Another fine ball display from Allegri delivered the fifth win in a row, as lowly Verona’s aggressive tactics finally left a crack, the bianconeri put together a suitable counter-attack, the defense once again held, and the rest of the story. The funny thing is that the recent success is a direct correlation with the initial problems. Even the minnows think they could better overwhelm Juventus now, because it has indeed happened once or twice in recent months. So, they throw caution to the wind and try to be proactive instead of parking the bus, as they tend to deal with other top sides.
That works in the old lady’s favor, at least until the backline remains airtight, because multiple players thrive when they can have counters and room to run. Instead, problems arise when there is a need to work with stingy backlines and someone has to go the extra mile to create.
Correction by opponents will come at some point, which risks being painful, but hopefully coincides with all attackers who are currently injured or not 100 percent being back in top form. The team will never get many style points under their current manager, but if the opponents don’t score, or do so only once, they are likely to succeed. Firepower is plentiful when complete, and various contributors don’t necessarily need the most sophisticated schemes or philosophy to deal damage, but simply string together a few passes in the final third.
Lazio and Maurizio Sarri will be very attentive to the situation. While they will obviously be looking for a win, they don’t come hungry like some of the recent enemies. This game could end up being a standoff for the ages.
With rumors of a managerial change now sticking around until the end of the season, for better or worse, the main focus will be on the post-crash January window. The budget is probably very small, but if the 3-5-2 continues to be the preferred formation, as it should be, Juan Cuadrado may not be the only real option on the right flank. Mattia De Sciglio will be back at some point, but he doesn’t have enough of an offensive mindset. A full-back who can play on either wing would suffice, also because Filip Kostic is at risk of being brought down. With midfield and defense having been fixed, thanks to youngsters and new solutions, that should be the main focus, and the buzz is going in that direction.
More problems than usual for this one, since Cuadrado and Manuel Locatelli are questionable to play with small problems and general fatigue. Replacing the former would be quite challenging, while it would be easier to replace the latter, but it has been going strong lately. Leonardo Bonucci also has to be valued given the brevity of the second leg, but the fact that he is approaching the break could allow him to play.
3-5-2: Szczesny; Danilo, Bonucci, Bremer; Square, Fagioli, Walls, Rabiot; kostic; Property, Ken.
Alex Sandro (suspension), Vlahovic (thigh pain), Pogba (meniscus tear), De Sciglio (thigh strain), Kaio Jorge (patellar tendon tear), Aké (malleolus fracture).
Lazio’s current position in the standings may have more to do with other teams’ problems than their brilliance, but they have indeed taken a step forward compared to the previous campaign. Unlike Juventus, he had the patience to embrace Sarri’s vision and a more welcoming dressing room with his style and personality. His wingers have always improved in his second season at the helm. In the case of the biancocelesti, progress has come further back than offensively, also because they were already quite elite there last season. Not hard to do given the top tier weapons at their disposal.
The transfer market helped, as it has given them more reliable centre-backs, as Alessio Romagnoli is a better fit than Francesco Acerbi in a three-man line, and Nicolò Casale is a true prodigy and better goalkeepers, even though they envisioned Luis. Starting Maximiano, and not Ivan Provedel. But the former made an early mistake, and the Italian veteran got away with the job.
His newfound stability has come at a cost in midfield, as Luis Alberto is mostly a super substitute under normal circumstances, while Danilo Cataldi constantly plays over Marcos Antonio, who is more talented but independent and less muscular. They don’t have as much technique as in the past, when they sometimes reached unbelievable levels of passing, but it’s hard to argue with the results. The Spaniard may be a controversy waiting to happen, but he has done well when called upon, even though his role is much more limited.
They have only lost one game of late, against Salernitana, as they were short-circuited after Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was booked, causing them to miss the Derby. But they have atoned for that in the Rome clash and then by beating Monza in a cheat game. The real flaw is not putting much effort into the Europa League and getting relegated, but that’s neither here nor there on point.
They have had more success against top teams than in recent seasons, although the jury is still out on whether beating Inter is an achievement these days. They had an unusually cautious game plan against Roma, and it worked as they were gifted the win by a defensive error. The coach has become much more pragmatic, which is a shame as his football can reach very attractive heights, but they had to due to absences. And the situation will be even more serious here.
The biancocelesti have been more capable than in the past when it comes to compensating for injuries. They would have stayed on the road without Ciro Immobile in other years, but they have coped well by adapting Felipe Anderson there, who has done his job and has been surprisingly clutch. Plus, their solidity allows them to prevail even scoring just once or twice, and that comes in handy when a shooter of that caliber is missing.
Still, things came to a head over the biggest flaw of their summer window, as Matteo Zaccagni was also injured, leaving them woefully short up front. Luka Romero came off the bench against Monza, and he could get the nod over Matteo Cancellieri in this one. But the emptiness was noticeable because the Italian winger was like a gang member. And Pedro is not so agile when he has to participate in consecutive games with short changes.
Much of the playmaking weight falls on the shoulders of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. They are lucky that they are very wide. It’s possible that he cuts less than in the past, so his score has dropped, but he’s just been on fire as a dealer, as he can break through any defense with his vision. His assist count is impressive, but he is arguably shorter than he might have been if his teammates were more clinical. He puts someone in the perfect position to score two or three times each, and occasionally with phenomenal breakthroughs.
Given the circumstances, they won’t attack head-on, which makes them a tough nut to crack because they used to leave the outfield when they turned up their intensity to score. It will be another hard-fought affair, also considering the stakes are high, as the three points would convert the winner to contender status.
They have proven to be resilient but there will surely be worse times to face them as they will be without three of their best players as Lazzari and Immobile are also out. The loss of creativity risks being flagrant. Although he plays in a different role, the manager might be tempted to bring in Luis Alberto, who would usually come off the bench in these types of matchups.
4-3-3-: Providell; Hysaj, Casale, Romagnoli, Marusic; Milinkovic-Savic, Cataldi, Neighbor; Pedro, Felipe Anderson, Foreign Ministers.
Property, Zaccagni (thigh injuries), Lazzari (calf strain).