Juventus will need collectiveness, patience against much-improved Lazio
The international break affords little rest for a few and much anxiety for the Italians who played for the national team, as the side have not disappointed as much as they have under current manager Gian Piero Ventura in some time. Yet with a place in the playoffs secured, the Juventus contingent must get back to thinking about Juve and the upcoming challenge against Lazio.
A side that defeated them to lift the Supercoppa trophy, Simone Inzaghi's team have so far proved to be a potential challenger for a top-four finish. Boasting efficiency, cohesion and tactical intelligence, Inzaghi has created a side that not only believe in their abilities but is confident of beating the best and brightest thanks to their discipline and organisation.
However, the clash between the two will be more of a mental challenge than anything else. A win at the Allianz stadium will further strengthen Lazio's confidence and help give them even more of a push to obtain their objectives this season. Coach Inzaghi understands that his tactics, much like Antonio Conte's once-upon-a-time, can only be admired if the team are mentally strong and prepared thus allowing for collective football and relentless sacrifice.
As a form of motivating his men, Corriere dello Sport writes how Inzaghi sends his men images of their Supercoppa win over Juventus via WhatsApp as well as giving each player information on how to neutralise and overcome the opponent. Every detail studied, every strategy prepared.
Juventus will not only be taking on Lazio and their collective talent but the dreams of an entire squad and the ambitions of an impressive coach. The Biancocelesti play with personality and pride and will attempt to control proceedings from the get-go in much the same way they attempted to against Napoli before they surrendered in the second half.
Like the Partenopei, Juventus must learn how to be patient, mature and strike when the weaknesses have been uncovered. Napoli are the only side to have destroyed Lazio this season, winning 4-1 as they tore through them in devastating fashion.
Sadly for Juve, Miralem Pjanic will not be unavailable, making them a more predictable side. The likes of Lucas Leiva will be tasked with stopping the Bianconeri from creating, focusing his attention on neutralising the efforts of a superb Paulo Dybala. As such, it's vital Juve's midfield, likely to be made up of Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi, focuses on distracting the Brazilian to permit the attack to play without impediments while staying alert to Lazio's threat on the counter-attack.
Set to be without several key starters including Mario Mandzukic, it appears Massimiliano Allegri will rely on Douglas Costa going forward -- the summer arrival that many expected would light up the league. However, having recorded 184 minutes of Serie A playing time, the former Bayern Munich player has neither registered a goal nor an assist, managing 0.4 shots per game on average -- a disappointing return for one who was meant to be the star signing of the summer.
Costa dribbles to perfection, his technique never to be doubted. He boasts so much potential but for one reason or another he has yet to truly integrate himself within the team and Italian football. In comparison to other leagues, the spaces are limited in Italy and opponents are well versed in closing down the gaps he usually exploits in devastating fashion so he must learn to adapt his game.
Unlike Khedira and Matuidi who boast great tactical intelligence largely based on their experiences with big teams in disciplined leagues, Costa played in Germany where attacking football is the ambition of every club, while earlier in his career with Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine, his superior technical abilities made all the difference against sides that struggled to contain his talent.
In Serie A, players are forced to depend less on their technique and more on their intelligence to outwit the opponent, open up the spaces and cause destruction. In time, Costa should learn how to channel his skills appropriately while his understanding of his teammates' movement should improve as well.
International week came at the right time for him and he was one of the few, alongside Gonzalo Higuain, who remained in Italy to practice and refine his abilities, improving upon his tactical understanding of the Juve game.
Against Lazio, it's vital he focuses on keeping it simple. He cannot hold on to the ball for too long or he will be robbed of possession while his passes must be accurate to avoid giving the opponent the advantage. If any Juventus player chooses to act the hero, Juve will fail. Lazio are a side that can only be defeated by a cohesive team, one that is even more disciplined and hard-working.
If Allegri's men keep moving, remain concentrated and deliver accuracy then they will prevail. They simply cannot afford to drop their concentration for a minute, surrendering to their emotions to concede free kicks or worse. Inzaghi and his men are looking to cause problems and if the Bianconeri are smart, they will play with patience, looking to strike at the right moments while remaining firmly in charge of the game.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.