Udinese v Juventus
Serie A Week 20 – Sunday, 17th January – 14:00 GMT – Stadio Friuli
In the last weekend, Juventus defeated Sampdoria and stretched the winning streak to nine games: it is an achievement that should not be underappreciated. In the final minutes of the Sunday games we suffered a little too much and we should have not have conceded after that Alvaro Morata blew a golden opportunity to seal the game, but, as long as the team is playing good enough to win, everything is fine. This is a remarkable display of strength by Juventus, which have now reached Inter in the standings and trail only to Napoli. Nerazzurri and Maurizio Sarri’s side, which is playing splendid football and have the hottest striker in Serie A, are very good teams, but I think that once Juventus will take the lead, it will be extremely difficult to keep up with them.
Every win adds a little burden and that is why only élite team can put together long winning streaks. Bianconeri will eventually be picked off by somebody because of a defensive lapse or an unfortunate game where they can not put the game in the net. However, thanks to these victories in a row they have re-joined the title picture (they were never out in my opinion, despite what many pundits were saying) and they are heavy favourites to win the title.
Even though the opponents were not great, this is a pretty rough part of the schedule since it is the third away match in four games. Juventus squeaked by against Carpi and Sampdoria and now they face Udinese, an opponent that came away with three points from the Stadium in August: a lucky result since they spent the game sitting back and basically scored at their first attempt, but as we know there were deep issues with the team at the beginning of the season.
Alvaro Morata skipped a practice because of the flu but he has returned, however Mario Mandzukic is now available, he was on the bench at Marassi too, so the battle to start alongside Paulo Dybala is wide open. We will see if Massimiliano Allegri will go with the best couple, which right now features the Croatian striker, or if he will try to boost the Spaniard’s confidence by giving him more playing time and a chance to snap out of his slump. Simone Zaza is unlikely to start, but it is funny how, after months of borderline disdain for the guy, on Sunday many fans on Twitter were clamouring for him to be subbed in.
Claudio Marchisio will return and anchor the midfield: Hernanes has at least not been hurtful against Sampdoria, but I do not know if the coach will insist with this reclamation project: I do not see the Brazilian being part of long-term plans. Sami Khedira played his best game since coming back from the injury and Paul Pogba is in a stellar moment. Stephen Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evra were the full backs against Sampdoria, which made the lineup pretty defensive: the duo might be confirmed against a team that has its biggest strength on the flanks.
There is no indication that Andrea Barzagli is ready to play tise game, so it will once again come down to Daniele Rugani or Martin Caceres. The rumours on the Uruguayan defender leaving have intensified, he has an expiring contract so the management might look to cash in a little on him instead of losing him for nothing. I would not mind a departure: he is a nice player, quite energetic and versatile, but dependability is a big factor for a backup and he is injured most of the time and has had his share of off-field issues. It is rare that selling a centre-back comes back to hunt you, anyway I would not give him to another Italian team.
3-5-2: Buffon; Rugani, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichsteiner, Khedira, Marchisio, Pogba, Evra; Mandzukic, Dybala.
Barzagli (calf), Pereyra (hamstring), Lemina (knee).
Udinese are not having a great season but they remain much better than most of the low-table teams so they are destined to have a boring season and finish in the middle of the pack. Gone are the days of the exciting Guidolin-led Udinese’s sides full of brilliant prospects set to make the ownership rich in the following transfer windows: the Pozzo family is focusing on Watford and who can blame them?
Anyway, I think this was their goal when they hired the former Atalanta coach: they gambled with Andrea Stramaccioni in the previous season and the choice did not pay off, so they went for somebody who could guarantee the permanence in Serie A without sweating too much but also has not any upside.
Their two brightest young players, Duvan Zapata and Stipe Perica, are on loan from Udinese and Chelsea respectively, their latest find Ali Adnan has been buried on the bench by Stefano Colantuono for performance reasons and also Bruno Fernandes and Silvan Widmer have blended in the dullness of the rest of the squad.
They use 3-5-2 too: their main threats are Widmer and Edenilson, two wing backs who have great motor. Edenilson missed the last game because he was fatigued but he should be ready for this one, if he is not Ali Adnan would take his spot on the left.
Antonio Di Natale stressed during the week that this will probably be his last game against Juventus, the team he once refused to join, so I guess he will start despite being benched more often than not in the last few games. At this point, the question is not whether Totò will retire in 2016 but if he will finish the season. Now that Zapata is back and Perica is scoring, they actually have a decent attack. Among the other options, Cyril Thereau is the most likely to be Di Natale’s sidekick in the attack.
Bruno Fernandes has been starting recently as box-to-box midfielder but Manuel Iturra is the favourite to play in the midfield, alongside Emmanuel Badu and Francesco Lodi, to add some muscles. Thomas Heurtaux is still not all the way back from a nagging knee injury: Molla Wague should keep his spot in the starting XI, with Danilo and Felipe. They are not missing any major player.
3-5-2: Karnezis; Wague, Danilo, Felipe; Widmer, Badu, Lodi, Iturra, Edenilson; Thereau, Di Natale.
Merkel (knee), Pasquale (foot), Domizzi.