Udinese v Juventus
Serie A Week 9 – Sunday, 22nd October – 17:00 GMT – Stadio Friuli
Juventus are coming off two very eventful matches. First, the loss to Lazio that ended the 41-game undefeated streak at the Stadium, then the 2-1 win in Champions League over Olympiakos. In the Saturday tilt, the Bianconeri showed once again that something is off in the defence: they controlled the pace and the ball for most of the time, but two quick strikes at the start of the second half did them in. It could be tough to be up for speed after the international break, but the backline looked clueless and slow, running after Ciro Immobile. Juventus could have still tied the game, as Paulo Dybala missed another decisive penalty, but right now the defence is the problem. You can try to outscore the opponents, but that is not always going to be a successful strategy.
We know substantial changes are coming next season in that department, with Mattia Caldara, Leonardo Spinazzola and Pol Lirola all set to stay after their loan spells, but the only way the defence is going to improve this season is through the growth of Daniele Rugani. On his best day, Andrea Barzagli is still better than the youngster, even though he has lost a step, while Medhi Benatia is too up and down and his pairing with Giorgio Chiellini is unconvincing as they are both very physical and a little daring. Thankfully, the Italian veteran has been great this season, otherwise things would have gotten ugly for us. I hope Allegri starts working on the Chiellini-Rugani duo that could become the centrepiece, but he has benched Rugani five times in a row as he appears to be sending him a message. The wild card is Benedikt Howedes: we will see what he can do when he comes back.
Another defensive blunder, this time by Alex Sandro, forced them to fightback during the midweek fixture. Miralem Pjanic has become automatic on set pieces just outside the box and Mario Mandzukic stepped up, scoring on a Douglas Costa assist. The Brazilian, who scored against Lazio, is starting to make his presence felt: he is a terrific weapon on both flanks. The coach tried an extreme lineup with Juan Cuadrado as fullback: while such a move is extremely appealing and could prolong his career, he needs reps in less meaningful games because he almost cost us the lead with a blown assignment.
Next up is Udinese, first of the three Serie A games that will come up in the next seven games. In the following two, Juventus will square off against Spal and Milan and obviously are seeking maximum results after falling five points behind the red-hot Napoli. Allegri will manage the energies in the next two matches, which are easier on paper, to get everybody ready for the Milan game and the Sporting one, which could ultimately decide the fate of our Champions League campaign.
Benatia received a knock on the ankle against the Portuguese club and Stefano Sturaro is dealing with a muscular ailment: neither will travel and the squad will be extremely thin. Stephan Lichtsteiner will re-take control of the right flank, while Rugani could finally resume starting games. Kwadwo Asamoah is pushing Alex Sandro for playing time as left back: the Brazilian has not looked the force he has been in the last two seasons so far and is starting to make silly mistakes.
The coach can finally actually rotate a little bit in the midfield: Sami Khedira has looked pretty good and got two starts in a row. He is set to continue playing because Blaise Matuidi will not be available due to a last-minute problem. Claudio Marchisio will be called up. Depending on how Pjanic feels after returning from injury, Rodrigo Bentancur could see some action in the next two games. As for the other injured players, Howedes is the furthest away: Marko Pjaca will soon start playing with U20 and Mattia De Sciglio will re-join the squad on Monday.
Paulo Dybala has not been himself after his two-week “vacation” with Argentina, but the route to full recovery is to continue playing. Speaking of strikers, Gonzalo Higuain’s lack of scoring is starting to be harmful: he looks sprier than at the start of the season, but he missed a sitter that would have almost sealed the game against Lazio and does not seem to have the same killer instinct as last season. The frontline should be the usual one.
4-2-3-1: Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Rugani, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Pjanic, Khedira; Cuadrado, Dybala, Mandzukic; Higuain.
Matuidi (hamstring), Benatia (ankle), Sturaro, De Sciglio (ankle), Pjaca (knee), Howedes (hamstring)
Udinese have had a very blah start of the season. If they did not beat Sampdoria 4-0, thanks to the help of three penalties, Luigi Delneri would have probably already gotten the axe. They have won twice and have already lost six times. The decision to let go Cyril Thereau is still head-scratching: Rodrigo De Paul has taken the reins as the main offensive creator, but they lack scoring. Maxi Lopez can not be the answer in 2017 and Kevin Lasagna is being utilized too wide. They need more from the youngsters Stipe Perica and Riad Bajic. Few statements after the Frenchman moved to Fiorentina made it clear that they no longer appreciated his playing style, but they should have put off the move at least till January, as the attack was already suffering from the departure of Duvan Zapata.
They are rather unspectacular overall. The most interesting prospects are De Paul, Jakub Jankto, a very energetic left winger, who can also play box-to-box and has a nose for scoring and assisting, Seko Fofana, a powerhouse in the midfield who is still working his way back from a big injury, and the newcomer Antonin Barak. They gave the starting job to Simone Scuffet, but he disappointed and was quickly supplanted by Albano Bizzarri. They should be able to avoid relegation because they have a lot of experience and a little more quality than the newly promoted teams and Crotone, but the need to perform better.
They use a hybrid 4-4-2/4-3-3 thanks to the versatility of De Paul, Jankto and Lasagna, but they are set to use a more conservative 4-5-1 in this one. They could even drop Lasagna, put Jankto as left winger and add one more pure central midfielder. With the standard lineup, the doubt is between Fofana and Barak, otherwise they would both play. Valon Behrami, Danilo and Jens Stryger Larsen have recovered, while Silvan Widmer is out despite playing last week. Giovanni Pezzella or Ali Adnan would be adapted to the right if Larsen is not fit enough, while Gabriele Angella could be the uber-defensive option.
De Paul adds a little unpredictability, otherwise their game plan is pretty straightforward. The Argentinian and Lasagna are extremely effective on counters. Samir, Bram Nuytinck, Danilo, Fofana and Behrami gave them great physicality in the defensive phase, but they do pay the price in terms of quickness. In general, they have struggled so far against better competition.
4-5-1: Bizarri; Larsen, Danilo, Nuytinck, Samir; De Paul, Barak, Behrami, Jankto, Lasagna; Maxi Lopez.