Juventus have had a lot of stinkers this season, but very few were more inexplicable than the one against Bologna. The opponents presented some challenges, but not enough to justify such an ugly first hour. Time and time again, the Bianconeri are held back by their flat approaches. Having a veteran coach with an antiquated style loses its purpose if he can not properly motivate the troops and keep them on point.
Manuel Locatelli and Arthur being out simultaneously and Denis Zakaria being limited turned out to be a bigger deal than anticipated, as bringing clean balls to the attackers was a struggle. The squad is too dependent on Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado’s inventiveness, which can run hot or cold. Considering the situation, taking out the former with a good chunk of the match still to go was baffling, especially because Juventus do not have fire-breathing dragons coming off the bench.
At least there is the safety valve of a clutch striker now, as Dusan Vlahovic will eventually score if the Bianconeri ramp up the pressure and start creating chances in the box. Still, the frequency with which they put themselves into unnecessary holes through a manifest lack of pace, intensity, and urgency remains befuddling. Perhaps they need to fill the pressure to show well. They are lucky that the other Champions League competitors are not great this season; otherwise, the heat would have been on by now. Given Roma and Fiorentina’s results, this figures to be a tasty opportunity to add some more cushion.
The squad fared better in the return leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final, where the fact that the opponents had to win at all costs worked in their favor. The team has had their best performances in matches where they were able to play the counter-attacking game, and they even left a lot on the table Wednesday, but it happens every blue moon. To their credit, the players and the coaching staff have rarely botched two matches in a row, but it should not take a wake-up to scare them straight, despite the leeway in the standings. Inter will be favorites in the final, and they turned their season around with that lucky win at the Stadium, and it would be nice to exact revenge and keep the trophy streak alive.
The gaffer quickly dismissed the chatter about Matthijs De Ligt resting, but the doubts remain, and Vlahovic could face the same treatment, although the late injury suffered by Juan Cuadrado likely throws a wrench in the plans to rotate the attackers. Danilo would start in the midfield if the Serbian striker was initially spared.
Juventus (4-2-31): Szczesny; De Sciglio, De Ligt, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Zakaria, Rabiot; Bernardeschi, Dybala, Morata; Vlahovic.
Absences: Locatelli (MCL sprain), Cuadrado (thigh injury), Arthur (ankle sprain), Chiesa (ACL tear), McKennie (foot fracture), Kaio Jorge (patellar tendon tear)
Sassuolo have not been as good as last season standings-wise, and some adjustments were to be expected following a coaching change, especially since they hired one making his Serie A debut. However, although they are not serious contenders for a European berth, one could argue that they have had smashing success since several of their youngsters fully blossomed, even more so than in previous years.
They are headed for a very busy summer as, even though it would have a giant windfall, they can not afford to part ways with all their cornerstones. It will be interesting to see whom they will try to keep at all costs. Domenico Berardi might finally spread his wings and join a top club, and he has been phenomenal, and Maxime Lopez, Davide Frattesi, Hamed Traorè, Giacomo Raspadori and Gianluca Scamacca will have plenty of suitors too.
Berardi remains the head of the table, and that is noticeable especially when he is missing, as it happened in two of the last three matches, which they lost. Their other forwards are good too, but he is the one that stirs the pot and by far their reference point with the most gravity. They look a little lost when he is not out there, considering how many touches he makes in any given game. Unfortunately for the Bianconeri, he is on track to return in this one.
Traore has been a fine player for a few seasons, but he has reached new heights once he moved to left winger in their 4-2-3-1. He is deadly when he cuts back and fires off, as he glides past opponents with ease and has a tremendous curled shot. When he and Berardi are both clicking, there is too much to handle for opposing defenders, also considering that the rest of their attack, usually Raspadori and Scamacca, are no slouches either.
Differently from Traorè and Berardi, their other two top youngsters have been streakier and are not on the same level in terms of personality and leadership. It is normal since they are relatively new to Serie A, and this was their first campaign as regulars. They are just scratching the surface, and who will wind up being the better player is a fascinating question. Scamacca mixes in the traits of an old-school center-forward with modern mobility and shooting skills. Raspadori has pristine technique, an above-average nose for the goal, and is masterful in navigating between defenders for his size.
Their top midfielders might be even more unique, as Lopez is a pure deep-lying playmaker, and there are not many of those around. Unsurprisingly, he has made the leap once the departure of Manuel Locatelli gave him more responsibilities, and his command is impeccable. Davide Frattesi would be at his best as a box-to-box in a three-man midfield, as he would have more room and opportunities for his cuts. But he found a way to adapt to their scheme, with strong returns, and he has stamina for days. If anything, his forays tend to catch opposing defenses by surprise, as they are more unexpected from such position.
Dionisi initially followed De Zerbi’s footprints, as logical, but he was smart to pivot from 4-3-3 to their current formation, which is the only way he could fit all their forwards at the same time. Moreover, he recognized that Traorè could improve if freed of defensive tasks.
They are one of the worst sides to be sloppy against, so Juventus will have to tighten up their act compared to recent showings. They are a nightmare to defend if given room, as they have an excessive amount of weapons and can hit you from all sorts of positions. The best strategy might be to try to outscore them, which would be a change of pace for the Bianconeri. Their scheme and traits do expose their defense. Even though their center-backs are decent, they have kept just three clean sheets in the season. Ironically enough, the most recent one came versus Inter, as they raise the level of their game when going against top sides, while they do not get up as match versus the minnows. It is a weird trend, but it makes them very flashy and particularly threatening.
Sassuolo (4-2-3-1): Consigli; Muldur, Chiriches, Ferrari, Kyriakopoulos; Frattesi, Maxime Lopez; Berardi, Raspadori, Hamed Traoré; Scamacca.
Absences: Toljan (collarbone fracture), Obiang (pneumonia), Romagna (knee surgery).