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Lazio vs Juventus
Match Date: 22-11-2014
Location: Rome
Stadium Olimpico
Referee Damato
Time 20:45 CET
Lazio welcome Juventus to the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday evening for a game that will see the two best attacks in Serie A duel for three vital points. For Lazio, this is an opportunity to get the Champions League bid back on track after a poor showing in Empoli while Juventus will be looking to maintain their lead over Roma.

The first team of Rome has had a fortnight to dwell on a disappointing defeat. Lazio had a point to prove to the fans, not because of fan pressure, but because the club made some bold statements in the lead up to Empoli. Everyone knows the minimum goal this season is to get back into Europe, but the message that was being fed to us before Empoli was that Lazio were in third and intended to stay there. And we managed to stay there for all of a week.

The manner of defeat was concerning. Losing the game on two set-pieces to a newly-promoted side that had no reason to get out of second gear is as bad a setback as you can be dealt. The team now have to prove to themselves that it was simply a bad day at the office, and a strong performance against Juventus would restore the fans' belief in the side. The Empoli game certainly put a few bums back on the fence.

In truth, however, much will depend on Juventus on the night. At their very best, Lazio will not be able to match them - there is undoubtedly a gulf in quality between the two sides. That said, if Juventus are anything less than 100%, Lazio have enough about them to pick up a vital victory. They'll have one eye on the Champions League and their internationals will be feeling it in their legs before the end of the ninety minutes, make no mistake about that.

We should have beaten them when we met earlier this year. We had them on the ropes with a one-nil lead and a man advantage, but we allowed them to get a few punches in before Fernando Llorente's head did the rest. Juventus demonstrated their quality in that game, but valuable lessons will have been learned by those who were fortunate enough to have had the experience.

And having won the Scudetto with the Old Lady, Stefano Pioli should know what it takes to overcome the current Serie A champions. Unfortunately for our manager, injuries have disrupted his preparations, and players returning from international duty late in the week only adds to the uncertainty. Our defence, in particular, has been decimated by injury and I'll need a full paragraph (or two) to break this down.

Firstly, Stefan Radu was quite late in returning to training following his back problem. As Stefan De Vrij and Lorik Cana were on international duty, and Diego Novaretti continued to suffer with a bruised knee, Radu found himself having to play at centre-back in training. Then Michael Ciani had to stop training with a hamstring injury which will certainly keep him out of Saturday's game, and Edson Braafheid hurt his ankle challenging for a ball with Mamadou Tounkara. Thankfully, Braafheid's ankle is merely bruised and he should be available for the weekend but Bruno Pereirinha has picked up an injury and is in doubt.

De Vrij and Cana have returned, but the Albania captain is not in the greatest shape. Neither is Dusan Basta who also returned to training during the international break. Therefore, our first choice defence of Basta, De Vrij, Cana and Radu should all be available for Juventus, but three of the four will be less than 100%. There has also been a suggestion in the media that Braafheid may get the nod over Radu anyway, which would be an intriguing call.

The midfield could be equally leggy. Senad Lulic has had a tough week with Bosnia and Herzegovina, while Lucas Biglia played for Argentina on Tuesday and Marco Parolo received a rare start for Italy this week too. I expect all three to start, but they will not be able to go at a breakneck pace for 90 minutes.

In attack, Keita Balde Diao has recovered from injury and has been billed as a starter for the last fortnight. Illness to Stefano Mauri almost guarantees his place in the first eleven, as Felipe Anderson has spent much of the last two weeks with Brazil U21s in Asia and could do with a breather. Look no further than Antonio Candreva on the right though - he'll start.

In attack, it is a coin toss between Filip Djordjevic and Miroslav Klose. The Serbian - who has denied retiring from international duty but has suggested his attendance is pointless - should have plenty of fuel in the tank given his lack of minutes. Pioli, however, has had two weeks to prepare for the game with Miroslav Klose, and I would be surprised if the German is not unleashed against the Bianconeri. There is no susbtitute for experience in a game of this magnitude.

Attendance for the game could well be around the 50,000 mark despite the club's short-lived attempts to make it an expensive fixture for the home fans. That gives you an indication of how big this game is, but the reality is, Lazio have nothing to lose. Juventus win week in, week out so European qualification will not hinge on Saturday's result. A good performance, however, will stand us in good stead for what is to come. A good result would be a bonus.

Predicted Line-up:
Lazio (4-3-3): Marchetti; Basta, De Vrij, Cana, Radu; Parolo, Biglia, Lulic; Candreva, Klose, Keita.

Writer: C
Team Name Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
Lazio vs Juventus
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Lazio vs Juventus
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