After the first international break of the season, Juventus are finally back in action, and it comes early too as the Bianconeri take on bitter rivals Fiorentina in the Saturday afternoon clash at Stadio Artemio Franchi.
Maurizio Sarri will make his official debut in the dugout after having missed the first two games of the season while recovering from a bout of pneumonia, wins over Parma and Napoli.
“It wasn’t easy to sit out. I thank the doctors who treated me. They made me understand that I had to take a small step back. But I remained calm because my technical staff were doing great.”
Emre Can being left out of the Champions League squad raised a few eyebrows, not least the player himself who seemed caught by surprise.
“It wasn’t easy or gratifying to name my Champions League squad, but it was necessary.
“I’m disappointed because two very important players [Mario Mandzukic and Can] won’t be involved. These difficulties, however, show the great strength of our squad.
“It’s normal that when a player suffers because of a strong and radical decision, there’s an emotional aspect to be taken into account.
“We must give him the opportunity to get everything off his chest. I’m at the right age to understand his reaction.
“Right now, I’m only thinking about the League. Our attentions must be focused on tomorrow.”
The manager has picked up a bit of a reputation for not rotating players much, but attempted to defend himself from those allegations.
“We’re in a phase whereby rotations are difficult because we’re still searching for our identity and structure.
“We have many players who have played little in recent months, like Sami Khedira, Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot.
“But I have to say one thing: never in my career have I seen a team work so well during the international break.
“I also think Rodrigo Bentancur can become a very important player. Now my objective is to fully recover Daniele Rugani and ensure Mattijs De Ligt adapts to Italian football as quickly as possible. He’ll express important things in just a few months.
“Higuain’s played for what he showed me in training and he’s proved it in our matches.”
Sarri went on to admit that the entire, well-oiled Juve machine is what it takes to become champions of Italy.
“’I’ve have always said that Juventus are the best team in a corporate sense. In the last couple of months, I’ve realised that Juve’s strength lies in their organisation, head, mentality and looking ahead to the next game.
“We need to change the way we manage certain moments in matches, keeping more of the ball and not waiting for opponents on the edge of our box.
“At Napoli there was a difference between the 14/15 that played the most and the others. At Chelsea I adopted strong rotation, which involved 18 players.
“Juve aren’t yet completely ready, but the objective is to have 10 players who I can interchange.”
What were his thoughts on Juve beating Napoli, the team he has always supported, while not being able to be on the bench?
“Against Napoli we waited too long, and we managed some phases with superficiality. Besides, we’re not at the top physically yet.
“I watched Juventus-Napoli locked in a room. On a human level I felt sorry for Koulibaly, but I thought we deserved to win, even though the own goal was unlucky.”
The Juve manager was born into a fanatically Fiorentina family, but maintained his love for Napoli after being born in Naples. Sarri was asked if it was indeed true that his Viola-supporting mother had refused to speak with him if he took the job with La Vecchia Signora?
“She was not at all happy, let’s put it that way… My grandmother lived 500 metres from the stadium, so our family were all committed Viola fans, apart from me, as I supported Napoli.
“I have many memories of this stadium, but unfortunately the only one I can see right now is my most recent, as I lost a Scudetto here. I need to swiftly replace that with a positive memory.”
Scudetto? That would be the 3-0 thrashing Fiorentina handed to Napoli late in April in the closing stages of the 2017-18 season, with the Neapolitans chasing a four point margin in vain.