The Bianconeri evidently do not feel the heat of the Champions League race because there are not excuses to coming out that flat against a less-than-formidable opponent like Fiorentina. At least an Alvaro Morata stunner allowed to salvage a point, but the issues on the road remain unsolvable and quite inexplicable. It is not like Juventus lack charismatic players that can lead the charge, plus the fact that there are not fans on the stands makes home and away fixtures not particularly different. Yet, the Old Lady’s track record has been highly affected by it.
The lads still control their destiny thanks to Milan’s slide and the upcoming head-to-head clash between the two sides. However, the bonuses are over, and the recent performances of Atalanta and Napoli have been far more convincing; plus, Lazio stumbled just once lately and quickly bounced back with a big result over the Rossoneri. As things stand, other sides would be more deserving of a top-four finish, but the squad surely has the tools to turn it around if they got it together to go on a little run.
Instead of the top trident on offense, coach Andrea Pirlo went with his best three men in the back and, while they did okay, it still did not solve the problem of giving up cheap goals. No matter the formation or the starters, silly and mental mistakes continue to plague the team, and they have conceded in ten straight matches.
There were still a pair of absences, but, in recent tilts, the gaffer had the opportunity to make more lineup choices than usual, but the returns were underwhelming. Moreover, he seems to have dialed it back on the intensity and pace in the last two fixtures, and this flip-flopping between different strategies and styles of plays is less than ideal. It seems like Pirlo is not totally confident in his tactical beliefs and reverts to more traditional ideas whenever the going gets tough. An issue that could have avoided by not hiring a rookie. The last time the manager was this close to getting the ax, the players rallied behind him, we will see whether the same will happen this week. It surely appears that the choice for the future has already been made for the future no matter what will happen down the stretch.
Danilo is fully fit for this week, while Alvaro Morata is in doubt because of a calf problem, and thus Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo will team up in the attack. Despite some optimism, Federico Chiesa will not return this week. Arthur and Aaron Ramsey are not in tip-top shape so Adrien Rabiot and Weston McKennie will probably get the nod unless the manager opts for some fancy solutions. The only doubts are those between Dejan Kulusevski and the two fullbacks and who will start among the center-backs.
4-4-2 Szczesny; Danilo, De Ligt, Bonucci, Alex Sandro; Cuadrado, Bentancur, Rabiot, McKennie; Dybala, Ronaldo.
Demiral (thigh injury), Chiesa (thigh pull).
Udinese have had some lulls here and there during the course of the season, but they have never really been in danger of falling in the bottom three positions. They have built a comfortable eight-point lead on the relegation zone thanks to two recent wins over Benevento and Crotone, and more importantly, there are six clubs in between. They are set for a serene finish ahead of what could be a challenging summer given Watford’s return to Premier League and the likely departures of Rodrigo De Paul and Juan Musso.
The Argentinian playmaker continues to be pretty much half of their team, and his numbers are elite considering that they are not a particularly offensive-minded side overall. His gravitas within their design is pretty much unmatched throughout the League. However, they gave him a pretty good partner in crime in Roberto Pereyra last summer, and their connection is pretty much telepathic. They make sweet music together on the open field.
They have struggled to find productive solutions up front, and they have been very unlucky with injuries as they did try to improve their firepower. However, Ignacio Pussetto tore his ACL after a solid start, and Gerard Deulofeu had to battle some rust and knee problems after joining. Ilija Nestorovski and the exciting Jayden Braaf also went down recently. They are left with Fernando Llorente, who was added in January, and Stefano Okaka, two big bodies that are pretty good when it comes to flick-ons but not particularly prolific in the box. The former is only technically available for this game. As a result, Pereyra mostly plays as attacking midfielder, with Fernando Forestieri occasionally bringing some juice off the bench.
They have discovered a couple more solid young contributors compared to the squad that lost 1-4 in Turin back in January. Wing-back Nahuel Molina has been a revelation in the second half of the season, he gallops up and down the flank at will and is a very capable crosser. He also scored his first goal in the most recent match, and he is one of their lone players that operates at the same rhythm of De Paul and Pereyra. In the back, instead, Kevin Bonifazi has become a regular starter and has improved a lot, returning to his early SPAL levels, when he was considered a touted prospect. He combines a massive frame with decent agility, and he can become a top defender if he continues to develop on the mental aspect related to the delicate role.
They will not have one of their stand-out performers in this one, as Musso somehow managed to get a disqualification for yellow-card accumulation. His backup is Simone Scuffet, who was once believed to be the next big thing but had a weird career arch and is now relegated to a reserve role. He surely does not lack talent and this might represent an audition for him to see if he can be promoted to starter for the next campaign, as the Argentinian goalkeeper has landed on the radar of multiple big teams.
Coach Luca Gotti sends off some British vibes, but they adopt a very typical Italian style, as they tend to bunker up and launch quick fast-breaks thanks to the quality and dynamism of their best players. They have given up just 44 goals: the second-best clip outside of the top six and slightly better than Lazio. The alternative plan is to lean on the flank game, and Jens Stryger Larsen has been very lively on the left flank when Molina broke out on the right, or just look for De Paul, as he can come up with a decisive pass at any time and in any situation.
3-5-1-1 Scuffet; Bonifazi, Nuytinck, Samir; Molina, De Paul, Walace, Arslan, Larsen; Pereyra; Okaka.
Pussetto, Jajalo, Nestorovski (ACL tear), Deulofeu (meniscus tear), Braaf (knee injury).