Catania host Claudio Ranieri’s title-chasing Juventus this weekend and threaten to further dent their Championship credentials. Walter Zenga’s men have an impressive home record and have turned the Stadio Angelo Massimino into a fortress so far this term. If the Bianconeri are to collect all three points they will have to be on the very top of their game. By the time this match kicks-off Juve could find themselves ten points behind the leaders with anything less than a win spelling the end of their Serie A challenge.
The Elefanti have won seven of their eleven games at home, but with only one win from their last ten outings find themselves hovering eight points above the drop zone. After a wondrous start the nosedive in form will be a concern for Zenga. The former Azzurri No.1 may not expect to steer his side back on the winning track against the Bianconeri, but will want to see his side turn in a solid performance and take confidence into a run of games that could be critical to Catania’s season.
Laying in wait for the Rossazzurri are Chievo, Reggina, Palermo and Siena. Defeat to all four will suck Catania into the mirth of a relegation dogfight. Against Juve then, Zenga may well opt for a cautious approach and go looking for a point in the hope they can snatch a victory. Last week the Elefanti Coach praised his men for the way in which they applied themselves against Inter and believes his men are capable of competing with the best. He will be looking for more of the same graft and determination over the course of the month.
Catania is a well-drilled unit and with discipline will hold a solid line of defence. However, their tendency to commit men forward can leave them exposed at the back. It is when they are on the front foot though that they look most convincing. When asked to defend away from home this season they have conceded fifteen goals with only five in return, which suggests they do not cope well when attacked and put under prolonged periods of pressure. This may force Zenga’s hand by engaging reinforcements in the defensive unit with Ezequiel Carboni and Davide Baiocco squeezing in field to narrow the space for the visitor’s to play into.
Alternatively, he could opt for a 4-2-3-1 formation and utilise one of the aforementioned as a second defensive midfielder alongside Marco Biagianti and restore Pablo Ledesma to the starting line-up to support the front men. Jorge Martinez and Michele Paolucci are capable of occupying the flanks as part of a five-man midfield whilst Giuseppe Mascara will lead from the front on his own.
The Old Lady’s treatment table was in recent weeks beginning to empty at last, with Ranieri welcoming back some influential players. Gianluigi Buffon reclaimed his place between the posts, Giorgio Chiellini was restored in the heart of defence and Cristiano Zanetti was back alongside his protégé Momo Sissoko. You would have thought the return of players of this calibre would boost the Bianconeri to kick on and put pressure on their rivals, but back-to-back defeats saw them squander second place to Milan and allow Inter to open up a points cushion. The Bianconeri’s luck has yet to change and Chiellini and Zanetti are both crocked yet again and will be missing for Sunday’s game and beyond.
Ultimately, the Tinkerman now has to make some bold moves and take chances or run the risk of falling further behind in the title race. The back four will have to be changed with Chiellini’s latest absence pushing Olof Mellberg back to centre-back alongside Nicola Legrottaglie with Zdenek Grygera slotting in at right-back and Cristian Molinaro keeping his place at left-back. The key for le Zebre Coach though is in midfield. During Zanetti’s absence, Sissoko has been outstanding and there was hope of him forging a domineering partnership with Zanetti. However, with Zanetti out again for four months this time, the Malian and his cavalier approach to the midfield role will most likely see Claudio Marchisio or the fit again Christian Poulsen come in to offer some composure to the middle of the park, with both players bringing craft and subtlety to their side’s attacking adventures.
Also retuning from injury is Vincenzo Iaquinta who will expect to be used at some stage though will have to be content with a place on the bench behind Amauri – prevented from playing in the eagerly anticipated Italy-Brazil game on February 10 – and of course Alessandro Del Piero. David Trezeguet is likely to make an appearance from the bench as he continues his rehabilitation from surgery on both knees, but it is Pinturicchio that is the key to the Bianconeri, invariably finding ways to unlock defenses with his insightful vision and sublime touch. If the Catania Coach does squeeze the pitch though, the Italian international will need support from wide areas looking to Grygera and Molinaro to thread through on the overlap. If Ranieri is not prepared to commit men forward he could see his side crowded out and subjected to a frustrating afternoon.
The Turin side has been looking dogged of late and with the injuries they have suffered it’s hardly surprising. The Tinkerman has not had the opportunity to tinker with his side as often as he might have liked and some individuals are beginning to look fatigued. Pavel Nedved, though still bursting with energy, is beginning to fade in latter stages of matches and looks ready for a well-earned break. Fresh legs in the starting line-up may be the perfect tonic for a side struggling to find rhythm and ultimately goals. Sebastian Giovinco therefore could be given the opportunity to demonstrate his potential worth to the Italian giants.
For Juve, the trip to Sicily is without a doubt a must win game, while the Elefanti’s main objective is to prove they have the resistance to avoid being dragged into a relegation fight. It’s likely to be a cagey affair, but if the home side are quick on the counter the game could open up into spells of end-to-end football.