After seeing their unbeaten run in the 2018-19 Serie A come to an end two weeks ago, Juventus will be aiming to return to winning ways against Empoli.
Juventus will be looking to bounce back from their disappointing defeat to Genoa last time out, when they welcome relegation battlers Empoli to the Allianz Stadium on Saturday evening.
Having gone 27 matches unbeaten in the ongoing Serie A campaign, Juventus finally tasted their first defeat when they were beaten 2-0 by Genoa prior to the international break. Despite the loss, Massimiliano Allegri’s men remain in firm control of the title race, as they sit a whopping 15 points ahead of second-placed Napoli.
Empoli, on the other hand, are fighting for survival in the Italian top-flight. Gli Azzurri are currently 17th on the table, just a point above the drop zone. Aurelio Andreazzoli’s side come into the game on the back of a 2-1 win over fellow strugglers Frosinone and will be hoping to pull off an upset against the reigning champions this weekend.
The last time these two teams met, in October last year, Empoli drew first blood through Francesco Caputo, but a second-half double from Cristiano Ronaldo fired Juventus to a win. And while the Portuguese maverick will not be involved on Saturday, the Bianconeri will be aiming for a similar outcome.
Team News & Tactics
As mentioned earlier, the biggest news coming out of the Juventus camp is that Cristiano Ronaldo is set for a spell out on the sidelines, after getting injured on international duty with Portugal. Fellow forwards Douglas Costa and Juan Cuadrado are also ruled out along with Sami Khedira, but Mattia de Sciglio is back in the squad.
Allegri is likely to set his team up in a 4-3-3 formation on Saturday, with Wojciech Szczesny set to return in goal, having been left out of the last game in favour of Mattia Perin. Joao Cancelo and Alex Sandro are pretty much guaranteed starters as the full-backs, while Daniele Rugani and Giorgio Chiellini will start at the heart of the defence.
Miralem Pjanic will control the tempo of the proceedings from the middle of the park, while the legs in the engine room will be provided by Emre Can and Blaise Matuidi, with Rodrigo Bentancur likely to be benched for this one.
Moise Kean has been making all the right noises of late, but the Italian international is unlikely to get a start on Saturday, with Federico Bernardeschi, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic set to form the three-pronged forward line for Juventus against Empoli.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Szczesny; Cancelo, Rugani, Chiellini, Sandro; Can, Pjanic, Matuidi; Dybala, Mandzukic, Bernardeschi
Matias Silvestre is suspended for Empoli due to accumulation of yellow cards, while Antonino La Gumina is a major doubt to feature on Saturday. Lorenzo Polvani has been ruled out for the season. Andreazzoli could opt to stick with the 3-5-2 formation that worked well for the team against Frosinone last time out.
Bartlomiej Dragowski should hold on to his spot between the sticks, but Silvestre’s suspension means there will be an alteration in the three-man backline that will be shielding him against the Juventus attackers. Frederic Vaseli is set to step into the starting XI, partnering Domenico Maietta and Cristian Dell’Orco.
Giovanni Di Lorenzo will slot in as the right-sided wing-back, while Marko Pajac is likely to edge out captain Manuel Pasqual on the opposite side, after scoring against Frosinone last week. Ismael Bennacer will anchor the midfield for the visitors, with support coming from Rade Krunic and teenage midfielder Hamed Junior Traore.
Francesco Caputo is Empoli’s leading goalscorer this season with 13 goals and is a guaranteed starter in attack against the reigning champions. Partnering the 31-year-old at the top will be Brazilian forward Diego Farias, who arrived at the club in January.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Dragowski; Vaseli, Maietta, Dell’Orco; Di Lorenzo, Krunic, Bennacer, Traore, Pajac; Farias, Caputo
- Juventus have won their last seven Serie A games against Empoli, conceding only two goals in that run.
- The Bianconeri have scored at least three goals in their last four Serie A home games, last netting 3+ goals in five matches in a row back in February 2014.
- Empoli have lost the most points from winning positions in Serie A this season, while only Atalanta (14) have gained more from behind than Juventus (13).
- Empoli and Chievo are the only two teams who are yet to win an away game in the current Serie A campaign – four draws and nine defeats for the Tuscan side.
- Juventus lost their last league match against Genoa; they last suffered back-to-back Serie A defeats in August 2015.
Player to Watch
It has been a season to forget for Paulo Dybala. The 25-year-old Argentinean superstar has struggled to nail down a starting spot in Allegri’s team this season and as a result has seen his form suffer. So far in the 2018-19 campaign, Dybala has managed returns of just 4 goals from 25 Serie A appearances and has scored just twice in his last 15 league outings.
With Cristiano Ronaldo sidelined for the upcoming few matches, the onus will be on the Argentine international to step up and ensure that Juventus don’t miss the Portuguese talisman in the final-third of the pitch as the season approaches the business end.
Juventus 2-0 Empoli
After suffering their first league defeat against Genoa last time out, Juventus will be raring to get back to winning ways. Empoli, on the other hand, won their last game against Frosinone, which was the first game in-charge for Aurelio Andreazzoli, after he was reappointed as the manager earlier this month, having been sacked back in November last year.
While Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence is likely to have an impact, the reigning champions have too much quality in their ranks and that should be enough to see them take another step towards their eighth successive Scudetto with a victory on Saturday.