Juventus will look to keep the good things going against a Sassuolo team that has more questions than answers after the early rounds.
Serie A Week 5 – Saturday 24 September 2023 – Mapei Stadium | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Sassuolo underwent a deeper overhaul, more technically than numerically, last summer than in previous years, and it showed in the first few matches. If they hadn’t beat Verona, Alessio Dionisi would probably be in the host seat already. They lost and didn’t look good against Atalanta, Napoli, and Frosinone in the other matches. They used to be fiery against big teams, but that hasn’t been the case so far. Though, Domenico Berardi was unavailable for the first two rounds, so the jury is still out.
Growing pains were on display versus the Ciociari. A veteran team shouldn’t come apart after getting a comfortable lead. The subs were questionable and contributed to their demise. Their design isn’t as crystal clear as in the past and, in general, their moves show a certain lack of ambition. They were always going to take a hit by selling Davide Frattesi, their second-best performer, and partying ways with Maxime Lopez too late in the window didn’t help, although that came more from the player than the management.
They had a ton of money committed to buying out Andrea Pinamonti and Nedim Bajrami, which hamstrung them, and they preferred using the rest on prodigies that are still largely unproven. If a couple of them hit, and there’s no reason to doubt their scouting department, they are bound to improve naturally. Otherwise, they’ll have to hope Berardi continues carrying them and doesn’t pout again in January.
They have gone back and forth tactically, alternating between 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. Daniel Boloca, Lopez’s heir, is a fine player but not a true maestro. On the other hand, he more than holds his own physically and doesn’t suffer from playing with just one man next to him. However, Matheus Henrique, whose rise was overshadowed by Frattesi, turned into an excellent box-to-box in the past campaign. He doesn’t have the freedom for his channel runs with the first tactic.
The final choice will hinge on who fares better between Kristjan Thorstvedt and Nedim Bajrami, who’s a pure no.10. The latter had brilliant stretches at Empoli but didn’t grab a major role when he first joined and has yet to get his mojo back. Or perhaps one between Luca Lipani or Cristian Volpato will properly emerge and get them out of the predicament.
As for the rest of the XI, swapping out Rogerio for Matias Vina at left-back was a lateral move at best, while Jeremy Toljan continues to hold off the competition coming from newcomers Marcus Pedersen and Filippo Missori with serviceable showings. The coach has fallen in love with Ruan Tressoldi in the middle of the defense, even though he seemingly has a blunder in each game. They’ll have to take an extensive look at Mattia Viti at some point to decide whether to keep him or not. Plus, Gian Marco Ferrari hasn’t left despite being for sale for most of the summer.
It has been a mixed bag up front so far. Andrea Pinamonti got off to his season-long schneid and rediscovered his scoring touch, which is vital considering how much they spent for him. Instead, Armand Laurienté hasn’t returned to his previous devastating self following a knee surgery. He’s borderline irritating à la Rafael Leao when he’s not on point and disengaged. While Berardi has no problem shouldering their attack, their most dangerous version is with both wingers wreaking having and the no.10 and the striker taking advantage of the prairies and chances coming from that.
They are a big work in progress. The faster they can solve their issues and get key players up to speed physically and mentally, the quicker they’ll crawl out of the quicksand of the relegation struggle, which risks being brutal since there are no clear weak links in the league this year.
Expected XI (4-2-3-1): Cragno; Tojan, Erlic, Ruan, Vina; Boloca, Henrique; Berardi, Bajrami, Laurienté; Pinamonti.
Doubts: Cragno/Consigli; Ruan/Viti, Bajrami/Thorsvedt.
Injury Report: Consigli (sprained finger) – Questionable; Alvarez (ACL tear) – OUT.
The stellar display against Lazio quelled doubts about whether the strong start by Juventus was real or just a product of an easy schedule, as they crushed Udinese and Empoli, not precisely two powerhouses, and they didn’t play well against Bologna. The relatively easy win over the Biancocelesti proved that it was no fluke and that something changed during the summer, even though the squad is pretty much the same.
While Massimiliano Allegri hasn’t exactly embraced progressive football entirely, at least he upped the level of aggression, especially in the first few minutes. That helps since they have dynamic players who have looked much healthier and more impactful than in the past. Several of their goals came from recovering the ball high on the pitch. It’s a novelty for the coach, at least at this rate.
Since he’s been good while managing stacked squads in the past and underwhelming when he had to add something personally from the technical and tactical standpoint, the positive turn of even might derive from the realization that the personnel at this disposal is indeed top-notch, even though there are no Cristiano Ronaldo, Giorgio Chiellini, or Arturo Vidal.
Federico Chiesa and Dusan Vlahovic looking like a million bucks did the rest despite an odd summer. The Serb seemed closer to leaving than staying put. Their early production testifies that injuries were the main thing slowing them down. They’ll need to do it all year long to live up to their humungous price tags. The club will be in a much better place long-term if they do.
The chemistry between the two is still a work in progress. They rarely combine in a timely or precise fashion, and the Italian staple is still adapting to the position. While he’s more at ease on the flank where the spaces are less clogged up, there’s no reason he can’t succeed centrally given his shooting prowess. He and the gaffer are meeting in the middle, turning the fact that he roams more than an average second striker into a weapon. That led to very interesting combinations with Andrea Cambiaso in the first games, as the youngster is no stranger to cutting inside. Those ceased once Filip Kostic rose back from the ashes after probably being offered to other teams late in the window. He has a more straightforward style.
While Chiesa and Vlahovic aren’t totally in sync yet, the latter has become a better reference point for his other teammates. There’s a better concerted effort to feed him, which wasn’t always the case in the past and hindered him. Sports hernia aside, it makes no sense to splurge on a marksman if you don’t reserve a special treatment for him. Somebody probably got into Allegri’s ear and made him realize that the forward could indeed fill his boots if he received an acceptable number of feeds in the box. It’ll be tough for him to keep going at the current rate, as he has basically bagged every good ball. The second goal against Lazio was one of the prettiest of his career and the true testament to his return to his Fiorentina glory days. However, there’s a good chance the number of quality passes increases, offsetting that.
While Cristiano Giuntoli had little time to put together a grand strategy last summer, it was already pretty blatant that his priority was to cut costs. As a result, they spent almost nothing sans a big sale. Still, it might have turned out for the best because it would have been impossible for them to find somebody as good as Vlahovic and Chiesa despite the sums they would have fetched.
Weston McKennie has been a minor revelation out wide so far, but Timothy Weah will add another level of energy once he gets fully acclimated. Fabio Miretti took advantage of the fact that Nicolò Fagioli isn’t at the peak of his powers after a collarbone fracture, and he’s back to being a very intriguing prospect after failing to progress in the past campaign. His skill set is very enthralling. In general, if feels like a lot of player have been activated by a faster pace.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Szczesny; Gatti, Bremer, Danilo; McKennie, Miretti, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Vlahovic, Chiesa.
Doubts: McKennie/Weah, Miretti/Fagioli, Chiesa/Milik.
Injury Report: McKennie (knock), Chiesa (muscle fatigue) – Probable; De Sciglio (ACL tear), Alex Sandro (thigh strain) – OUT.
Juventus Win – Over 2.5 goals.