Hellas Verona v Juventus
Serie A Week 19 – Saturday, 30th December – 19:45 GMT – Stadio Bentegodi
The game against Roma had two sides to it. In the first hour, Juventus played very well, controlling the ball and the pace and putting the opponents under intense pressure. It also helped that we found the back of the net at the first chance, thanks to Medhi Benatia on a corner kick. The Bianconeri continued to create and should have put the match away, unfortunately Gonzalo Higuain had some uncharacteristic poor finishes in front of the goal. Anyway, it was yet another confirmation that the stout lineup featuring Juan Cuadrado, Mario Mandzukic and Blaise Matuidi works in big games as it features so many players whose work rate is very high.
And then there was the very last portion, where we probably ran out of juice and let Roma attack at will, something that rarely happens at the Stadium. They had a big opportunity with a terrific move and finish by Alessandro Florenzi, which died on the bar. In the closing minutes, Patrik Schick should have definitely scored as Benatia and Giorgio Chiellini had a miscommunication, which almost ruined what was otherwise a pretty good performance by the backline. Luckily, Wojciech Szczeny came out perfectly and closed the door. It was the eighth clean sheet in a row for the Old Lady, which has now held scoreless Barcelona, Napoli, Inter and Roma: quite a feat.
As for the goalkeeper, it is not a surprise that he is getting better and better with more playing time as that is the most cerebral role and confidence plays a huge part. Due to the reasonable yet not insignificant fee Juventus paid to have him, I think there is no doubt that he will get the starting job once Gianluigi Buffon retires. The one question is if he will be good enough to restrain the club from chasing after some younger and potentially better players, should the opportunity to buy one of those ever arise.
Gianluigi Buffon and Mattia De Sciglio will continue to be out with their muscular problems and the same goes for Benedikt Howedes. Unfortunately Miralem Pjanic picked up a small hamstring issue midweek and we know they will err on the side of caution with him, so he might not play in the next three games before the break. While a three-man midfield is still possible without him, as Claudio Marchisio and Rodrigo Bentancur can both occupy that position, his absence does leave a creativity void that is hard to fill. So that might lead to Paulo Dybala regaining the starting job. Juan Cuadrado will be out as his groin, which bothered him in the previous games, flared up again.
As Massimiliano Allegri admitted in the pre-game presser, he has not decided whether it will be a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3. Blaise Matuidi also had some small problems during the week, which could tilt the decision to the “old” scheme, with Marchisio filling in for the Frenchman. Some dinged up players could be spared ahead of the upcoming Coppa Italia derby. Douglas Costa will probably get the start on the right, in front of the returning Stephan Lichtsteiner. Alex Sandro and Kwadwo Asamoah will battle it out on the left.
4-2-3-1: Szczesny; Lichtsteiner, Benatia, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Khedira, Marchisio; Douglas Costa, Dybala, Mandzukic; Higuain.
Pjanic (hamstring), Buffon (calf), Cuadrado (groin), De Sciglio (hamstring), Howedes (quad).
Hellas Verona have been able to sporadically grab some positive results that have allowed them to remain close to rest of the pack and therefore concretely battle to avoid the drop. They have confirmed a lot of their Serie B roster and they could use some reinforcements in January to improve their talent base. They also have had so many injuries, especially in the backline, which has prevented them from fielding a consistent XI. This has been detrimental for the defensive phase in particular, as they have already conceded 36 times, which is tied with Crotone for worst in the League.
After a few changes, they seem to have settled on a 4-4-1-1 with Romulo and Daniele Verde wide in the midfield: with Alessio Cerci sidelined, they are their two best playmakers and the sources of most of their offence. Romulo has gotten back to the level that allowed his to earn a move to Juventus before some heavy injuries completely derailed his stint, so it is nice to see him bounce back. The Roma youngster is very pacey and a nuisance to control on that flank.
Cerci usually serves as second-striker, like in his best Torino years, but he will be sidelined by a hamstring strain. He will be replaced by either Mattia Valoti, who is set to return after dealing with some back pain, or Daniel Bessa. Bessa was one of their best players last season as he scored nine goals: a natural attacking midfielder, he thrived as box-to-box midfielder. However, after trying 4-3-3 at the beginning of the year, Fabio Pecchia moved to a four-man midfield, which has hurt Bessa, who also had some trouble adjusting to the top league early on. He has had a couple of strong outings lately, against Milan in particular, so he might resurface if he can put together a string of good performances.
One of the most baffling aspects of their season has been a prolonged skirmish between Giampaolo Pazzini and the coach, who has often opted to bench him to use either Moise Kean or a false-nine. Kean is a better option on the counters, which is what they mostly rely on, but several low-table teams would die to have a seasoned scorer like Pazzini in their roster and we have seen this type of player make a big difference in the relegation race several times in the past. He proved that he is not finished as he scored 23 times in 35 matches last season. Therefore, Pecchia knows how to use him correctly, but he has been reluctant to trust him too much this year, where they are forced to use a different style because of the much better competition. Good coaches usually find ways to keep their best players involved and efficient and I think it would be a big mistake if they let him go in the Winter window.
As for Moise Kean, he has gotten plenty of playing time, considering that he is only 17 and the conditions of the team he is in: the physical tools and the confidence are there, his technique needs some refinement and he will have to improve in front of the goal to become a big-time striker. Still, the early indications are positive.
They will be without Niccolò Cherubin, Matteo Bianchetti, Mattia Zaccagni and Mohamed Fares, who are dealing with long-term problems. Fares had earned the starting job at left back before spraining his knee, so his absence is a big deal because the other natural option, Samuel Souprayen, has been catastrophic. When possible, they have slotted Martin Caceres on the left, with either Alex Ferrari or Thomas Heurtaux as right back. The former Juventus defender should be available after some nagging injuries. The belt in the midfield is likely to be formed by the stout duo of Bruno Zuculini and Marcel Buchel, with Franco Zuculini and Marco Fossati available off the bench. As the season progressed, the coach elected to use more and more muscular and defensive-minded players. As a matter of fact, they use four centre-backs and two holding midfielders.
This stadium at times has not been kind to Juventus in the past and they do have a fiery and loud home crowd supporting them. However, as long as we do not leave too much room for their quick strikes, the Bianconeri should be good here because the Hellas’ porous backline usually concedes few chances.
4-4-1-1: Nicolas; Ferrari, Heurtaux, Caracciolo, Caceres; Romulo, Buchel, B.Zuculini, Verde; Bessa; Kean.
Cerci (hamstring), Fares (knee), Zaccagni (knee), Bianchetti (back), Cherubin (arm).