Sassuolo v Juventus
Serie A Week 4 – Sunday, 17th September – 11:30 GMT – Stadio Città del Tricolore
Juventus will have to put their disappointing defeat to Barcelona behind them as they visit a Sassuolo side that will be missing Domenico Berardi for round 4 of Serie A.
Boy oh boy, what a slap in the face that Barcelona game was. A rude awakening that will linger until the return game against the Blaugrana, if not the final phase of the Champions League when we will face other European giants. Lionel Messi is great and Camp Nou is intimidating, but 3-0 is an unacceptable result for Juventus, despite the absences and the fact that some newcomers still have to gel with the teammates. Unfortunately, as David Tenenbaum once wisely said to me, Bianconeri have a glass jaw and that has been very true in last Champions League debacles.
The best thing is to treasure the lessons and move on to the other games, maybe not as prestigious but surely as important. Next up is Sassuolo, a Sunday lunchtime match. As it often happens, the infirmary will dictate many choices. Giorgio Chiellini and Mario Mandzukic are said to be healthy and ready to go, then it will be up to Massimiliano Allegri to decide whether to start them or spare them for the upcoming fixtures. The injury of the Croatian forward, a wound on the tibia, was less severe and worrying than the chronic calf ailments of the Italian international.
Benedikt Howedes was a surprise exclusion from the squad list against Barcelona and he will be out this week to deal with some muscle fatigue and undergo some specific preparation. There is a little too much mystery around Sami Khedira’s knee; He got hurt with Germany, missed a game but played a few minutes in the second game, and then was deemed injured by Juventus doctors. The latest reports say he could miss 7-10 more days. Mattia De Sciglio suffered an ankle sprain on Tuesday: the first exams excluded a major fracture, but that does not necessarily mean that the issue is not serious. We will know more soon.
The last two games showed a concerning aspect: while 4-3-3 helps Miralem Pjanic and protects the defence better, Gonzalo Higuain, but also the other attackers, are too distant and too disconnected from the rest of formation. We end up being toothless and it does not matter whether Paulo Dybala is on the pitch or not. 4-2-3-1 can expose the defence, which is struggling right now, but at least it gives us a big boost offensively and I think also some more confidence. It is a tougher choice than anticipated.
We are also very thin in the midfield, considering also Claudio Marchisio’s absence, so Pjanic and Blaise Matuidi will be forced to work overtime. It seems like tiredness will not be a problem for the Frenchman, who is a dynamo. Rodrigo Bentancur made his first start at Camp Nou and he did not drown, which is enough considering the circumstances and the fact that the box-to-box role is probably not his ideal one. The true test for him will come once he plays without Pjanic and take’s on more creative responsibilities: the moment might come sooner than expected.
The coach did not trust Daniele Rugani against Barcelona: Andrea Barzagli did what he could, the same goes for Medhi Benatia up until an horrendous mistake on the second goal. I think the Moroccan will get better if the plays constantly, but it remains to be seen whether he will be given that chance. Alex Sandro was not on his usual standards and might have been still under the weather after missing the previous game with the flu.
In the past, after a loss, Allegri has thrown the logical rotation out of the window to allow the players to immediately redeem themselves. Douglas Costa, Higuain, Dybala and Sandro did not look good against the Blaugrana, but I think they will bounce back very soon. Federico Bernardeschi could play on the right, but Juan Cuadrado is the favourite after sitting out two games in a row.
4-2-3-1: Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Rugani, Chiellini, Sandro; Pjanic, Matuidi; Cuadrado, Dybala, Mandzukic; Higuain.
Marchisio (knee), Khedira (knee), Howedes, De Sciglio (ankle), Pjaca (knee).
Sassuolo have had a tough start of the season: they have collected one draw and two losses so far in the games against Genoa, Torino and Atalanta. They have looked bad in the first two matches, despite salvaging a point in the opener. At first, Cristian Bucchi confirmed Eusebio Di Francesco’s 4-3-3, but it turns out that it is a highly automated system that struggles without the person who forged it at the helm.
The former Perugia coach opted for a more familiar 3-5-2 against Atalanta and they did play better even though they were defeated. They found the first goal thanks to a great counter, but then the Nerazzurri were simply more aggressive. Sassuolo also missed a couple of very good chances to tie the game late. Pol Lirola and Stefano Sensi were two of the high points and they look at ease in their new positions. The Spaniard has always been offensive so it is only logical for him to thrive as wing-back, while the former Cesena player has moved from deep-lying playmaker to box-to-box midfielder, basically replacing Simone Missiroli’s offensive load, and he has looked good.
The sustainability of the new formation hinges upon two things: Domenico Berardi’s effectiveness as second-striker and Claud Adjapong’s ability to play on the left. Both players are asked to adapt to new roles. Berardi has always played as a right winger, but in reality he was more of a trequartista: he orchestrates most of the actions, cuts centrally and tries to score. They obviously can not use a scheme that does not fit Berardi, their best player. It will take a while to verify that because the former Juventus protégé is out with a wounded foot: Matteo Politano will get the first crack at replacing him, but Antonino Ragusa might end up being the best suited for the job.
Adjapong is accustomed to playing on the right flank, whether he will be a fullback or a winger has yet to be decided. Federico Peluso is a little too old and slow to be a wingback: he would be too defensive to be a menace. Marcello Gazzola is more energetic, but his best work has been in Serie B. It will take a while for Cristian Dell’Orco to return from a gruesome knee injury. Juventus loanee Rogerio could be an option down the line, but he is so young.
As for the newly-minted three-man defence, they should have enough depth: they signed Edoardo Goldaniga, Timo Letschert is finding his footing and at this point of his career, Peluso can be better off as a left centre-back in case Francesco Acerbi is out. They do not have to deal with the Europa League, so they are in a decent spot here. Letschert and Goldaniga will battle to start in this one.
Where they are struggling is upfront: the only goal so far has been scored by Stefano Sensi, while the attackers have yet to find the back of the net. Diego Falcinelli has not been as effective as in his Crotone stint, which is extremely worrying because Sassuolo is supposed to be a much more offensive squad. Having somebody alongside him should help. In the final days, they opted not to sign a new striker, they were after Duvan Zapata for starters, and decided to ship Pietro Iemmello and retain Alessandro Matri, which was a big vote of confidence in Falcinelli, who was great last season but needs to start delivering.
They are still searching for their identity this season and hopefully Cristian Bucchi will be given time to try few things, because he truly cut his teeth in the lower leagues and he was brilliant last season with Perugia.
3-5-2: Consigli; Letschert, Cannavaro, Acerbi; Lirola, Mazzitelli, Magnanelli, Sensi, Adjapong; Falcinelli, Politano.