As Juventus’ title rivals begin to falter in the final stretch of the season, Maurizio Sarri’s side have the chance to extend their lead at the top of Serie A to seven points against relegation-threatened Lecce on Friday night.
The visit of Lecce to the Allianz Stadium will already be Juventus’ fourth game following the return of Italian football after the hosts’ Coppa Italia exploits earlier in the month. Napoli ultimately prevailed after a penalty shootout win in the final but Sarri’s side swiftly returned to winning ways against Bologna on Monday.
In this tightly-packed post-lockdown schedule, Lecce also played on Monday night, losing 4-1 to a Milan side devoid of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The club are embroiled in a fiercely contested relegation scrap with four sides separated by three points near the drop zone.
When Is Kick Off? Friday 26 June
What Time Is Kick Off? 20:45 (BST)
Where Is it Played? Allianz Stadium
TV Channel/Live Stream? Premier Sports 1 (UK)
The main selection headache for Sarri on Friday revolves around his choice of left-back. Regular starter Alex Sandro has been ruled out through injury and Mattia De Sciglio hobbled off against Bologna on Monday while filling in for the Brazilian. In the same game his replacement, Danilo, picked up a needless second booking during his 25 minute cameo.
This leaves the left-footed midfielder Blaise Matuidi as the most likely stop gap for the short-term. The Frenchman’s absence from the midfield, coupled with the injury to Sami Khedira, may have opened a door for Aaron Ramsey to make his first start following the resumption of play.
Lecce’s treatment room is densely populated with the likes of Zan Majer, Crisitan Dell’Orco and Diego Farias sidelined. Worryingly, striker Gianluca Lapadula is a doubt after suffering a blow to his ankle against Milan.
Although, this could see Khouma Babacar take his place. The 27-year-old forward provided some much needed impetus against Milan and won a penalty for his side to level the scores at the time.
Juventus: Szczesny; Cuadrado, De Ligt, Bonucci, Matuidi; Bentancur, Pjanic, Ramsey; Bernardeschi, Dybala, Ronaldo
Lecce: Gabriel; Rispoli, Rossettini, Lucioni, Calderoni; Petriccione, Tachtsidis, Mancosu; Falco, Saponara; Babacar
With just one game under their belt, how much Lecce’s form stretching back to February and March will influence their performance on Friday remains to be seen. Fabio Liverani’s side have flirted with the relegation zone since their opening day 4-0 drubbing to Inter, a lifetime ago in August.
Yet, for most of the season, the Giallorossi had been hovering above the perforated line. Scoring goals hasn’t been the issue (thanks in part to eight penalties) but conceding them certainly has. In the club’s last three outings – either side of the enforced hiatus – Lecce have shipped a combined 15 goals. Unsurprisingly giving them the worst record in the league.
In any previous campaign, Juventus would have assuredly taken advantage of that leaky defence. However, this term, by Sarri’s own admission, his side is yet to truly click and after a disappointing Coppa Italia loss to kick off the post-lockdown schedule, the critics once again pounced.
A 2-0 win at Bologna did little to allay concerns even if Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala both troubled the scoresheet. Although, Sarri is yet to taste defeat in Juve’s home stadium and boasts a formidable record of 17 wins from 19 games.
Here’s a look at the five most recent results for both sides.
Bologna 0-2 Juventus (22/6)
Napoli 0-0 Juventus (17/6)
Juventus 0-0 Milan (12/6)
Juventus 2-0 Inter (8/3)
Olympique Lyon 1-0 Juventus (26/2)
Lecce 1-4 Milan (22/6)
Lecce 2-7 Atalanta (1/3)
Roma 4-0 Lecce (23/2)
Lecce 2-1 SPAL (15/2)
Napoli 2-3 Lecce (9/2)
While the more optimistic among the Juve faithful may have already been popping open the champagne as Atalanta came back from 2-0 down to ultimately defeat second-placed Lazio 3-2, there is still a third of the season to play, with far tougher fixtures than Lecce to come.
However, the previous meeting between these sides, a 1-1 draw in October, presents ample evidence to dispel any complacency which may be creeping into some of the Juventus squad.
Despite their lack of fluidity and Ronaldo’s apparent decline, Juve should prove too strong for this hole-ridden Lecce defence. But whether this is the chance for Juve to finally ‘win and convince’ as Sarri put it, is less likely.
Prediction: Juventus 2-0 Lecce