Sassuolo v Juventus
Serie A Week 23 – Sunday, 2nd February – 17:00 GMT – Stadio Città del Tricolore
Conceding two goals to a team that barely even bothered attacking was flat-out inexcusable and allowing six goals in a week is unthinkable. The only positive sides from a very rough stretch are the facts that the defensive issues are only temporary and the lead in the standings is lead enough to go through these hiccups without too much angst. As long as it is a one-time thing.
The back-up centre-back is ultimately a difficult spot to nail, especially when you have an established starting duo: you can not lure a big name with the prospect of not playing consistently and Juventus could not make it work with Medhi Benatia.
You have to settle for a veteran, and Andrea Barzagli’s long absence has been untimely, or for youngsters you are trying to groom for the future. That comes with ups-and-downs, like in any other position, but mistakes here are more noticeable. That being said, Daniele Rugani needs to show more toughness because you can not get by in Italy with finesse alone and hopefully Martin Caceres will have better conditioning and more chemistry with his teammates this Sunday.
The other side of the ball worked just fine and the returns of Miralem Pjanic and Mario Mandzukic put everybody back in their natural places and the squad played pretty well for about 70 minutes. You can not ask much more than scoring three goals, but the plan should be to outgun the opponents this Sunday.
During this mini crisis where everybody should pull in the same direction, Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa should stay above any controversy and avoid behaving like that – La Joya left the pitch prior to the final whistle since he was not subbed in while Costa went to Neymar’s birthday party and then crashed his car in his days off. Discipline should never be an issue at Juventus.
As for the Sassuolo game, Leonardo Bonucci made a push to be called up, but he is not in the squad. Both him and Giorgio Chiellini should be available for a tune-up against Frosinone next week and while Barzagli is called up for this one after missing three months with a quad tear.
Costa hurt his quad against Parma and, while the problem is not believed to be severe, he might be out this week. Federico Bernardeschi subbed off in the last game after a blow to the chest, but luckily he did not fracture any ribs.
No rotation is needed coming from a full week of practice and with five days to go prior to the next game. One between Dybala and Bernardeschi will complete the usual trident alongside Mario Mandzukic and Cristiano Ronaldo. I would not be surprised to see Dybala benched as a punishment. Joao Cancelo is likely to be relieved by Mattia De Sciglio, while the duels in the midfield between Rodrigo Bentancur, Sami Khedira, Blaise Matuidi and Emre Can will be constant now that they are finally all healthy together. The coach quite openly indicated that he is going to pair up the right winger and the right box-to-box midfielder based on their work rate, so Khedira would start only with Bernardeschi up front, while Can or Bentancur could play behind Dybala.
4-3-3: Szczesny; De Sciglio, Caceres, Rugani, Sandro; Khedira, Pjanic, Matuidi; Bernardeschi, Mandzukic, Ronaldo.
Bonucci (ankle), Costa (quad), Cuadrado (knee), Chiellini (calf).
It was not difficult since last season they were able to finish in the middle of the table only because of few wins in garbage time, but Sassuolo are faring better this year under the tutelage of Roberto De Zerbi. It even looked like for a minute that they could stand a chance in the Europa League race, but then they fell into a slump. They are not very far away, they are 11th and five points behind the sixth spot, but it is unlikely to happen. After a very hot start, they have not won many games in the last few months, only three in the last 16 games, against Chievo, Frosinone and Cagliari, but they have not been beaten much either, only by Parma, Roma and Atalanta in the past 14 fixtures. They collected a bunch ties, including some good ones against Lazio, Fiorentina and Inter.
De Zerbi is a football esthete and, while the output is not necessarily mind-blowing, their style is different from the other minnows who are content with sitting back and countering. They try to be proactive, play up-tempo, use the wings and control the ball, at times to a fault, as the six goals they conceded versus Atalanta prove.
Domenico Berardi is no longer the sexy prospect he used to be, but he is putting together a bounce-back season after a very lackadaisical one and serves as their main playmaker up front. At some point he will realize that he needs to leave and be more challenged to improve. They have few other very intriguing young players, including two that Juventus control: Giangiacomo Magnani and Rogerio. Alfred Duncan has made the leap offensively this year and is likely to move to a top club in the summer, but he will be suspended for this one. He should be replaced by Mehdi Bourabia.
The coach has worked wonders in that zone, finding the right spot for both Stefano Sensi and Manuel Locatelli. The first one was highly touted coming from Cesena, but he had never played up to his potential up until this year, where he was moved to deep-lying playmaker and always makes impact on the game with his technique. On the other hand, the ex-Milan midfielder was moved away from that position, which he quite frankly did not have the skills to play properly, but has had success as box-to-box thanks to his dynamism and all-around game.
The departure of Kevin-Prince Boateng, who could not pass on the opportunity to move to Barcelona, takes away some of the exotic flavour since they no longer have a true false-nine, but Khouma Babacar is a big, serviceable and prolific enough striker.
Perhaps the coach could try to adapt somebody else there, like Filip Djuricic or Jeremie Boga. The two attackers and Federico Di Francesco are their three options on the left flank: the Italian and the Ivorian winger are more speedy, while Djuricic, a former trequartista, is more of a creator. Boga is their best game-wrecker off the bench.
Sensi is a little banged up, but he should be able to feature, otherwise they will turn to the grizzled veteran Francesco Magnanelli, who might also play over Bourabia in case they prefer to be a little more defensive. On that front, they have had excellent returns from the Magnani-Federico Peluso tandem in the back and the coach might stick to it even though it would mean benching the starter Gianmarco Ferrari.
4-3-3: Consigli; Lirola, Magnani, Peluso, Rogerio; Bourabia, Sensi, Locatelli; Berardi, Babacar, Djuricic.
Marlon (thigh), Sernicola (ankle).
Juventus Performance Statistics