The latest installment of the rivalry might mean a little more for Napoli considering where they are in the standings, but Juventus need to keep a speedy pace to prevent Inter’s breakaway.
Serie A Week 14– Friday 8 December 2023 – Juventus Stadium | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Massimiliano Allegri has taken its conservative approach to the extreme and, while it’s hard to argue with the results, the way they played against Monza was almost abominable. The frustrating part for their fans is that the squad actually does well when they crank it up offensively, bringing a lot of men in the box and playing with the full width 3-5-2 provides. However, since they apparently need just small spurts to score, at least in the coach’s mind, they do that for only for a few minutes, and then they are happy to sit back and let the opponents have the ball rather aimlessly, unless somebody comes through with a great play. Their defense is almost impenetrable if completely concentrated and without blunders.
There’s no need to stress how dangerous the plan is, and it would have almost gone pear-shaped against Monza if it hadn’t been for more late-game heroics by an unexpected contributor, as it had happened in the Verona match. While it’s understandable to use it versus Inter, where they conceded a very avoidable goal for their standards, they should open things up a bit against the minnows. Winning pretty much any easy match-up is the only pathway for them to keep up with the Nerazzurri. They are unnecessarily reducing their margin for error. They have the weapons to outgun second/third-tier sides, but they activate them only when required. It’s not a sustainable or successful plan and will probably bite them soon enough.
There’s no doubt about how they’ll tackle this one given its magnitude, but they also need to answer to their foes which just ransacked the Stadio Maradona. Their statement win over Milan had lasting effects. While not decisive in the grand scheme of things, beating a foe always goes a long way to boost the self-confidence of the squad. For instance, they would have been the Scudetto frontrunners until proven otherwise had they topped Inter.
Since they haven’t been in the title picture for multiple seasons, they have to prove they really belong. They do because the other contenders have had their fair share of issues, but the feeling is that they have to outdo themselves to stay where they are, while Inter can just stroll their way through the season, leaning on their superior technical resources simply hoping that no team really catches fire.
The problem with not trusting youngsters in simpler times is that you don’t know how they’ll respond when thrown to the wolves, but luckily for them, Hans Nicolussi Caviglia isn’t a novice and didn’t shake when fielded. They have protected him, as it’s a role where a misplaced pass or an untimely turnover can decide a game and even shape a career, but they can count on him now. Probably not in this one, but they can let him spread his wings a little bit, as he’s a brilliant passer and highly technical. They should have already prioritized going after an offensive-minded box-to-box teetering, even more so with the backup regista duties taken care of internally. They could always move Manuel Locatelli to a more dynamic position, but there are slim hopes of that ever happening at this point.
The starter will be in discomfort for a while given his type of injury, so it’ll be another late call. Danilo was used there for a few minutes against Monza in his return from injury, but he’ll probably move to his usual stomping grounds. They can’t really trust Alex Sandro not to screw things up under pressure, even though he was solid last week.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Szczesny; Gatti, Bremer, Danilo; Cambiaso, McKennie, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Vlahovic, Chiesa.
Doubts: Danilo/Alex Sandro, Cambiaso/Miretti, Locatelli/Nicolussi Caviglia.
Injury Report: Weah (thigh strain), De Sciglio (ACL tear) – Out.
Suspensions: Pogba, Fagioli.
While there were some encouraging signs, and their spirit has looked revived after the coaching change, the bump lasted one match, versus Atalanta, where their victory was nothing to write home about. The performance against Inter was partially encouraging in the first half but very naïve overall. You can’t leave room to counter and hope to go punch for punch with the Nerazzurri given the vastly superior level of confidence.
The Rudi Garcia era might have done even more damage than on the surface. They might have to re-learn to walk before running again. There was a gulf in terms of organization between them and Simone Inzaghi’s squad. A literal gauntlet right after the hiring does Walter Mazzarri no favors, and they have quickly become desperate for a morale-boosting result. They have gotten to the point where they need a few wins to re-establish their top-four ambitions, even though, when everything is humming, they are clearly one of the top two or three outfits in the league.
It’s still relatively early, but, obviously, the lower they fall, the steeper the climb back. There’s no shortage of rivals, with Roma being the most fearful, for a Champions League berth, even should Serie A get five and not the standard four, but that’ll be known only in the spring. Their best version would blow most of them out of the water, but it has barely made an appearance so far. With AFCON right around the corner, depriving them of Victor Osimhen and Frank Anguissa, they might have to resort to a late-season run to reach their goal.
Title defenses are never easy, and the justifications are aplenty, as their top two architects, Luciano Spalletti and Cristiano Giuntoli, jumped offboard right away, hamstringing them from the beginning. In hindsight, it’s blatant that they caught lightning in a bottle and brilliantly exploited their competitors’ problems rather than building a juggernaut last year.
The nail in the coffin of their championship squad was losing Kim Min-Jae. Natan, Leo Ostigard, and Juan Jesus are okay, but the Korean was flat-out dominant and single-handedly changed how they defended, as he could shut down the top opponent and cover half of the pitch on his own. That’s no longer the case, forcing them to have a lower center of gravity, affecting the attackers too, as they have more ground to cover to reach their usual spots.
Natan is bound to improve, but, even in the rosiest scenarios, it’ll take him a couple of years to become elite. Amir Rrahmani is more of a second fiddle than a leader. Since their rearguard probably will never be as rock-solid as in the past, they’ll have to outgun their adversaries more often than not to prevail consistently. While they might have the horses to do it, although some need to be revitalized, they might not have the right coach to steer them in that direction.
At least Aurelio De Laurentiis seems to trust Mazzarri enough to let him work in peace, avoiding the pantomime of the president/coach of the final days of Garcia. While the pool of managers who could take over wasn’t too enticing, it’d be a minor surprise if they fully got back on track with him. Obviously, the real error was in the summer. The owner should reflect deeply on how he runs things since those who were there were in a hurry to depart, and the fact that they didn’t become an alluring destination despite their success and young-ish roster.
They have tested a pair of solutions with Mario Rui and Mathias Olivera both on the mend. The best one might be moving Giovanni Di Lorenzo there and deploying Alessandro Zanoli, but it might not be viable since the youngster is banged up. Natan is more athletic than Jesus and did a little better, but their formation is inevitably lopsided anyway, as both fullbacks do a lot offensively.
Expected XI (4-3-3): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Jesus, Natan; Anguissa, Lobotka, Zielinski; Politano, Osimhen, Kvaratshkelia.
Doubts: Jesus/Ostigard, Zielinski/Elmas.
Injury Report: Zanoli (back pain) – Questionable; Rui (thigh strain), Olivera (knee sprain) – Out.
Draw – Under 2.5 Goals