Champions Juventus return to Serie A action this weekend when they face Cagliari at the Allianz Stadium on Saturday evening, with a defensive crisis arising just as they face increasingly prolific opponents.
The visitors have netted at least two goals in each of their last five fixtures and have significantly stirred into life after an indifferent start to the season under attack-focused coach Eusebio Di Francesco.
Before the break, Juve played out a dramatic 1-1 draw at Lazio, after Biancocelesti super-sub Felipe Caicedo snatched yet another last-minute equaliser for Simone Inzaghi's men. It was another failure to capture maximum points in the ruthless manner of Masimilliano Allegri's all-conquering sides, giving their numerous rivals hope that this might be the year to finally dethrone the Turin giants.
Against Cagliari, nothing less than a win will do for coach Andrea Pirlo, particularly with AC Milan already four points ahead of the Bianconeri in the table.
After a streak of 18 Serie A matches without defeat against the Sardinians, winning 15, Juventus finally lost the clubs' last meeting in July, so will be doubly keen to set another such run in motion.
A win would also set Juventus up perfectly for the upcoming flood of pre-Christmas fixtures - with the Champions League resumption coming just a few days later, against Hungarian outfit Ferencvaros.
Though not always totally convincing - as Pirlo gets to grips with the sizeable task at hand - and often missing key defensive personnel, Juventus have been typically solid at the back in domestic competition. The Bianconeri have conceded only one goal in the first 30 minutes of games this season, the joint–fewest of any side, and the fewest in the second half - just two.
On Saturday, they come up against two relatively unheralded South American stars, in Cagliari's Giovanni Simeone and Joao Pedro, who are perfectly capable of putting that impressive record to the test.
Simeone, still labouring under the shadow of his charismatic father who prowls the touchline in Madrid, should more often be celebrated in his own right. Within touching distance of a 50th Serie A goal - currently on 49 - he could reach such a significant milestone at the age of 25 years and 139 days, with the only Argentinians to achieve the same at a younger age being a select band of 'goleadors' - Mauro Icardi, Paulo Dybala and one-time Parma and Milan striker Hernan Crespo.
Throughout 2020, both Joao Pedro - now played in a slightly withdrawn trequartista role by Di Francesco - and Simeone have scored 12 goals in Serie A, while the only South Americans to have netted more in this period in Europe's top five leagues are Lionel Messi (15) and Atalanta's Duvan Zapata (14). In fact, when excluding penalties no other South American player has topped Simeone's tally.
Thanks in part to their prolific front line, Cagliari went into the international break in fine form, winning three of their last four league games - only Roma picked up more points than Eusebio Di Francesco's enterprising side in that time.
Their greatest test awaits though, as a trip to face the might of Juventus is a formidable task indeed. Recent precedent is firmly against them, as Juventus have scored at least three goals in each of their last four home league matches against Gli Isolani and are in no mood to drop more valuable points this week.
Juventus Serie A form: DWDDWD
Juventus form (all competitions): WDLWWD
Cagliari Serie A form: LLWWLW
Cagliari form (all competitions): LWWWLW
Andrea Pirlo has seemingly had to deal with defensive injuries on a weekly basis since he surprisingly took the Juventus helm in the summer. This time, twin stalwarts Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are both out, so Merih Demiral and the belatedly returning Matthijs de Ligt will hold the fort, if the Dutchman - now back from shoulder surgery - is considered worth risking from the start.
Aaron Ramsey is still absent, while Federico Chiesa and Adrien Rabiot suffered knocks on national team duty and will be assessed closer to kickoff. Fortunately, though, full-back Alex Sandro returns to the squad after a lengthy injury layoff and may even be handed a start if Pirlo opts for a three-man defence.
Fabio Pisacane is set to come in to the team at full-back – with Greece defender Charalampos Lykogiannis struggling due to a muscle strain. Otherwise, Di Francesco is likely to select a brave lineup, with the impressive front four given freedom to trouble Juve's makeshift defence.
Juventus possible starting lineup:
Szczesny; Danilo, Demiral, De Ligt, Cuadrado; Bentancur, Rabiot, Arthur; Kulusevski; Morata, Ronaldo
Cagliari possible starting lineup:
Cragno; Zappa, Walukiewicz, Godin, Pisacane; Marin, Rog; Sottil, Pedro, Nandez; Simeone
We say: Juventus 2-1 Cagliari
Andrea Pirlo's immediate task is plain - turn Serie A draws into wins as a matter of urgency. His charges can do just that here, given the continuing potency of Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata's recent renaissance.
Nonetheless, Cagliari are undoubtedly on the rise and will certainly cause trouble for the Bianconeri's injury-plagued back line when the opportunity arises.