Sampdoria v Juventus
Serie A Week 17 – Wednesday, 18th December – 17:55 GMT – Stadio Luigi Ferraris
Juventus could not ask for much more out of the last weekend (outside of a clean sheet): the squad finally looked impressive and easily thumped the opposition in domestic play, who were frankly quite submissive. Inter were pipped at the post and so the good boys are back atop of the standings point-wise.
The trident is producing at an outrageous pace, a goal every 25 minutes, yet it is clear that relying on it constantly is quite impractical. First of all, since Mario Mandzukic has been frozen out, there are no back-ups strikers and an extensive use would run all three into the ground, which is what the coaching staff and the management want to avoid at all costs because the main objectives will come in the spring.
Secondly, it would cut off some quality players that can bring something to the table. While Aaron Ramsey and Federico Bernardeschi can feature elsewhere, Douglas Costa can only play in that position and they are not going to give up on him. The most positive element is that with it being established as a viable option from the get-go, the Old Lady is no longer so dependent on footballers that have proven to be either unreliable, physically or inconsistent. One would be correct to argue that Maurizio Sarri should have turned to it earlier instead of insisting on Bernardeschi as no.10, despite his precious work-rate.
It can surely work out offensively because Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain are both willing passers, and El Pipa has made great strides there, and having them both takes a lot of attention away from Cristiano Ronaldo, but unfortunately we are not always going to face a team that is as conservative as Udinese, so the defensive phase takes a hit. It was a nice test run, it is a tantalizing weapon to pull out, especially in-game, but it should not become a regular thing in my mind.
Rodrigo Bentancur will be suspended on Wednesday, but Miralem Pjanic will be back, so one in and one out in the midfield. Adrien Rabiot is starting to look better, he was not a fish out of water as right box-to-box, and they should give him some continuity over Emre Can, as the Frenchman has a lot more potential to become a valuable contributor. It is a bit frustrating that he has not been able to do that yet because he has all the tools of a modern midfielder, just his pace and perhaps some mental aspects are a bit lacking. Costa and Ramsey will have to start go through the same process to recover fully and perhaps they will start in this fixture.
Wojciech Szczesny was a late scratch but it does not seem like his pectoral injury is too severe and, if not in this one, he will likely play in the Supercoppa. Gianluigi Buffon has done well aside from the Sassuolo game, but there is always a looming fear it could all fall apart for him in a hurry if he plays too much.
The coach did some roster gymnastics keeping Alex Sandro out, while Juan Cuadrado was suspended, so they should be out there Wednesday. The bigger question is whether the Colombian will be trusted Sunday and Danilo, while not doing anything too spectacular, usually holds his own when his number is called and, while he does not have as high of an upside offensively, he is more diligent in the back, which comes in handy in some games. Leonardo Bonucci and Blaise Matuidi could be candidates for a day off.
4-3-1-2: Buffon; Cuadrado, Bonucci, De Ligt, Sandro; Rabiot, Pjanic, Matuidi; Bernardeschi; Higuain, Ronaldo.
Chiellini (knee), Perin (shoulder), Pjaca (knee).
While not doing anything too spectacular, Claudio Ranieri has steadied the ship at Sampdoria since he took over from Eusebio Di Francesco, picking up three wins and three draws in nine fixtures at the helm. It is not a squad that stands out in any particular area of the game, but it plays with more serenity and confidence under the veteran skipper and, one way or the other, they occasionally find ways to bring home victories through their resourcefulness and overall soundness, as testified by a pair of late charges.
Their ambitions took a hit when they moved on from the previous coach, who was supposed to take the club to the next level but did not have the manpower to pull off his intricate schemes. Serie A waits for no man and they had no choice but to give him the axe as they had been dragged into the mud and the risk of a season battling to avoid relegation with a manager that is not used to it. The fact that they provided very little support to Di Francesco in terms of purchases is a matter for another time.
Ranieri has been able to revitalize two or three key men and that has been enough to stay afloat: if they got a few others going they might be able to climb up the table a bit. Their giant centre-back Omar Colley and the ever-inconsistent Gaston Ramirez and Manolo Gabbiadini have been the main beneficiaries of the coaching change.
Their tactic is fluid but the foundation is a four-man defence, then it can be a diamond or a 4-4-2 depending on what position Ramirez decides to keep. The Uruguayan was even used as second-striker in the recent Derby and perhaps that will be the solution in a difficult match-up again.
They could be pretty depleted because Albin Ekdal and Fabio Quagliarella were subbed off due to injuries over the weekend and, even as the veteran striker has been so distant from last year’s stellar levels, they would take a big hit without his unpredictability after he had appeared to turn the corner after a long slump in the Cagliari game. He is likely headed to be a game-time decision. Ekdal is not the flashiest player but he is their best distributor in the midfield, so that would big another meaningful loss. Morten Thorsby and Ronaldo Vieira are energetic and pretty interesting prospects, but they are still a bit rough around the edges and do not have the same kind of vision in the passing game. Vieira is out due to yellow-card accumulation.
They were without Jakub Jankto in the last match but Karol Linetty filled in pretty well and he is actually probably better suited for this kind of game since he provides a lot of energy and hustle even though he does not have the same technique or playmaking of his Czech teammate. They would likely feature together if Ekdal did not recover. Despite the tactics and capable crossers, primarily Nicola Murru and Fabio Depaoli, they do not put a lot of emphasis in that aspect and they prefer to create through the middle and with the ball on the ground.
Depaoli recently came back from an ankle sprain and he will be an option either as right-back or as winger, depending on what posture they decide to have. Jeison Murillo has been a disappointment so far and has been severely outplayed by Alex Ferrari, but he held his own as fullback in the Derby della Lanterna and would be viable in this scenario as well as he can not do too much damage in that position.
Weirdly enough, Gabbiadini has been their most reliable striker so far and his lefty strikes have solved a game or two. He is finally in his habitat as pure second-striker next to a goal poacher and his above-average touch makes him a weapon. Gianluca Caprari instead is usually pretty good as a super sub.
Their level of competitiveness will hinge on how many players they will be able to recover in a short week, because they risk fielding a ragtag crew, but they have proved to be a very opportunistic side that can sting the opposition in multiple methods when they manage to stay in the game. They do not bunker up too much, but also do not attack recklessly. They are exactly middle-of-the-road in most facets, which makes them a tricky opponent for what could be trap game right before the Supercoppa Italiana.
4-4-2: Audero; Depaoli, Ferrari, Colley, Murru; Ramirez, Thorsby, Linetty, Jankto; Gabbiadini, Quagliarella.
Bereszynski (knee), Bertolacci (thigh), Barreto (thigh), Bonazzoli (thigh).