This post was guest-blogged by Vittorio Pazzini. Follow him on Twitter (@vittoriopazzini)
Welcome back, everybody, to an all-new, all-Coppa Italia edition of STTBS.
Well, after their setbacks with Sampdoria and Parma, Juventus looked to Udinese to provide some much-needed relief. And we all know there’s no tonic quite like several wonderful goals and a clean sheet.
That the Bianconeri managed that result is mostly down to the spectacular performance of young Paul Pogba. The 19-year-old scored two fabulous goals, the first an absolute screamer which turned a frustrating, drab game into a demonstration of dominance from our Old Lady.
Of course, the demolition of Udinese was also accomplished without our midfield wizard, Andrea Pirlo. He will also be absent tonight, as Juve take on Lazio in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semifinal.
And he’s not the only one. As you’ll read below, the Bianconeri ranks are severely depleted; you may even see a Primavera starlet out there tonight. But if any team can overcome the absence of any one player (or six or seven) by relying on a rock-solid tactical system — not to mention a communal spirit of self-sacrifice which makes Barcelona look like Real Madrid — it is most certainly Antonio Conte’s Juventus.
Let’s get to the news.
Conte’s Short on Strikers
As preparations for Lazio reach their conclusion, Antonio Conte finds himself in a bit of a striker conundrum. Not only will Andrea Pirlo not pull strings in the midfield, but whoever’s taking his place may have no one to pass to; the attack force has been very recently decimated by injury.
The Bianconeri may enter tonight’s match with only Alessandro Matri and youth product Stefano Beltrame available. Sebastian Giovinco will most likely miss out with a small problem with a flexor muscle, while Mirko Vucinic is being watched carefully since returning from a knock on his ankle. Fabio Quagliarella is suspended for this match, and of course, Nicklas Bendtner is out for the long term.
Still, if any side has the system-over-individual ethos to succeed shorthanded, surely it is our Old Lady. Thus, Conte voiced a cautious optimism in yesterday’s press conference:
We’ll face a strong Lazio side. They’re compact, well-organised and will look to close down space before breaking on the counter-attack. They’re a very physical outfit and have excellent players such as Hernanes, Klose, Floccari, Ledesma and Lulic. They have continued to build on the solid foundations established last year by Reja and will fight all the way in the championship.
However, we’ll be playing with the same objective as ever: to win. I’m perfectly relaxed about this because the lads know exactly what is required of them.
As if the striker shortage wasn’t enough, Roma’s safe passage to the semifinals has led to a schedule change, wherein Lazio will now have the much-coveted second-leg home fixture:
The change of venue hands Lazio a slight advantage because they will be playing the decisive second leg on home soil. Having said that, the rules are in place and we have to respect them. I have no problems with that.
Conte then ran down the list of the infirm:
Pirlo is unavailable for tomorrow’s encounter, while Giovinco is almost certain to miss out. Marchisio should be fit to make a return. We’ll need to keep a close eye on Vucinic’s condition because he played an intense 90 minutes against Udinese. It’s important to treat the situation with care because we have an important month ahead of us with many competitions to face. I’ll have decide whether to start Vucinic again or seek alternative solutions to partner Matri in attack.
Finally, no true Conte press conference would be without a bit of retaliation for the recent criticism of the club, most notably rumors of a “crisis” in Turin:
I’ve heard a little too much criticism this week. Certain people have spoken about a team in crisis because we weren’t able to beat Sampdoria and Parma despite two good performances.
I’m perfectly relaxed and focus solely on what we’ve achieved. We’re top of the table, we’re in the Coppa Italia semi-finals for the second year in a row and have made it through to the last 16 of the Champions League.
Sampdoria and Parma: good performances? Is that delusion or just good PR?
As of now, the only Conte-certified locks are Matri and Peluso (either in defense or on the left wing). In any event, expect a lot of turnover tonight, even for the Coppa Italia.
And pray that Pogba has some leftover firepower to see us through the home leg. The following lineup is based on a mix of Conte’s statements and a lot of wishful thinking.
Storari; Barzagli, Bonucci, Caceres/Peluso; Lichtsteiner, Giaccherini, Marchisio, Pogba, Isla/Peluso; Vucinic, Matri.
Meanwhile, over in the Lazio camp, the Biancocelesti are looking to recover from Sunday’s disappointing draw with Palermo which saw them lose a lead. Manager Vladimir Petkovic is fully aware that Juventus are not Palermo:
“Juventus are the team to beat, the strongest team in the league. But in the last 12 games, we’ve got the most points, we are doing well and we want to do even better.”
Petkovic believes that there’s no room for error in Turin, and is demanding 90 minutes of full focus in order to “avoid any lapse in concentration which could cost us dearly.”
