It took a date with the cellar dwellers of the League, but finally Juventus managed to play a mostly stress-free game that was decided in their favor by the end of the first half. While it was the least challenging one in the whole schedule, it is still a healthy result after two duds and the morale of the team has been so fickle that even an expected drubbing could be helpful.
It was nice to see Weston McKennie play his best game in a while as the hip injury he has been playing through must be getting better and also Aaron Ramsey had a solid performance, hopefully he can stick around for a bit as the team can need as many healthy pieces as possible.
Despite a rare full week of practice, the injury crisis has not gotten better, if anything it worsened as Alvaro Morata is slated to miss this one with a non-COVID viral infection that had been limiting him for a couple of weeks and Paulo Dybala received lukewarm news from a specialistic consult on his bothersome knee and his timetable remains murky.
Dejan Kulusevski will get some more opportunities to feature as second-striker and, while he has been particularly consistent, nor productive, he has occasionally been able to show some of his signature plays last week. The combo with Cristiano Ronaldo is potentially devastating because he is a very willing and brilliant passer, but the chemistry is still a work in progress. The regular minutes together should aid on that front.
Since the midfield is better shape now despite the absence of Arthur, Ramsey could also be an option for that role if Morata and Dybala are both forced to miss some more time, as the schedule is quite packed and, even if Kulusevski is young, he can not be driven into the ground. The coaching staff also probably would prefer to rest CR7 at some point next week, but it would be impossible in these circumstances.
Most of the lineup problems lie in the defense this week as Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Juan Cuadrado are hurt and Danilo is suspended, leaving a hole at right-back. The papers have come up with few options, from McKennie, who has a little experience and whose discipline would not be an issue, to Radu Dragusin to Federico Bernardeschi to Alex Sandro adapting to the other flank and Gianluca Frabotta in at left-back.
Any choice has its pros and cons and there are no perfect ones. Maybe the solution will be as simple as going with a pure 3-5-2, with Federico Chiesa or Federico Bernardeschi manning the whole wing with the help of the box-to-box nearby. Verona use only one pure forward and are more pacey than physical up front, so it is a contest where you could get away with having Sandro as faux center-back next to Merih Demiral and Matthijs De Ligt, whose physical prowess can make up for a lot of flaws.
UPDATE: it looks like Federico Bernardeschi is a safe bet to start, while Sandro and Dragusin are battling it out for a spot in the defense. A new wrinkle is that Rodrigo Bentancur could be rested, with Ramsey starting and McKennie playing in the same role as last week.
3-4-1-2 Szczesny; Dragusin, De Ligt, Demiral; Bernardeschi, Bentancur, Rabiot, Chiesa; McKennie; Kulusevski, Ronaldo.
Dybala (knee), Bonucci (thigh), Chiellini (thigh), Cuadrado (thigh), Arthur (lower leg).
It is very impressive that Verona have been able not only to replicate, but to do better than last year with a squad that is quite significantly worse and has been pillagd by injuries. However, the leadership and resourcefulness of Ivan Juric, one of the top three best young coaches in the Peninsula, has plugged a lot of holes, allowing to keep chugging along and stay way out of troubles.
Since the production of the strikers has been spotty at best and the defense, while still stingy, has not been as dominant as last year, they have mostly been carried by Mattia Zaccagni, who has reached superstar levels, Antonin Barak and Federico Dimarco, with the last two putting together career years. Zaccagni is no surprise, but he had never been this consistent in terms of goals and assists and his pull on the offense is massive. Barak had a solid campaign at Lecce, but he has taken it up a notch here and he is perfectly suited for the role as they deploy two no.10s that link up the lines and try to sneak up in the box. The class and unpredictability of both are the main engine of the team.
Dimarco has been touted for few years now, but it is the first time he is a consistent starter and he has been as good as advertised when motoring down the flank since he has a stellar left foot, both crossing and shooting, and he is a proper reference point. He has been huge since Darko Lazovic has often been banged up and surely not been as good as in the past. The two also at times start together since Dimarco has featured also as aggressive center-back in the three-man line, with questionable results in the back though, and the Serbian international can play as no.10 if they have some absences in the midfield, which is not the case this week.
They tried to address their scoring issues with the high-profile acquisition of Nikola Kalinic who, however, also due to multiple injuries, has not really solved them. They doubled down in January by bringing in Kevin Lasagna, who has yet to find the target and, as a matter of fact has had some big misses, but he is perfect for their style of play and his velocity is always a menace. They will be in a good spot when he manages to adjust his aim.
They have had revolving doors in the back, where they lost two linchpins in Marash Kumbulla and Amir Rrahmani in the summer, due to COVID and muscular problems and also because nobody has really stood out in terms of performances. Their most reliable man Federico Ceccherini is just coming back from injury, the young prodigy Matteo Lovato had his moment early in the season, then some blunders, then he bounced back again lately, while Koray Gunter has not been as commanding as he is capable of doing. Pawel Dawidowicz is dinged up and both him and Giangiacomo Magnani are quite up-and-down. They do not have a lefty so they tried everybody in that spot. Whether he will go again with Dimarco, who is a weapon on the other end but not always on point with his defensive reads, will say a lot about their posture.
In the midfield, they have been able to hold steady despite the departure of Sofyan Amrabat and Miguel Veloso missing a lot of time with injuries because Adrien Tameze has been a workhorse and Ivan Ilic has performed admirably for such a young player moving to a difficult league. He has had very big shoes to fill because the Portuguese veteran is a massive hub, but he has been up to the task with his technique and passing.
They have not had superb continuity in terms of results, especially against the minnows, which would allow them to challenge for a Europa League spot, but they have been outstanding versus top teams as they have lost only to Inter and Roma, where they had a weird 30-minute black-out. They surely always put up a fight and they are a very intense and organized squad that both defends with vigor and attacks quickly and in bunches. It is nightmare fuel for the Bianconeri as they are the exact type of team against which they struggled a lot this year, so it will be an opportunity to see if they have learnt their lesson in how to handle the situation.
3-4-2-1 Silvestri; Magnani, Gunter, Lovato; Faraoni, Tameze, Ilic, Dimarco; Barak, Zaccagni; Lasagna.
Kalinic (thigh), Colley (knee), Ruegg (ankle).