Club Focus – Juventus – For the honour of challenging Milan

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The level of investment during the winter transfer campaign is likely to depend on the result of Sunday night’s match against second placed Lazio. If the Bianconeri manage to win then they would be equal on points in second place and three points behind Milan, who have just qualified for the Champions League knock out stages. There would be a real sense of belief in the Juve camp that they could actually win something this season so it is likely that the management would try their best to bolster the weak areas of the team.
The upcoming match will be one of the toughest as Juventus welcome a staggeringly in-form Lazio side eager to snatch an away win. Edy Reja, the cunning and tactically literate Coach, has created a harmonious team atmosphere in which his players truly enjoy their football on a week by week basis. His squad are well organised with each player enjoying a clearly defined role meaning that they are now incredibly familiar with their duties as well as one another. They have a balanced mix of physical strength and technical qualities and will bring with them a healthy dose of confidence after pummelling treble winners Inter last week.
As the away team, Lazio are likely to sit back and defend, inviting Juve to attack and then seize any opportunity to counter to snatch a lead. Their priority will lie in keeping a clean sheet and they are dangerous even without holding possession. Their tactics will lie on frustrating the Old Lady, holding her at bay until luck serves them kindly. Even yesterday’s training indicates that their plan will be to cage Milos Krasić to keep his offensive contribution at minimal levels whilst they attack the weaknesses that lie at the Juve back-line. However, their plan could backfire as they are a team that frustrates easily should they not get their own way and have yet to demonstrate an effective plan b.
The great thing about Juventus is that their abilities have been underestimated by most. Giampaolo Ventura, whose team played both Lazio and Juventus back-to-back, admitted that he felt his lads could take Juve on whilst the thought of Lazio frightened him. As such, he took a conservative approach when playing the capital club whilst he unleashed an attack-minded squad against the Bianconeri. The results speak for themselves. However, Catania did not prove to be an easy test and were it not for their poor finishing then the score line could well have been different.
What this does prove, however, is that the threat Juventus pose should not be taken lightly and they can absolutely win this game. The match will be won and lost in midfield and both clubs rely on the midfielders to do it all for a result. Krasić will undoubtedly be double-marked so it will be up to Luigi Del Neri to find a solution to this in the same way he did against Catania. Vincenzo Iaquinta and Fabio Quagliarella will need to take advantage of any space on the wings as well as Lazio’s preoccupation with Krasić to create some magic on top. Meanwhile they have to watch out for Lazio’s own newly selfless forward Mauro Zárate. The player finally clinched his long awaited goal against Inter and has slowly begun to find ways of contributing to the team unit without satisfying his own selfish needs. Zdeněk Grygera is likely to start the match as his defensive skills will be crucial in keeping Zárate at bay should the Argentine play on the left. The player is less effective if he is made to stay deep as the moment he reaches the top, it will be increasingly hard to stop him. Juve must pressure from the top to avoid seeing their attackers move to their favoured positions and it will be up to the famed Juve midfield to impose their own technical and physical strength on the pitch in front of their own fans.
Whether or not Lazio can win the Scudetto is a heated debate in the peninsula and many feel their inability to qualify for Europe last season gifted them the chance to focus fully on the league this year. Without any distractions, Reja has created a real team that has conceded the least number of goals this season. However, he will now have to face Italy’s highest goal scoring team and it would be wise to note that when it comes to Serie A, Lazio have failed to beat Juventus since December 2003 (a 2-0 win for the Biancocelesti) and they may just hold the psychological edge in this fixture. The Bianconeri’s best performances have come from high profile fixtures and their intent on proving a point is likely to be their driving force. Now that they do not have the Europa League to contend with, consistency should be demanded with regards to the league and Juve must learn how to produce back-to back wins.
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