the flu for a couple of days but is good to go. Marley Aké would eventually replace him in the XI since Federico Bernardeschi is suspended. The threat of Vlahovic resting appears to be more serious than in recent fixtures.
Juventus (4-4-2): Szczesny; Danilo, Rugani, De Light, Pellegrini; Cuadrado, Arthur, Locatelli, Rabiot; Vlahovic, Morata.
Absences: Chiesa (ACL tear), Bonucci (calf pull), Dybala (thigh injury) Chiellini (calf strain), McKennie (foot fracture), Kaio Jorge (patellar tendon tear), Bernardeschi (suspension).
Sampdoria have benefitted from a minor new coach’s bump when they fired Roberto D’Aversa to appoint Marco Giampaolo, but it was short-lived. They grabbed two precious and surprisingly commanding wins over Sassuolo and Empoli at home, but they have continued to flounder on the road. That has prevented them from building any sort of momentum. They have just a four-point lead over the 18th-placed Venezia, and the main rivals have a game in hand.
They will probably somehow avoid relegation, as they have more quality and experience than most of their competitors. Still, it remains a disappointing season, and they will have to work hard to get out of the hole they are in, as they have lost in seven of the last nine matches. The legal troubles by their owners did not exactly help keep the necessary serenity.
It is not a given that the current boss will be the one the shepherd them out of this predicament. Choosing him was understandable because he is familiar with the surroundings and had pretty good seasons here. On the other hand, it remains an odd decision because of his style. Relegation strugglers generally opt for rah-rah gaffers when they make a mid-season switch. Instead, Giampaolo is a finesse guy, and his style rarely what works out in these positions.
Some teams do manage to lift themselves with a free-flowing, pacey, and technique-oriented brand of football, but it is rare for it to happen following a fairly late coaching change. At least they did things right, bringing in the new manager while the transfer market was open, and making sensible tweaks to the roster.
Stefano Sensi and Abdelhamid Sabiri are good fits and have had fine outings right away. The former, in particular, has a very high ceiling as a no.10 if he could ever stay healthy for multiple matches in a row. The newcomer from Ascoli was arguably the best player in Serie B and could easily wind up being a shrewd investment even if he does not make a significant impact this season.
They were using a weird-looking 4-4-2, with Morten Thorsby on the flank, or 3-5-2 before Giampaolo came to town. Now they deploy 4-3-1-2 and occasionally a three-man defense when they want to defend or are too short-handed up front. Sensi has added some passing acumen, but the main engine of the team remains Antonio Candreva, who is one of the most productive assist-men and crossers in the League.
Manolo Gabbiadini suffering an ACL tear hurt them tremendously because he was their most consistent and physical striker. Francesco Caputo and Fabio Quagliarella are cunning, but they sometimes have trouble keeping the ball up front because they get swallowed up by opposing center-backs. They are not the quickest cats either, so their counter-attacks are not precisely blistering, although they both have pristine vision and IQ, and that can lead to surprising combinations. Vladyslav Supryaha was somewhat touted before joining, but the transition has been slow for him.
The main doubt related to the return of Giampaolo is whether his tactic could work without a proper midfield maestro. Albin Ekdal is serviceable, but he is no Lucas Torreira, which was masterminding his previous iterations of Sampdoria, or Leandro Paredes, who pulled the strings when he was helming Empoli. Absent that, the manager hobbled at Torino in the most recent campaign. Candreva and Sensi help a lot in that sense, but the build-up is not very fluid, also because their defenders are not specialists in that area.
They have savvy veterans across the formation, and they are pretty solid in the back considering the towering Omar Colley and the recent return of Maya Yoshida, plus the brilliance of Wladimiro Falcone between the sticks. While Quagliarella and Caputo are not the forces they used to be, they should have enough goals in them to propel them.
On the other hand, the fighting spirit that characterizes clubs in this situation has been lacking. They were not exactly a gritty team even with D’Aversa on the bench. At times, they have had a glass jaw once they went down in the score early. They have unusually struggled against big clubs, although they recently kept it close with Milan and Napoli, while still losing.
Sampdoria (4-3-1-2): Falcone; Bereszynski, Yoshida, Colley, Augello; Candreva, Ekdal, Thorsby; Sensi; Quagliarella, Caputo.
Absences: Damsgaard (knee infection), Gabbiadini (ACL tear), Murru (suspension).