And much like Conte, Petkovic is shuffling a lineup with its fair share of injuries:
“The starting line-up? I’m still not sure, I’ll decide tomorrow morning, but I’ll only select players who are 100%. Even someone who is a slight concern will not be risked.”
No matter the lineup, Petkovic is boldly promising a thrilling fixture: “Tomorrow’s contest and the one in Rome will see a great 180 minutes of football.”
Historically speaking, that claim would seem very bold, considering the match is on Italian soil. But we already know that Juve will play progressively, so Lazio will have to show up to get any kind of result.
Hopefully, they won’t. But that doesn’t mean they can’t lose beautifully, no?
Damato’s In Charge
Antonio Damato will be the man in charge tonight, and he’s no stranger to either club.
Indeed, Antonio took charge of a very important Juve-Lazio match last season at Juventus Stadium. You’ll recall that Alessandro Del Piero’s free-kick not only sealed the 2-1 victory, but also proved pivotal in securing the 30th Scudetto.
As they do with almost every official, Juve have a positive record overall under Damato, with 10 wins, two draws and five losses. Unfortunately, that good fortune does not extend to the Coppa Italia. Juve have lost both contests in which Damato held the whistle, against They Who I Should Probably Name One Day But Won’t Today in 2010 and then Roma in 2011.
The good news? One of the Romans who twisted the knife on that unhappy occasion is now on our side: Mirko Vucinic.
Damato will be assisted by linesmen Riccardo Di Fiore and Claudio La Rocca. Marco Guida will play the time-honored role of fourth official/Conte Scream-absorber/five-string banjo.
Previous Lazio Coppa Encounters
When in Turin, Juve have narrowly edged Lazio in nine Coppa Italia contests: They won four, drawn two and lost three.
Juve’s website presents a neat synopsis of those nine encounters, and we re-present it here, for your reading pleasure:1942 – Juventus crash out of the competition after the visitors reply twice to Ventimiglia’s double before snatching an eventual winner.
1960 – The hosts progress through to the final thanks to goals from Cervato, Lojodice and Charles. They would eventually go on to lift the trophy after seeing off Fiorentina in extra time at the San Siro.
1974 – Another 3-0 victory, this time featuring Bettega’s brace and a solo effort from Causio, puts the Biancocelesti to the sword.
1987 – Both sides play out a goalless draw in a tightly-contested affair.
1995 – Juventus book their place in the final after Marocchi and Baggio overturn Paulo Sousa’s own goal which had put the visitors in front. This season would see the Bianconeri taste Coppa Italia success, their ninth and most recent triumph in the club’s history.
1998 – Former Bianconeri frontman Boksic comes back to haunt his former employers with a decisive semi-final first leg winner.
2000 – Zidane, Conte and Kovacevic fire the hosts into a first half three-goal lead. The Bianconeri, however, take their foot off the gas after the break, allowing Ravanelli and Mancini to reduce the deficit in the quarter-final first leg encounter.
2004 – Lazio place their hands on the trophy after coming from behind to draw 2-2 at Turin’s Stadio Olimpico, with the first leg 2-0 win in the capital proving decisive.
2009 – The Biancocelesti earn their spot in the final courtesy of strikes from Zarate and Kolorov. Del Piero’s consolation arrives too late to affect the eventual outcome.
June for Fernando?
Giuseppe Marotta’s recent comments to Sky Italia suggest that Fernando Llorente is ours — but alas, only in June.
Apparently, Athletic Bilbao is hell-bent on gaining absolutely nothing from his potential sale, refusing to take our money for his immediate transfer. If and when Fernando does join us, it will be in June, but it will also be for free. Here’s Beppe:
We are waiting for news. We have looked at players who are out of contract on June 30 and I will not hide that the talks with Llorente, or at least his agents, are very advanced. From that point of view I am very optimistic that it can be finished quickly, although a contract which begins on July 1 is expected.
We can only hope that Fernando is not the be-all and end-all of this summer’s transfer window. He may be a Spanish international, but he came off the bench during those historic tournaments. It is highly debatable whether he is the “top player” everyone’s constantly invoking.
And while it seems as if Cavani is a dream too far, especially with our strained relations with Napoli, it is still very important to find another attacking threat — one with real quality.
International Paul Pogba Week!
Sunday’s soccer savior Paul Pogba is all the rage, whether it be with fans, the media or even modern dance aficionados.
His two goals against Udinese — the first astonishing, the second merely great — has once again made him the center of attention as far as Juve is concerned. As he seemingly goes from strength to strength, it is reassuring to know that he remains level-headed (at least in interviews):
I’m obviously very happy about the goals, but mainly for the victory itself. We needed to get back to playing at our usual levels and we managed to do so. I still need to develop a great deal, I need to be more aggressive and use the ball better. I always pay attention to Pirlo, Marchisio and Vidal and look to incorporate some of their features into my game.
