Massimiliano Allegri was in a very loquacious mood going into tomorrow’s rescheduled Serie A clash against Atalanta. Juventus sitting with a one-point lead on Napoli with a game in hand had a lot to do with it too.
Here are some distilled comments from the manager, starting with going into the lead in the Scudetto race.
“Let’s see tomorrow, we’ve been in the lead for only a few days so we have to be good at not dropping the bone. We have to take it one step at a time because Napoli are there, they have a great chance to win the Scudetto because there’s still a head-to-head match.
“We have a lot of difficult matches, so we need to think about what will happen tomorrow, we need to bring home three points. Atalanta are one of the teams that always cause us the most problems physically, as well as technically.
“After that we’ll see, we have a game on Saturday but in the meantime we’ll try to take some points tomorrow because Napoli are absolutely not cut adrift for the Scudetto, right now they’re only a point behind.
”I repeat, I’ve said it and I’ll repeat it again, you only do the count when the farmers come in.
”You have to take things one step at a time because it’s useless to go beyond that. Let’s try to deal with the game tomorrow, win it and prepare for Saturday, then we’ll have a few well-earned rest days.”
Juve’s hectic schedule of games since the winter break has worsened the injury crisis, and Allegri provided an update.
“As far as the injured players are concerned the ones who aren’t available are Juan Cuadrado and Federico Bernardeschi.
“We’ll see for Alex Sandro, who was a bit fatigued yesterday so I’ll evaluate him today. All the others are fine. I’ll decide who to send on to the pitch for tomorrow’s match, the only one who will definitely be back in tomorrow is Gianluigi Buffon.
“Then the others I’ll have to see today, not least because we have another match on Saturday. But right now we’re only thinking about tomorrow.
“Blaise Matuidi had three games one after the other after his return, which was earlier than expected. As for Miralem Pjanic, he’ll 99.9% be back tomorrow.”
Some more information on Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic - Allegri’s admiration for the Croat just shines through here.
“I need to evaluate, more than Dybala who needs to play I need to evaluate between Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain. Higuain because he took a knock on the free-kick from which we scored and the other who has recovered.
“It’s a good situation to have, because we’re playing another game in two days. The only one who, momentarily, might have to do a bit of overtime is Douglas Costa but I’ll need to see today, it could be that in the morning I decide not to play him.
“Mandzukic is an extraordinary, important player for us because in terms of his aerial ability, his physicality, his technical level… the Croats have a spectacular thing, they have everything they need to do any sport. They’re physical and have technical skill, something you don’t find in other countries.
“Mario was important for us last year, it was important this year and it will be important for the season finale. I need everyone, so sometimes it’s important for someone to rest.”
He went on to talk about his defence.
“I’ll decide today, Mehdi Benatia is doing well, Andrea Barzagli is fine, Daniele Rugani is fine, Benedikt Howedes is doing well and Mattia De Sciglio and Kwadwo Asamoah are fine.
“The only one is Alex Sandro, who I’ll evaluate today. I’ll need to see about Giorgio Chiellini, if he has recovered then he’ll play, otherwise I’ll let him rest. If I’m not mistaken Chiellini didn’t play in Rome.”
Allegri also had a light-hearted update on the penalty debate.
“After the game I put a sign in huge letters: Dybala is the penalty taker. Then if during the game the penalty taker is to be changed, I’ll decide. Or if I get told someone else wants to take it then tell me and I’ll decide. The penalty taker is Dybala.
“Higuain is an extraordinary player, in terms of finishing but also in the build-up phase. He has technical quality and is truly among the best in the world, so the things he does are normal. You could even say he hasn’t done much, because he needs to do more.”
Speaking about tomorrow’s opponents and the surprise side of the season, Atalanta.
“Every game against Atalanta is difficult, because they have a team of players who are all equal and have very precise characteristics. Tomorrow we have to show great respect to Atalanta, just as the team showed great respect for Udinese.
“We need to bring home the three points with a technical, tactical and above all physical match.”