After a brief international interlude, Juventus return to action with a run of five games which may well determine how the 2012-13 season is remembered. Still to come are matches against Chelsea, Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk and the first Turin derby of the campaign but, before all those, the Bianconeri host Lazio in a game that will tell us much about both sides. Here’s Adam with the preview.
The break came at a bad time for la vecchia Signora as she had been in irresistible form ever since that loss to you-know-who almost two weeks ago and Antonio Conte will be hoping the brief pause has not slowed the form which saw his men score ten goals in their two previous outings. Having recorded an straightforward 4-0 win over FC Nordsjælland they then completely destroyed poor Pescara by a 6-1 score-line which included a triple from Fabio Quagliarella, the third of which was a contender for goal of the season until Joe Hart recorded a superb assist for some big Swedish guy on Wednesday night…
Anywaaaaaaay, back to the matter at hand and Juventus have won five of their last six matches against Lazio who must look back as far as April 2009 for their last win over the Bianconeri. Since then it has been an almost entirely uneven encounter, starting with the match which saw THAT Momo Sissoko pass of a lifetime to Milos Krasic and, ultimately, a ‘Nando Muslera own goal.
As well as being one-sided affair, it has also largely been about one man as Simone Pepe has carved out a reputation as the metaphorical thorn in the Biancoceleste side. Indeed, not since Andrew Toney single-handedly ripped apart the Boston Celtics in the early 1980’s has one man so pained a team with ‘Speedy’ netting goals in all three matches since Momo’s career highlight. Those goals have included two match winners and if you heard a groaning noise during Thursday the chances are – unless it was Marco once more banging his mattress – that it was the collective sighs of Laziale everywhere at the news the Juventus number seven was finally available for selection once again.
The Rome-based club are enjoying much success at the moment, following on from their fifth place finish in 2009-10 to capture fourth last term and currently sit fifth once again after their worst spell of the campaign. That encompassed a three game spell in which they picked up just one point – a draw against Torino – after losing to both Fiorentina (0-2) and Catania (0-4).
They arrested that mini-slump last week with an ill-tempered derby victory over Roma but as a result have lost both Senad Lulic and Stefano Mauri to suspension. Both have been essential to the 4-1-4-1 formation implemented by the impressive Vladimir Petkovic since his arrival this past summer. The Bosnian Coach has made two major changes to the playing style of Lazio, dispensing the three man defence so beloved by his predecessor Edy Reja and pushing the highly talented Hernanes further up the pitch.
The latter of those switches has been handsomely rewarded with the Brazilian rediscovering the form of his debut Serie A season and he currently has five goals and three assists to his name as a result. Also vital to their success is the scoring touch of Miroslav Klose, a man who epitomises the phrase ‘goal machine.’ The German striker has defied all expectation and is averaging a goal every two games since landing in Italy a year ago including seven in just ten starts this term.
Former Juve man and Alberto Zaccheroni favourite Antonio Candreva started for Italy on Wednesday night and that, his first Azzurri nod since his time in Turin almost three years ago, was deserved recognition of his excellent performances in this new look Lazio set up. Occupying a role on the right of midfield he has recorded three goals, including a well taken free-kick during the aforementioned derby triumph. His combination with another ex-Juventus player – right back Abdoulay Konko has been a good source of crosses for Klose all season and is one aspect of their play that must be guarded against.
For the Bianconeri, this match is something of a double edged sword as not only must Conte coax the best possible performance, he must also manage his squad through this difficult spell of games, ensuring the players chosen remain fresh for the variety of challenges each fixture presents. In some respects the suspension of Andrea Pirlo – due to an accumulation of yellow cards – removes some of that pressure as finding a way to rest the Bearded Genius has proven to be one of the most difficult balancing acts of Conte’s management.
Elsewhere, surely there can be no doubt that Quagliarella continues to be selected in attack, his triple against Pescara MUST all but guarantee another start here. His partner is perhaps most likely to be Sebastian Giovinco as Mirko Vucinic is short of match fitness due to a recent niggle. The rest of the XI is likely to be the first choice team as many, including Gigi Buffon and Leo Bonucci were rested during the midweek games in order to allow international coaches to examine the credentials of other players.
Perhaps the biggest doubt is over who exactly will take over in midfield from Pirlo as a number of reports in the Italian media suggest Emmanuele Giaccherini may be given the nod over Paul Pogba. This would be entirely down to the disciplinary issues that saw the young Frenchman dropped entirely from last weekend’s call ups. However, both Conte and the player have stated the matter is now closed and it would be no surprise to see him given the nod in order to draw a line under the matter completely.
This leaves us with perhaps just one burning question: What minute does someone make way for “The Lazio Killer” to make his return?