Parma welcome Juventus on Saturday evening hoping to snatch a second unlikely win in four days. Strange as it is to say it, Parma fans must be wishing their club had been declared bankrupt a lot sooner. The better side against both Inter (1-1) and Udinese (1-0), the Ducali have now compelled two managers to hold punitive training sessions the following morning.
Even more surprisingly, Serie A’s worst team by a comfortable margin is playing with flair, having somehow retained the services of Andrea Costa, Silvestre Varela, Juan Mauri and Antonio Nocerino, all key contributors in recent weeks. The club may be bankrupt- requiring one of its sponsors to pay for accommodation in the trip to Milan- yet something is left of the team that came sixth last year.
Without the long early-season casualty list, Roberto Donadoni can now plot his revenge against a Juventus side that inflicted a humiliating 8-0 defeat on the Ducali earlier this season, though he will have to do without Andi “The Fighter” Lila, scorer of two goals since joining from PAS Giannina.
Arguably their biggest rivalry game, fans at the Tardini may begin to miss their trysts with the Old Lady if the club’s finances aren’t straightened out in the near future.
For their part, Juventus are in cruise control, at least where the league is concerned. No Pirlo? No Pogba? No problem! After straightforward affairs against Palermo, Genoa and Empoli, the Old Lady’s hopefuls turned in a blinder against Fiorentina, assuring qualification to the Coppa Italia final with a stunning 3-0 win.
Though Juve would certainly be fresher with the likes of Claudio Marchisio, Stefano Sturaro and Simone Padoin reprising their roles, the Bianconeri need to get their big players back to match fitness before facing Monaco. With Paul Pogba still out, a 50-50 Andrea Pirlo is slated to make his return, as are Carlos Tevez and Stefan Lichtsteiner who picked up knocks in training. Could Parma capitalise?
Keep an eye on: Andrea Costa and Juan Mauri
Though Silvestre Varela and Andi Lila have been knocking in the goals (and the assists, as Varela crossed for Lila’s header against Inter), both still have work to do on the defensive side of Donadoni’s 3-5-2. The choice to switch to a 4-3-3 may reflect this, as Varela hasn’t shined in his defensive role. Andrea Costa and Juan Mauri, on the other hand, are pulling out all the stops. Before recovering their goalscoring form, Parma were grinding out 0-0 draws, something Costa’s mistake-free football has greatly contributed to. He will be especially vital this weekend, as captain Alessandro Lucarelli is still serving a suspension for his recent red card antics. Juan Mauri, for his part, is one of the few players capable of providing the Ducali with some form of creative spark in midfield, and is a ball hawk to boot. There is little doubt he will be a Serie A player next season.
Form Guide: Parma (D L L D W) Juventus (D W W W W)
Last season: Parma Juventus 0-1
Stat fact: No Parma out-and-out striker has scored since Massimo Coda did so… back in early October, before the cruciate ligament injury which kept him out until recently. False nine Cassano has one league goal to boast of since, Belfodil has yet to score at all, and winger Silvestre Varela only recently opened his account against Udinese.
Juventus (probable): Buffon, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Marchisio, Pirlo, Vidal, Pereyra, De Ceglie, Llorente, Morata
Parma (probable): Mirante, Feddal, Mendes, Costa, Gobbi; Nocerino, Jorquera, Mauri; Ghezzal, Belfodil, Varela
Words: Edo Dalmonte