PALERMO
vs
JUVENTUS

Renzo Barbera
December 9th 2012, 14:00 GMT kick-off

***

What a week it has been for Juventus! After getting back to winning ways in Serie A after demolishing old rivals Torino in the Derby della Mole, they put up a strong performance against Ukrainian Champions Shakhtar Donetsk in the intimidating Donbass Arena. The victory against the Miners not only sealed their berth in the knock-out phase of Europe’s premier competition but also meant they qualified on top of their tricky group.

Perhaps the best news comes in the form of the return of their charismatic coach Antonio Conte. Yes, after spending months cramped up in a room in the stands and away from the sidelines, the Juventus manager returns to the dug-out on Sunday. Conte who was allegedly involved in the Calcioscommesse scandal which took Italian football by storm last summer was initially handed a 10 month ban. The ban was reduced to 4 months after an appeal was lodged by Conte’s representatives. He now makes his long-awaited return and will be pleased to find his team exactly where he left them – at the top of the table.

Palermo have been going through a torrid time in Serie A this season with lady luck not smiling upon the Sicilians. Last weekend’s draw can certainly attest to the that fact as they put in a feisty performance against Inter but were only undone by an own goal by Santiago Garcia. For the most part, Palermo looked worthy of at least a draw Gian Piero Gasperini returned to  face the side he once managed not too long ago. It doesn’t get easier for Palermo as they return home only to welcome Serie A leaders Juventus. The Rosanero are hovering just above the drop-zone in 17th place with 14 points.   

Team News and Tactical Brief

Palermo

Palermo find themselves in a spot of bother. Just one point above the safety zone will give Gasperini worries especially considering the trigger-happy nature of President Maurizio Zamparini. But they can take heart from their brave display against the Nerazzurri, with a bit of luck; they could have salvaged a well-earned draw.

Gasperini is expected to make just a couple of changes from the side deployed against Inter and stick with his 3-4-2-1 formation. Fabrizio Miccoli returns to the set-up to face his old side and should displace emerging star Paulo Dybala. Miccoli, who once plied his trade for Juventus has always been a thorn in their side and earlier this week stated his side will go on to beat the champions 2-1. A bold claim indeed and he will hope to back his words with a vintage performance. Eros Pisano could make way for the experienced Massimo Donati who has been converted into a center-back this season.

Expect the home side to use a game-plan similar to the one they used when they faced Inter. Palermo will sit back and defend and look to counter Juventus. With Miccoli and Ilicic, they have pace and craft in attack. Miccoli will make the diagonal runs and of course, his threat from set-pieces cannot be taken lightly. The midfield have their work cut out for them as they try to contain and track the runs from the Juventus midfielders. Gasperini might ask one of Ilicic or Brienza to do a job on Andrea Pirlo and shadow him around the pitch when Juventus have possession.

Abel Hernandez and Andrea Mantovani are on the treatment table with long-term injuries and will miss this game.

Probable Starting Line-up (3-4-2-1): Ujkani(GK); Munoz, Donati, Von Bergen; Morganella, Barreto, Kurtic, Garcia; Ilicic, Brienza; Miccoli

Juventus

Juventus

Back-to-back wins against Torino and Shakhtar have lifted the spirits and morale in the Juventus dressing room. Out on the pitch, they welcome back Antonio Conte, a man who deserves a ton of credit for their success last season. He takes over from Angelo Alessio and Massimo Carrera who deserve to be lauded for the manner in which they have taken over and done an incredible job in Conte’s absence.

Conte should ring around a few changes from the side that faced Shakhtar. Giovinco is suspended on account of accumulation of yellow cards. Chiellini and Vidal could be given a rest with Caceres and Marchisio taking their places according to latest reports emanating from Italy. The wing-backs should retain their place and the width they provide is vital to the way Juventus play. Lichtsteiner put in one of his most impressive performances in a Juventus jersey against Shakhtar with his marauding runs and his persistence paid off as his cross ultimately led to the Bianconeri’s winning goal.

Paul Pogba’s recent games gives off the impression of maturity far beyond his young age. Calm and assured on the ball with the fierce shot in his armory, Pogba has frightening potential. He will make runs here and there, covering every blade of grass. Andrea Pirlo of course is the brains of this Juventus side. If he has a good game, Juventus have a good game. The Bianconeri should remain in control of this game and also control of the ball. The wing-backs might fancy their chances against Palermo’s shaky defence. Matri might get the nod over Quagliarella in attack and should partner Mirko Vucinic. The Montenegrin will come deep to receive possession while Matri will be the target-man up front making the runs in behind Palermo’s back-line.

Simone Pepe, Lucio, Nicklas Bendtner will sit this game out with injuries.   

Probable Starting Line-up (3-5-2): Buffon(GK); Barzagli, Bonucci, Caceres; Lichtsteiner, Pogba, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah; Vucinic, Matri

Players To Watch Out For

Josip Ilicic (Palermo)

PalermoIlicic has been one of Serie A’s highly rated young players ever since his first season at Palermo. Inconsistency though has been his downfall. At 24, he still has a bag of tricks to worry the best defences in the world. A moment of magic from this unpredictable Slovenian International could carve open the Juventus defence. Palermo will pin their hopes on his shoulders to try to conjure up something positive in attack.

Claudio Marchisio (Juventus)

JuventusMarchisio bagged a brace against Torino and while he may not be scoring as much as he did last season, he still is the lungs of this Juventus side. Having missed out on Shakhtar due to a suspension, he will be fresh and raring to go with his confidence levels peaking. Marchisio remains one of the most tactical players around and silently goes about doing his job. The key to Juventus dominating the midfield battle remains in his hands.

Prediction

Palermo 0 – 2 Juventus

The Rosanero are struggling for form in the league while Juventus are regaining it. The odds are stacked against Palermo winning this one, let alone managing a draw. The Bianconeri might be a bit fatigued but with Antonio Conte back on the touchline, they have the motivation and the push to earn all three points.

Blast From The Past

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaXIvD6uhr8]