Ennio Tardini, Parma
Then New Year has begun with a stutter for the Italian champions. Juventus slumped to an unexpected loss at home against Sampdoria last weekend and followed it up with a not too convincing win against AC Milan in Coppa Italia quarter-final. Parma on the other hand didn’t have a mid-week fixture and will be fresher of the two sides. They have also won their last three Serie A matches and are now in with a good shot of qualifying for Europe next season. Parma are currently placed eighth in the table, one point behind AC Milan.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The Ducali have been solid under the tutelage of former Italy coach Roberto Donadoni. Parma have been especially strong at home and are the only team in Serie A which has an unbeaten home record till now. They have won six out of their nine home matches, scoring 17 goals and conceding just 7 times, an impressive record by any standards.
The former UEFA Cup champions are likely to start in a 4-3-3 formation. Their excellent defensive record at home (joint best with Juventus) can largely be attributed to the consistent showing of 26 year old Argentine Gabriel Paletta in central defence. With 3.4 successful tackles and 2.5 successful interceptions per match, Paletta will be the biggest roadblock against a Juventus attack which has often struggled to put their chances away. Veteran Christian Zaccardo is likely to partner Paletta in central defence with Massimo Gobbi and Aleandro Rosi on the flanks.
Juventus have looked weak on their left flank in past two fixtures and Donadoni will be looking toward a former Juventus player to exploit this weakness – Marco Marchionni. Marchionni, a winger for most of his career is being used in a more centralized position of Parma’s three man midfield and will be looking to drift to wider areas and take advantage of Paolo De Ceglie’s often erratic showings. Marco Parolo has been inspirational for Parma as a defensive midfielder. With 2 goals, 1 assist and 2.5 successful tackles per match, Parolo needs to have a good game to shut down the best midfield in the peninsula. Just like Marchionni, veteran Jaime Valdes has also been used in a central position and has excelled as a regista this season.
Summer signing Ishak Belfodil has undoubtedly been the peak of Parma attackers and is currently their top scorer with 6 goals and 3 assists in 17 appearances. Parma’s offensive trident is likely to have a youthful outlook with the 21 year old Belfodil being flanked by 21 year old Nicola Sansone on left-wing and 24 year old Jonathan Biabiany on right. The outcome of this match can very well be decided on how Juventus deals with the Biabiany – Marchionni combination on the left-wing. Former Juventus striker Amauri’s late goal secured three points for Parma in last round and he can make another appearance from the bench against his old club.
Possible Starting XI (4-3-3): Pavarini; Rosi, Paletta, Zaccardo, Gobbi; Marchionni, Parolo, Valdes; Biabiany, Belfodil, Sansone
Everything that could have wrong went wrong for Juventus last weekend. Conte’s side looked all set for three points as the first half ended 1-0 in their favour with Sampdoria reduced to 10 men. Things turned radically in second half as Sampdoria came back stronger in second half and things were compounded by an unlikely error from Gigi Buffon. Juventus strikers also missed some gilt edged chances with Mirko Vucinic being the biggest culprit.
Antonio Conte’s biggest headache will be how to shore up the left side of his defence. The consistent performances of Kwadwo Asamoah and Giorgio Chiellini ensured that Juventus had almost zero problems on the left flank but now the former is away on International duty while the Italian is out with an injury. Peluso had a nightmare debut against Sampdoria and Paolo De Ceglie is likely to make his way back as starting left-wing back. Martin Caceres was impressive against AC Milan and is likely to form the three man defence with Bonucci and Barzagli.
Claudio Marchisio will sit out after picking up an injury last week and Paul Pogba is likely to replace him. It will be intriguing to see how Pogba adopts to the Marchisio-role. The French youngster doesn’t have Marchisio’s tactical intelligence but has the ability to make late runs into opposition penalty box like the Juventus academy product. Andrea Pirlo didn’t start against AC Milan in midweek but will come back into starting XI along with Arturo Vidal.
Just like last season, Mirko Vucinic once again struck the all important goal to knock AC Milan out of Coppa Italia. The Montenegrin has struggled with an ankle injury in past few weeks but has proved time and again that he is the only Juventus striker with game changing ability. Alessandro Matri had a decent outing in general against Milan but he looks completely bereft of confidence in front of the goal. It is likely that Vucinic will pair-up with Sebastien Giovinco upfront.
Possible Starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Caceres; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba, De Ceglie; Vucinic, Giovinco
Players To Watch Out For
Arturo Vidal (Juventus)
The Chilean didn’t feature against Sampdoria last weekend and his absence was felt badly as Juventus were over-run in midfield during the second half. Vidal started against Milan and was one of best players on the pitch. He would need to maintain his consistency against Parma midfield which has done extremely well this season.
Gabriel Paletta (Parma)
With three man of the match awards till now the Argentine has undoubtedly been Parma’s star man as well as one of the most consistent defenders in current Serie A season. Juventus have the joint best scoring record away from home and Donodani’s best bet in keeping out the Bianconeri will be a solid performance from the former Boca Juniors defender.
Parma 1 – 1 Juventus
Parma have been especially strong at home and their unbeaten record is unlikely to be threatened by Juventus’ current form. Both teams have strong midfield and it is possible that the midfields will cancel each other out.