Stadio Renato Dall’Ara
March 16th, 19:45 GMT kick-off
With the Scudetto within their range, Juventus are heading into the business end of the season with optimism. The Bianconeri have a healthy nine point lead in Serie A over stuttering Napoli and are also in the last eight of the Champions League. Juventus, though, look set to retain the Championship, a feat that some claim is even harder than winning it in the first place. Yet, Juventus haven’t looked fazed at all and have rarely been in trouble as they cruise to back-to-back Scudetto. It would take a brave man to bet against them giving up their crown this season. What they will aim to do now is to wrap up the Scudetto quickly so they can focus on the Champions League.
Their opponents on Saturday are a Bologna side who have all but assured their safety in the league. The Rossoblu have crept up to 10th position in the table after their impressive win over Inter last weekend. The mastermind behind that victory is of course Stefano Pioli, a manager who has been turning heads in Italy with an ever growing reputation. Pioli, a former Juventus player, is well known to be in the radar of a the big clubs in the peninsula and a leap forward seems inevitable for the tactician.
Team News and Tactical Brief
It was a resolute defensive display at the San Siro that carried Bologna over the finishing line which raised Pioli’s profile to an ever increasing level. The manager has shuffled around with formations this season but in his 4-2-3-1 formation, he can field all of the attacking talent at his disposal. Bologna, though, will be without the services of Frederik Sorensen, co-owned by the two featuring clubs. The Dane has been solid this season and is unavailable because of suspension.
The two holding midfielders – Perez and Taider – are key to midfield domination. They will attempt to thwart Juventus attacks but aren’t the most accomplished passers of the ball. That duty of play-making will fall on the shoulders of Alessandro Diamanti. Diamanti is one of the few remaining trequartistas around in Italian football and his natural ability to spot an opening is an asset to his side. Diamanti may be handed another role on the night. Pioli may instruct him to shadow Andrea Pirlo throughout the night in a bid to keep him on a tight leash and curb his influence.
Up front, Gilardino with 11 goals to his credit will lead the line while Gabbiadini and Kone will provide the width. Gabbiadini has been touted as one of the best emerging talents in Italy and while he may not play in his natural position, he remains a threat from set-pieces. Crosses will be whipped in to the middle for Gilardino to contest and given his aerial prowess he could trouble the Juventus defense.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Curci; Garics, Antonsson, Cherubin, Morleo; Perez, Taider; Kone, Diamanti, Gabbiadini; Gilardino
Juventus banged on the Catania door last weekend for all of 90 minutes and their perseverance paid off only in stoppage time as Giaccherini got on the end of Paul Pogba’s cross to net it home for the home side. It was a goal that inched them ever so close to the title. While the performance was lacking, Juventus’ ability to grind out a victory was the hallmark of Champions.
Manager Conte has the luxury of almost the full squad at his disposal. Bendtner and Pepe are long term injuries while Caceres remains on the treatment table. Arturo Vidal returns to the set-up after serving his one game ban. The Chilean International should displace Paul Pogba in the starting line-up. Pogba was the outstanding player against Catania and his consistent displays have also earned him a deserved call-up to Deschamps’ French squad.
In attack, the oft criticized duo of Vucinic and Giovinco are expected to start. Both players have endured a below-par 2013 and are yet to find their feet. Juventus’ lack of a quality striker has been well documented and that has been cited as their failure to put in confident displays against teams that are content with sitting back. Bologna will do the same and inspiration from the forward couple will be pivotal in unlocking what should be a defense that will offer very little. Giovinco was specifically bought in with the view of inventing openings against stubborn oppositions and he should get the chance to showcase his quality which hasn’t come to the fore as frequently as he would have liked, this season.
Probable Starting Line-up (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah; Giovinco, Vucinic
Player To Watch Out For
Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus)
The Ghanaian International has yet to hit top gear since returning from the AFCON. Asamoah has failed to replicate the form that saw him named as a candidate for best summer Serie A signing. The converted wing-back should consider his position under jeopardy with the improving performances of Peluso and he needs to pull up his socks and deliver the long over-due dominating performance he is capable of.
Bologna 1-2 Juventus
Both teams are in a decent run of form heading into this game. Bologna will be brimming with confidence after claiming Inter’s scalp while Juventus will be determined to wrap up the Scudetto soon. The Champions, on paper, have more than enough quality to see this through. This will be a cagey affair and is a potential banana skin but if Juventus can find a way to end the Bologna resistance, they should grab the three points.