The most enthralling contest of the first round after the second break pits two potential title contenders facing big absences against each other.
Serie A Week 9 – Sunday 22 October 2023 – Stadio San Siro | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Getting bested in such an embarrassing fashion in the Derby would have rocked most sides, but they reacted brilliantly. They had to pick up the pieces in a hurry as the schedule didn’t give them time to dwell on the losses, and they did, even though they left precious points on the table in the Champions League. Instead, they couldn’t have fared any better domestically. The crazy and controversial finish of the Genoa game seemed like the stuff that happens only in title-winning campaigns.
They have been able to weather the storm of multiple injuries in the midfield, and that might have furnished a better solution the rest of the way. Yacine Adli has been terrific as a deep-lying playmaker. He didn’t try to do too much while getting his feet wet in the new role, but he’s clearly much more technical and a more gifted passer than Rade Krunic. The main reservations were on the other side of the coin, but he has held up physically and hasn’t been a liability defensively. The history of football is filled with no.10s who progressively lowered their position on the pitch, extending their career and sometimes faring even better than in their original role. At the bare minimum, he’ll be a proactive option when they need to score. He has a better shot at becoming a difference-maker than his competitor, who’s not a natural there either.
The increased depth made them less vulnerable in the wake of the absences, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek being out wasn’t felt too much, even though they do the alternatives aren’t at his or Tijjani Reijnders’ level. Either can carry them from a leadership standpoint, so they are in a decent place even with only one of the pitch.
Theo Hernandez is out for one of the early pivotal clashes, as he has gotten booked five times already. He’s basically the only player without a real replacement, as Alessandro Florenzi is the deputy on either fullback spots. He’s fine on his day but occasionally ghastly defensively when tested, so they’ll have to be careful not to expose him. While Kalulu can play on the right, Marco Pellegrino isn’t truly a viable option for now, and Mattia Caldara got hurt right away, so they need him more in the middle. They’ll have to hope nothing serious happens to their star or Davide Calabria, or they’ll be in a pickle. On the other hand, Fikayo Tomori returned to dominant form after taking a little step back for obscure reasons in 2022/2023. It’s mighty hard to give a breather to somebody who’s so essential and performs so well. That’s one less thing to worry about for Stefano Pioli in a backline with construction defects.
It’s ironic that Marco Sportiello picked up his first injury in years right when he was most needed. They can only hope Antonio Mirante isn’t a complete turnstile, but there’s a decent risk that’s indeed the case. Chukwueze going down is unfortunate with a thigh strain and will shorten the rotation for the upcoming series of games, where they’ll need Luka Jovic to stay healthy to have any semblance of offensive depth, which is a scary place to be. It’ll force them to field Noah Okafor wide, while it’d be better for their future prospects for him to get reps as a no.9, at least to evaluate him properly.
They’ll get some pieces back from injury but not the best one, Loftus-Cheek. Musah has been fine so far, but the ex-Chelsea midfielder has a physical presence that’s hard to match. They could partially make up for that by deploying Krunic instead of Adli, but it depends on where he’s at after his injury. They’d lose an element of creativity, though.
Expected XI (4-3-3): Mirante; Calabria, Thiaw, Tomori, Florenzi; Musah, Adli, Reijnders; Pulisic, Giroud, Leao.
Doubts: Thiaw/Kjaer, Adli/Krunic.
Injury Report: Loftus-Cheek (groin injury), Chukwueze (thigh strain), Sportiello (calf strain), Caldara (ankle sprain) – OUT.
Suspensions: Hernandez, Maignan.
The hope for Juventus to have a normal season with no off-the-pitch drama has quickly gone up in smoke between Paul Pogba’s doping case and Nicolò Fagioli’s gambling case. They’ll have to weather the storm and act quickly and surgically in January. While he had a slow start, which was a little serendipitous because Fabio Miretti can only get better while playing constantly, they are now razor-thin, and any more problems would pretty much force them to change the scheme. They should definitely use Weston McKennie centrally more often, as it happened in the Derby, to benefit from Timothy Weah’s pace wide. Hans Nicolussi Caviglia wasn’t half bad in his previous stops, but he has yet to earn the trust of the coach.
Pogba’s suspension opened up unexpected resources, plus there’ll be a capital increase in short order, but they are unlikely to splurge much in the winter, even though they probably should. The position has been a sore spot for a few campaigns. The single best improvement they could make would be a regista who could properly dictate the rhythms and move the ball quickly. Manuel Locatelli is okay, and occasionally excellent especially in the defensive phase, but he doesn’t possess those traits. He’d be a lot better with more room to attack, as he does have some more dynamism in him. But there are no hints that’ll be the case, as they are reportedly interested primarily in box-to-box options. At least some of them are juicy, like Lazar Samardzic, who’d restore the pizzazz they lost without the Frenchman. Despite the emergency, they should think long-term and sign somebody that would grow over the years.
While it’s pretty clear that the early high-octane showings were random and the course correction after the Sassuolo game was drastic, at least they showed the right spirit versus Torino, especially in the second half, when they had more offensive bite with Arkadiusz Milik on the pitch rather than an apathetic 3-5-1-1. The Pole might not be the most prolific striker, but he scores just enough and makes everybody around him better. They’ll need to maintain that eagerness to prevail, and their defensive solidity, to have a shot at something meaningful and stroll to a top-four finish considering how other contenders have started.
Instead, if they want to be more ambitious, and their statements go in the opposite direction, they’ll have to avoid settling in the head-to-head clashes, as they did versus Atalanta. They were very lucky the opponents missed plenty of chances back then. If they come out passively at San Siro, Milan will devour them. While it’s already blatant that the Rossoneri have everything to gun for the Scudetto, they have to prove to be of that caliber in terms of posture and aggression. In that respect, a narrow loss after going mano-a-mano and measuring up with the adversaries away would be better than a nil-nil draw where they sat back the whole game.
Danilo getting hurt is a massive problem, as, even though Gleison Bremer is routinely their busiest center-back, he’s really their leader and the one that keeps everything together. There have been no hints of a tactical modification, also because they are short on fullbacks without him and Alex Sandro, unless they dare use Weah or Filip Kostic there along with Andrea Cambiaso. It’s an aggressive tweak that has better chances of seeing the light of day during the game and against easier adversaries. They’ll have to hope Daniele Rugani and Federico Gatti rise to the occasion, or things will get ugly fast.
On the other hand, they will welcome back some big-time players, namely Vlahovic and probably Chiesa, with the former being in better shape, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll get the start. It’s a stretch especially for the Italian attacker, who went into full training late in the week after some concerning reports about his injwouldn’twouldn’t be surprising to see also the Serb being initially spared, as Allegri is no stranger to beginning in cagey fashion and then bringing weapons off the bench, especially if they aren’t 100 percent.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Szczesny; Gatti, Bremer, Rugani; Weah, McKennie, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Kean, Milik.
Doubts: Weah/Miretti, Kostic/Cambiaso, Kean/Vlahovic.
Injury Report: Danilo, Alex Sandro (thigh strains), De Sciglio (ACL tear) – OUT; Chiesa (muscle fatigue) – Questionable.
Suspensions: Pogba, Fagioli.
Draw – Under 2.5 Goals