Juventus fans with one eye on Mattia Caldara vs. Atalanta in the Coppa Italia
Juventus have already started 2017 with a bang by beating Bologna 3-0, and expectations of this team continue to grow with another win expected on Wednesday evening when the side face Atalanta in the Coppa Italia.
Gian Piero Gasperini's men have proved exciting to watch this season. Blessed with tactical acumen, speed and youthful exuberance, they have managed several impressive victories even if they came unstuck against Juve when the two clubs faced off in December.
Expected to give Juventus a stern challenge, Gasperini will be without two important midfielders. Franck Kessie is representing his country in the African Nations Cup while it appears the young Roberto Gagliardini will be undergoing a medical to complete his transfer to Inter.
Without those two, Atalanta lack a little power and authority in midfield and Gasperini will once again face the toughest opponent without his best assets available to him, yet he is a man who continues to find and develop talent and will be ready for the challenge.
Juventus themselves are without several defenders. Giorgio Chiellini is suspended, Mehdi Benatia is also at the African Nations Cup and Patrice Evra is pondering his future. The Frenchman has been unhappy at the lack of playing time afforded to him at Juve and while he has enjoyed his experience, he feels he is more needed elsewhere. Experienced, determined and a player of immeasurable influence in the dressing room, Evra will be missed if he does indeed leave.
Having helped resurrect the club's confidence in Europe, Evra's performances on the pitch have not been hugely impressive in recent months. He struggled in the Supercoppa match against Milan while it's best not to remember his blunder against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. With Alex Sandro providing the type of performances befitting of a club chasing honours, it's understandable that Evra will be offered fewer minutes on the pitch and thus ought to look elsewhere for greater continuity.
However, as one defender ponders his future, another will soon hope to make his mark. A win against Atalanta is of the utmost importance to help secure progression in the Coppa Italia but the match will be interesting to watch for another reason -- Mattia Caldara.
The young centre-back has agreed to join Juventus in 2018 after having impressed during his time in Bergamo. Known for his positioning sense, his ability to remain calm under pressure and of keeping a certain Arkadiusz Milik quiet when Atalanta took Napoli on, Caldara is not your typical footballer. An intellectual fond of Russian Literature, the softly spoken player has been likened to Andrea Barzagli and even the great Gaetano Scirea.
Together with Daniele Rugani, Juve hope to have found the centre-back partnership of the future while the Azzurri will be glad to have them as well as Milan's Alessio Romagnoli going forward.
The defensive future secured, Allegri will be more interested in the present and in a certain young attacker. Finally fit and ready to play, the coach has confirmed that against Atalanta on Wednesday evening, Marko Pjaca will play.
The Croatian winger's summer arrival was greeted with a lot of excitement for he is not only young, speedy and technical but a versatile player capable of indulging Allegri's tactical metamorphosis. Unfortunately for the new arrival, injuries have robbed him of the chance to prove his worth in the first half of the season, having played only 76 minutes for the Italian giants thus far. When we consider his price tag, that effectively means each minute played has cost Juventus €302,000.
Capable of injecting speed as a winger, technique as a midfielder and creativity as a support striker, Pjaca could play in a variety of formations. It is thought he would be most comfortable in a 4-3-3 formation and this is set to be the shape Allegri will deploy against Atalanta with the winger likely to make an appearance in the second half.
With so many attacking players of varying skills and strengths available, Allegri's biggest task will be finding the right balance and a formation that would fit in as many of these players as possible. With several schemes already tested, it might be worth experimenting with a 4-2-3-1 formation, allowing for creativity and speed going forward as well as strength to protect the defence.
Allegri will certainly not be complaining now that he's close to having all his players available for selection and with so many games coming up, rotation will be key to ensure success across all three competitions.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.