Juventus may have only two fit centre-backs available for the opening game of 2022 against Napoli on Thursday.
The Bianconeri took a risk in the summer by not replacing Merih Demiral after he left for Atalanta on an initial loan deal. Demiral’s exit left manager Massimiliano Allegri with four senior options at centre-half for the 2021/22 season, one being the much unfavoured Daniele Rugani.
Fortunately, Juve coped in the first half of the season with injuries to Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Matthijs de Ligt rarely coinciding. As a result, Rugani has started just one game in Serie A this term with De Ligt and Bonucci the two most used outfielders.
However, their availability luck may have already run out at the start of 2022.
Juventus could have just two fit centre-backs for the Napoli game
On Saturday, New Year’s Day, Juventus announced that veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini had tested positive for COVID-19 after returning to Continassa following a brief isolation period. Senior teammates Arthur Melo and Carlo Pinsoglio tested positive the day before.
There have been no further positive cases since, which is brilliant news for Allegri ahead of Thursday’s game, but he has been dealt a potential injury blow.
La Gazzetta dello Sport’s Giovanni Albanese reported on Monday that Bonucci is a doubt for the first game of 2022 with a minor thigh problem. Tests have ruled out any major issue, but he’ll be monitored day-to-day by the club.
Thus, with Chiellini isolating and Bonucci a major doubt, Allegri may be forced to deploy Rugani alongside De Ligt as Napoli come to town. Youngster Koni De Winter, who Allegri has previously said is more of a centre-back than a right-back, also tested positive for COVID last week and is unlikely to be involved.
Napoli’s availability crisis
Despite their centre-back problem, Juve’s injury woes are incomparable to Napoli’s. The Bianconeri will welcome back attacking stars Paulo Dybala and Federico Chiesa for the bout, while the visitors will be without a whole host of first-teamers.
Elif Elmas and Hirving Lozano are missing due to COVID, André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Kalidou Koulibaly and Adam Ounas would have departed for the African Cup of Nations, while Victor Osimhen is a long-term injury absentee.
In short, the Bianconeri can count themselves lucky compared to Thursday’s opponents. They will not be affected by the African Cup of Nations at all, and this is a prime opportunity to take points off a likely top-four rival.