Two clubs from opposite ends of the Serie A spectrum will bring to an end the 23rd round in Turin, with the home side strong favourites to overcome recent setbacks and claim maximum points
After the double disappointment suffered following defeats at both Napoli and Porto in the past week, Juventus return to the Allianz Stadium on Monday with a seemingly ideal opportunity to re-find form and confidence against lowly Crotone.
With the derby between Milan and Inter guaranteed to allow the Bianconeri to shorten their points deficit on at least one of the top two sides, under-fire coach Andrea Pirlo must be intent on getting his side back on track, as they seek to defend their league crown and post a tenth consecutive title success. Top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo has only one goal from his last five Serie A starts will be particularly keen to contribute against one of the few top-flight teams he has never scored against.
Still with a game in hand on the Milan clubs and third-placed Roma, Juventus had kept clean sheets in all five league matches since losing to Inter at San Siro last month and also sealed progress to meet Atalanta in May’s Coppa Italia final.
However, they were out-fought by Napoli in a 1-0 defeat at Stadio Diego Maradona last Saturday and subsequently out-thought by Portuguese champions Porto in the Champions League on Wednesday, when Pirlo’s men were fortunate to come away with just a 2-1 first-leg deficit.
Despite being overwhelming favourites to resume normal service in the league this Monday, Juventus have developed something of a mental block against Serie A minnows in recent times – perhaps reflective of their lack of clinical ruthlessness since the departure of former manager Max Allegri.
Under Pirlo and his predecessor Maurizio Sarri, Juve have failed to win four of their last seven league matches against newly-promoted sides – including the reverse fixture against Crotone earlier this season, which ended in a 1-1 draw after Federico Chiesa was red-carded on his debut.
Most of those fixtures did take place on the road though, and boasting the best defensive record in the top flight – with only 19 goals conceded, just eight of which were at home – there appears little prospect of their Calabrian visitors pulling off a further surprise this time out.
Though somehow not yet cut adrift of possible safety come the end of a difficult campaign, stone-last Crotone have accumulated just 12 points in 22 rounds and journey north to Turin reeling from four consecutive defeats – a spell in which Giovanni Stroppa’s side have netted only two goals and let in 11.
In stark contrast to their hosts on Monday, the Squali’s 52 goals conceded comfortably represents the worst defensive record in the league, with fellow strugglers Parma (43), Benevento (42) and Torino (41) the closest contenders for that dubious ‘award’.
The 51st and 52nd goals of that tally were added by out-of-form Sassuolo in their previous Serie A outing – a 2-1 home loss to the Emilian side.
Like fellow promoted clubs Benevento and Spezia, they may lack individual quality in several areas, but Stroppa’s men have been stuck in the basement due also to a certain deficit in fortitude. Crotone are one of only two sides in Europe’s top five leagues (along with Arminia Bielefeld of the Bundesliga) to have lost each and every league game in which they have trailed this season – 16 out of 16.
Naturally, then, going behind to Juventus this week would almost definitely prove fatal for any dreams – as abstract and hopeful as they might be – of repeating their shock draw with the champions last autumn.
As if to confirm the size of the task ahead of them, Crotone will also be looking for their first away win of 2020-21, as they have so far recorded nine losses and two draws on their travels.
Crotone Serie A form: LWLLLL