No Cassano caterwauling or Mario madness for our Paul. Fingers crossed, but it looks like being late for practice due to Juve paperwork is the extent of Pogba’s rebellion:
It gives me tremendous pleasure. The manager believes in me, I know that, but I have to repay him by working with great dedication on a daily basis.
If Pogba himself remains grounded, his Internet profile is taking off, thanks mostly to his post-goal shimmy. Over at Tuttosport, you can find a series of memes featuring Paul as everyone from a dancer in Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” video to Zidane head-butting Materazzi in 2006.
Whether one Frenchman’s head or another’s, it’s always nice to relive the latter memory.
Kwadwo Shines, Ghana Stalls
Boy, do we miss Kwadwo Asamoah.
I don’t think it’s overstating it to say that our hiccups versus Sampdoria and Parma would have been far less disconcerting (and maybe non-existent) with our Ghanaian hero plugging the gaping hole on our left flank. He would at least have gone some way towards keep that gaping hole from turning into a canyon.
So what’s the best news we can expect from Kwadwo’s participation in the African Cup of Nations, besides hearing that he is uninjured? Probably that he’s thriving and sharp as ever. That he undoubtedly is.
Asamoah scored and assisted in Ghana’s opening clash in Group B with DR Congo, allowing his Black Stars to run out to a 2-0 lead. Unfortunately, Ghana would lose the lead in the second half, conceding a brace over a stretch of 16 minutes to draw 2-2, nullifying Kwadwo’s impressive far-post header and smart pullback for Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu to slot in.
Ghana will try to regroup against Mali on Thursday and then close out the Group Stage against Niger next Monday.
While I would never hope for a loss for Kwadwo and his compatriots, certainly there are far worse fates then coming back to Turin a little early and helping us restore some balance and much-needed grinta. That’s a pretty nice silver lining.
Del Piero Scores 4 Down Under!
If our striker woes weren’t bad enough, we must also watch as our beloved capitano — whom we never wanted to leave in the first place — put on a vintage display thousands of miles away on a separate continent, scoring four goals in Sydney’s 7-1 thrashing of Wellington Phoenix.
The amazing display was a Zona Del Piero free kick away from being a veritable ADP Greatest Hits. Three patented curlers (one lefty), a penalty and a beautiful assist sealed not only an emphatic win for Sydney, but a potentially historic A-League performance from Alessandro Del Piero. Per ESPN Soccernet:
Has there been a better individual performance than Alessandro Del Piero’s four-goal extravaganza on Saturday? Possibly, but none will be remembered quite as fondly by the neutral supporter.
Alex himself was pleased with the performance and seemed genuinely relieved to be such an integral part of Sydney’s recent renaissance:
I’m really happy, not only for the first time I’ve scored four goals, but we played very well from the first minute. When you do that and you score — four — you are, for sure, very happy.
I’m free in my mind today, that’s for sure, better than other days. I can play forward easy, the team moved very, very well. We moved the ball and the ball came quickly. It’s very important for me and all of the strikers, if you have more time to spend to turn or to look forward. I think you can do better work. That’s what happened today. It’s a good day from the heavens, you know, because when you score four, it’s for sure a great moment.
We played with focus today, more focus than the other games. Hopefully this is another step forward for our season.
Alex’s Australian masterpiece is also one for the record books: It took him only 18 minutes of game time to score a hat-trick, which is the second-fastest treble in A-League history.
Ahhh… painful sighs all around.
Alex Del Piero: Racing Mogul?
Finally, another ADP item — this one much more unusual than reports of his on-field heroics.
Apparently, Alex is making a foray into the world of motor racing. He’s formed his own team, Dempsey/Del Piero Racing.
Who’s Dempsey, you ask? Clint, maybe?
No. He’s Hollywood actor and star of Grey’s Anatomy, Patrick Dempsey.
It’s a strange world. Here’s the official statement (via Fox Sports):
The newly formed team submitted an entry to the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) to compete in the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans and will also field a minimum two-car effort in the 2013 American Le Mans Series. Dempsey/Del Piero Racing expects to announce further details on its plans for Le Mans and ALMS, and unveil the car livery, sponsorship and driver lineups, in the coming weeks.
Alex, being an Italian of varied interests, turns out to be a big racing fan:
I have had a passion for motorsport since I was a young boy growing up in Italy. I am thrilled at the opportunity to team with Patrick. We expect to compete at a very high level and our central focus will be on winning championships.
I don’t know about Patrick’s winning pedigree, but surely Alex has more than enough for both of them. However they got together, you must hand it to Mr. Dempsey: He’s got great taste in partners.
In bocca al lupo, Dempsey/Del Piero Racing!
That’s all for now. See you post-Coppa, hopefully with a commanding aggregate score. Ciao!
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