Juventus must shrug off two straight defeats and rebound vs. Chievo
On Saturday night against Chievo Verona, Juventus's season will start. With Claudio Marchisio recovered from injury and a little more time afforded to the squad to work together as a unit, better judgements and assessments can be made as to whether or not the Old Lady is still a formidable force.
While critics continue to discuss Juve's decision to allow three team leaders (Carlos Tevez, Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal) to depart and the impact that has had on the squad, against Chievo we will see whether certain purchases have what it takes to make us forget those who departed.
Paulo Dybala is set to make his second start of the season and for the first time, it's likely he will be paired with Alvaro Morata. Many expect this to be the perfect partnership going forward and if the Spaniard has truly recovered from his flu, perhaps they can demonstrate the potential of such a partnership.
With Patrice Evra suspended, this will also be a chance to see how well Alex Sandro can do on the left. He's a full-back likened to Roberto Carlos but with an even more accurate cross. With so many players likely to benefit from his deliveries, one hopes he can provide the width and strike the synergy required with those ahead of him to repay of a club that spent much of their transfer budget (€26 million) on him.
Yet despite the many stars that will feature, the one everyone is desperate to watch is Hernanes, dubbed the best trequartista in the league by former Bianconero, Angelo Di Livio. Providing the creativity the side has desperately lacked since Pirlo's departure, the Brazilian is desperate to make an impression and help his side reclaim their dominating presence in the league. Likely to start behind the front two, Hernanes will need to inject ingenuity to release the forwards but also work on a defensive level to ensure the team has the same balance it honed last season.
The Flying Donkeys have had a terrific start to the season, smashing Lazio and beating Empoli. Particularly effective from set-pieces, they've scored seven goals in two games. While they have tormented their first two opponents, they are a side with many weaknesses and will face a Juve team desperate to return to winning ways.
Rolando Maran has done well to work on his players' confidence and is implementing many of the ideas that made him an initial success with Catania. Much like his former team, little importance is placed on ball possession. Instead, Maran wants a fast game based on one-touch football that effectively exploits his team's natural pace. It is for this reason that the likes of Hernanes must remain focused and help on both sides of the ball.
Without Vidal available to press and win back possession high up the pitch, Stefano Sturaro will need a perfect performance, such as the one he offered against Real Madrid in last season's Champions League. With Marchisio back to offer his leadership skills, one hopes he can inspire Paul Pogba to perform to expectations while organising Juve's midfield.
Another department that will need a helping hand is the defence. Juve's back line were so effective last season because they had support from everyone ahead of them. In the first two games this year, they have often been exposed, conceding unusual goals; it's vital everyone pulls their weight to ensure a solid performance. Forwards must track back and play sensibly to ensure that Chievo can't win set pieces in dangerous areas.
Juventus impressed in most of their matches preceding a Champions League fixture last season, collecting several wins. Those successes helped them better prepare for the European challenges, building the confidence required to play organised games against better quality opponents. The same must happen again now as Manchester City await midweek, in superb form and ready to prove they belong with Europe's elite.
A great result against Chievo will go a long way in responding to Juve's critics and in raising their self esteem. Now is the time to return to winning ways.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.