Today’s UEFA Champion’s League draw saw Juventus draw one of the two strongest clubs in the competition- Bayern Munich. The Bavarian club have been running away with the Bundesliga this season and have a stunning defensive record. Much of the talk this week has been about who we might draw, who we didn’t want to draw, and now, how the tie against the Germans might go.
While the last few weeks have realistically sealed the title for Juventus, the league isn’t over yet, and we’ve got a tough game this weekend. Juventus travels about a 3-hour bus ride to the city of Bologna to face the Felsinei. The Rossoblu may not get the focus or attention that other Serie A sides get, but like Chievo, they are a solid team that can cause Juventus problems.
Former Juventus defender and current Bologna coach Stefano Pioli has done excellent with the club. After a brief experience coaching Parma in Serie A, he really made his name in the top-flight with a very successful season at Chievo. That earned him a move to Palermo, at the time a somewhat ambitious club with talented young players, but being Palermo, they decided to sack him before the season even started. He would later sign with Bologna.
At Bologna, Pioli has kept a competitive team on a shoestring budget. There have been numerous changes (and non-changes) in the club ownership, yet he’s kept a steady ship. He integrates quality older players like Alberto Gilardino or until recently, Marco Di Vaio, with young talents at the club. They don’t play a particularly flashy or negative style, but a basic quality level of football. In his first season, they finished in a respectable 9th place.
This season, Bologna started out very poorly. They were beaten by clubs like Siena, Cagliari, Chievo, and only managed a draw with Pescara. They picked up a few big wins, notably two away 2-3 wins against Roma and Napoli, but losses to teams like Genoa kept them in the relegation zone. They’ve improved their form significantly since the New Year, hammering Chievo and Cagliari, who they lost to away, defeated Pescara away, and grabbing a tough 2-1 win over Fiorentina. This improving form has seen them rise into 10th place.
Their scoring rate has been impressive. The only teams in Serie A that have bagged more goals are Roma, Juventus, Milan, Fiorentina, Napoli, and Inter – behind these giants, Bologna is the highest scorer. Alberto Gilardino has seen a renaissance ever since leaving Genoa, bagging 11 goals in 27 games. Alessandro Diamanti has been mercurial throughout his career and is a star for Bologna, and Panagiotis Kone has popped up with a few brilliant goals here and there. Juventus-owned Manolo Gabbiadini has often been misused as a winger, but has marked 5 times thus far. They actually have a better home scoring record than Milan, Inter, or Udinese.
Their defense is solid, but not great. Their defense sits in mid-table, but has only maintained 4 clean sheets all season- they’ve conceded 1 goal in 11 games. The defense is in general mediocre, and if their offense doesn’t produce, they lose the game. In general, their offense has had difficulties away from home but been superb at the Dell’Ara, the defense is the same more or less whether at home or away.
Bologna’s been one of the more “in form” teams in the last few months, and they certainly have the quality to cause Juventus issues. The team has a number of quality players, and a number of current or formerly owned Juventini as well. Stephan Taider, Frederik Sorensen, Manolo Gabbiadini, and of course, Juventus legend Marco Motta. Ex-Juventini have enjoyed scoring against Juventus in recent years, and there’s a host of them.
After a very poor January, Antonio Conte’s men have picked up the pace and the team is sitting pretty. The Bianconeri weathered the storm and now sit in 1st place in Serie A, with a massive 9 point gap ahead of 2nd-placed Napoli. UEFA has drawn Juventus to face soon-to-be German champions Bayern Munich in the Champion’s League quarterfinal in a few weeks.
Now is not the time to focus on the match against the Bavarians – there is plenty of time for that, and we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted from Serie A. A 9-point lead is significant and it’s hard to imagine throwing it away, especially to a team like Napoli that stumbles whenever given an opportunity, but a few marks in the L column don’t help morale.
There’s a good degree of rotation available, and plenty of deserving players. Emanuele Giaccherini came off the bench to secure all 3 points against Catania, Luca Marrone will be eyeing playing time in light of a potential loan, and players like Martin Caceres and Paolo De Ceglie will want reassurances that they feature in Antonio Conte’s long term plans at the club.
Nevertheless, with an international break coming up, the Bayern match far away, and the players well rested, it’s unlikely Conte will practice too much rotation. He’ll want to keep the momentum going into the break, and that means he’s probably going to field a very strong starting XI.
It’s getting to the “business” part of the season. Two of the most prestigious trophies are on the line, only two months away. Now’s the time to put our heads down, ignore the future, and make sure the Bianconeri finish the task that immediately faces them. Sorry Bologna, but it’s time to turn you into Baloney.