It seems like a century ago since Juventus suffered their first ever defeat at the new stadium. Having been unbeaten 50-some-odd games at their cathedral, Juventus were riding a five game winning streak into their first match of November, having dispatched Bologna on Halloween a few days earlier thanks to late Paul Pogba heroics when they welcomed Inter into town for a weekend fixture. And then came the heartbreak. Even the most ardent and delusional tifosi knew that Conte’s new-look Juve could not go unbeaten forever (ignoring the Coppa Italia final for a moment) in Serie A, but certainly none would have chosen that to be the match. At home. Against Inter.
But Conte’s Juve are Conte’s Juve, and perhaps the team’s performance since is why the past 10 or so weeks seem like a lifetime. In the immediate aftermath of the Inter debacle, they responded like champions with a rousing 4-0 thrashing of Lars’ cousins in the UCL four days later, followed by a 6-1 demolition of Pescara the following weekend.
Inter meanwhile seemed tired in the immediate aftermath, able to muster a loss and draw to Atalanta and Cagliari respectfully in their next two league fixtures.
Heading into this weekend, Juventus are once again ascendant. Having moved beyond their typical January doldrums, the biaconeri have won in each but one match in all competitions since February ended, the one exception a 1-1 draw against second place Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo. A comfortable 9 points atop the table, and 18 ahead of sixth place Inter (who have one game in hand), Antonio Conte’s boys will most certainly be hungry for revenge on the eve of next week’s Champions League showdown in Munich.
Speaking of the Champions League, Antonio Conte has a selection issue in light of the packed schedule. Tuesday’s trip to Munich places a premium on an away result, meaning that his best players must certainly be in top form for the weekday fixture – a good problem for the former midfielder to have, considering Inter’s recent bouncing from the Europa League. What’s more is the recent international break means a gaggle of Juventus players will just be returning from national team duty. Sky reported that the team even flew back the Italian players on a private jet to get them back ahead of schedule and rested ahead of preparations for Inter.
With that, Giorgio Chiellini, who has been knocked about quite a bit this term, will likely be rested. Martin Caceres remains shelved recovering from an unfortunate auto accident, and thus Luca Marrone will likely take Giorgio’s spot in the backline. Further reports suggest that in contrast to Conte’s penchant for messing with players’ natural positions, Kwadwo “I’m Actually a Center Mid” Asamoah will also be rested at left wing back in lieu of Federico “Whatever You Do Just Don’t Put Me at Center Back” Peluso. Despite his inclusion with the national team, Sebastian Giovinco was barely used by Cesare Prandelli and looks likely to start as well.
Celebrating one year at the helm of Inter (and around 6 months longer than anyone would have expected since being officially named permanent boss), Andrea Stramaccioni will hope to again right an inconsistent Inter ship. With the aforementioned weight of Europa off of their shoulders, the team will focus on qualifying for Europe’s secondary competition next year at least, whilst visions of the Champions League and sugar plums dance in the heads of tifosi.
Their league form has left something to be desired of late, having won most recently on March 3 versus Catania for only the third time since the turn of the calendar year (haven’t I mentioned on Twitter recently that Serie A seems to be re-calibrating back to normal?). Perhaps the loss of the Europa League burden could not have come at a better time.
With that, their squad selection will undoubtedly be the strongest available starting XI. That strongest option, however, will have to exclude Diego Milito, who suffered a season ending knee ligament injury in February. Milito seemed well on his way to regaining the form that made him the focal point of the attack during Inter’s historic treble-winning 2010 campaign, and his recent absence is obviously considering the team’s form since.
As Juventus enter the final stretch towards their 31st Scudetto while aiming to make a mark on the Champions League – the outcome of which could very well determine the summer mercato – they will have their work cut out for them. Thankfully, one strength evident from Juventus squads of years past is the squad’s depth. A pivotal week remains before the Old Lady, who will look to continue to pull away from Napoli (perhaps with a little help from our kid cousins from the same city), while gearing up for what will be THE match-up of the UCL final eight.
Brace yourself, friends. A fun, albeit stressful two weeks is straight ahead.