Having stumbled on the opening day, Juventus will be under pressure to pick up their first win of the new season when they meet promoted Empoli on Saturday.
Following a week of intense speculation about the future of their biggest star, Juve welcome the Serie B champions to Turin ahead of the upcoming international break.
A remarkable finale to their first fixture of the 2021-22 season saw Juventus leave Udine with only a point last weekend, as they threw away a two-goal advantage to draw 2-2.
Frenzied rumour surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo’s unexpected benching was sidelined when Juve went ahead through well-worked goals from the rejuvenated Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado – this season playing in a more advanced role on the wing – but Gerard Deulofeu’s 83rd-minute equaliser brought Udinese level.
To bring a dramatic afternoon to a crescendo, Ronaldo then appeared from the bench to apparently head in a trademark winner, only to be denied after a lengthy VAR check, as he was ruled marginally offside.
Seeking a fast start in recovering the Scudetto – lost to arch-rivals Inter in May following nine years of unbroken success – returning coach Max Allegri will have to keep the ship steady amid another turbulent few days at a club rarely out of the headlines.
Fortunately – or perhaps not, given the potential for calamity – Juventus have a 79% win percentage against Empoli – emerging victorious from 19 of their last 24 encounters and winning 11 of their 12 home games against the Tuscan side in Serie A. In fact, the Bianconeri did not even concede a single goal on nine of those occasions – an indicator as to the David versus Goliath nature of this weekend’s fixture.
Though a certain striker’s departure has hogged attention, Allegri will have seen some promise in the first hour at the Dacia Arena last time out, as Cuadrado’s return to attacking duty after a mid-career switch to a flying full-back role has saw the Colombian score his third goal in his last three league games – as many as in his previous 85.
Set to make his 300th Serie A appearance on Saturday evening, the wing play of Cuadrado and his young colleague Federico Chiesa – who only managed to feature from the bench against Udinese – will be allied to Manuel Locatelli’s impact in midfield; leaving their opponents with plenty to fear before their trip to Turin.
Also finding their feet under new management, Empoli went down to a 3-1 defeat at home to Lazio on the opening day – handing coach Aurelio Andreazzoli his first competitive defeat after a Coppa Italia win started his reign the previous week.
It all started so well for the Azzurri, who cruised to the Serie B title in style last term, as they took an early lead through Filippo Bandinelli’s fourth-minute strike, but they ultimately faded to finish empty-handed in front of their home fans.
Any hopes of staying afloat at the top level most probably do not rest on games against the division’s heavyweights, such as Juve, but Andreazzoli will still hope to put up a fight at the Allianz Stadium – particularly as their hosts have failed to kill off lower-ranked teams on several occasions over the past 12 months.
An experienced campaigner, now in his third spell at Castellani, the former Roma assistant has reinforced the Tuscan club’s promotion-winning squad by adding Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Patrick Cutrone to his strikeforce on loan, as the former Milan man aims to revive a drifting career while back in his homeland.
Young Inter striker Andrea Pinamonti will also join up with his erstwhile Italy Under-21 colleague this week, having signed a temporary deal to gain experience away from the champions well-stocked attacking department. The pair – allied to last season’s top scorer Leonardo Mancuso – could be integral to Empoli’s dreams of a shock result in perhaps their toughest game of the year.
Juventus Serie A form:
Juventus form (all competitions):
Empoli Serie A form:
Empoli form (all competitions):
We say: Juventus 2-0 Empoli
Juventus dropped far too many points against bottom-half finishers last term, so will be anxious to immediately bounce back from starting this season in similar fashion.
They certainly possess the firepower to blow Empoli away, so if they can put together a more even 90-minute performance this time, victory should be a formality against one of their most frequent victims.