Juventus Stadium, Turin
April 7th 2014, 17:00 GMT kick-off
It’s the business end of the season and the games are approaching thick and fast. Juventus are battling out for titles on two fronts. Their midweek Europa League tussle against Lyon didn’t make for the most attractive of showings yet in what has become the norm off late, they managed to grind out a slender victory. Indeed, the Bianconeri haven’t been as assertive as we’ve grown used to yet they always manage to get the job done. Fatigue is a valid alibi in a congested fixture list but it’s something a team of their caliber must get used to.
Roma’s win over Cagliari means the gap at the top of the table has been cut down to 5 points. Although you could say that Juventus do have the easier run-in with the penultimate game against Roma the only real hurdle left. The potential Europa League fixtures placed in between could make things a bit difficult for the Champions but they do have the depth in the squad to bag both the titles they are currently in the running for.
Team news and tactics
Last weekend’s lackluster loss to Napoli was only Juve’s second loss of the campaign. Their last, triggered a record breaking winning streak. Conte will hope his side come up with the same reaction. Arturo Vidal is suspended for this one so Claudio Marchisio will enter the fray to take his place.
The much praised Juventus midfield has been almost invisible in recent games. Players are off form and they’ve found it hard to establish authority and command. That was most evident when Leonardo Bonucci was forced to distribute from the back against Lyon. The defender launched countless wayward deliveries to his forwards that only intensified the frustration. To his credit though, he did put the ball in the back of the net, that turned out to be the winner.
Pablo Osvaldo is expected to partner Mirko Vucinic in attack as Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente might be given a much needed and deserved breather. Osvaldo, since bursting onto the scene for Juventus in the Europa League, has since seen his form disappear. The former Roma striker has yet to score for his new club in the league and has come under much scrutiny given his less than impressive performances.
Andrea Barzagli, Simone Pepe and Angelo Ogbonna should sit this one out with injuries.
Expected starting line-up (3-5-2): Buffon (GK); Caceres, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Pogba, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah; Osvaldo, Vucinic
A contrast to their illustrious opponents, Livorno are in the pits of Serie A. A draw against Inter last weekend saw them pick up a vital point that keeps alive their hopes of survival. Livorno lie in 18th place in the league charts with just two points behind Bologna. Di Carlo’s men have seven games of unadulterated struggle to look forward to but there could be a light at the end of the tunnel that could see them retain their Serie A status.
It won’t be easy though and to make things worse, they have to contend with injuries to key players. Luci, Emerson, Rinaudo and Mbaye are all out of the fixture and it remains unclear whether top scorer Paulinho will start for the visitors. His absence will be a major blow for the Tuscan based outfit as his contribution of 12 goals so far has kept them alive in the league, just about.
Hopes will be pinned on the shoulders of young hot-shot Francesco Bardi. The young Italian keeper has come to the fore this season with excellent performances. His outings in the summer u21 Euros allowed him a platform to showcase his precocious talent and he’s steadily improving with time. Livorno are expected to sit back and crowd out their midfield in a bid to make life difficult for Juventus. It won’t be easy for Juventus to break them down and with fatigue a possible factor, Livorno won’t think twice about counter-attacking the Bianconeri.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Bardi (GK); Ceccherini, Valentini, Castellini; Piccini, Benassi, Biagianti, Duncan, Mesbah; Siligardi, Emeghara
Player to watch-out for
Paul Pogba (Juventus)
Speculation as you would expect, has been at a maximum around Paul Pogba’s future. Every new week brings with it a new flurry of rumors about a move beyond Italy. On the field however, the young Frenchman has blown hot and cold. Since the turn of the year, Pogba’s form has dipped and rarely has he been as outstanding as we’ve come to expect. Yet, you tend to forget that he’s still at the tender age of 21 and far from a finished product. Pogba, though, has the potential to decide the course of a game with the flick of his boot and will see Livorno as the perfect opportunity to get some form going.
Juventus 2-0 Livorno
The home side are heavy favorites at the impenetrable fortress that is the Juventus Stadium. Having won all their home games in Serie A this campaign, it is almost foolish to look at a result that doesn’t see the Champions pick up the three points. Juventus will aim to finish off the game as quickly as possible and leave a bit in the tank ahead of their second leg against Lyon.