As competitive football makes a return in Italy after the pause due to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, Juventus will be the first team back in action hosting AC Milan in the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinal.
The first leg had ended with honours even at 1-1, with a late Cristiano Ronaldo penalty giving the Bianconeri the critical away goal. Manager Maurizio Sarri acknowledged that entry to the Final was not a given despite the draw.
“All our matches against Milan all been difficult this season. They’re a team who make things difficult for us and the result of the first leg doesn’t guarantee us anything.
“The suspensions make me think that they’ll play with the same, competitive XI like in the first leg. The outcome of the tie is still wide open.”
Despite the fixture list being packed as the Serie A attempts to end the season with all games played, the sequential nature of the scheduling could work in Juve’s favour according to Sarri.
“I think we’re lucky to play for three objectives separately from each other,. We can focus our motivations on one objective at a time. This can be an advantage for us.”
The challenge for the manager has always been how to get his trident of Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain all on the pitch together, but he spoke of the former pair first.
“Dybala is a phenomenal player and our only difficulty is that it’s not easy to make two atypical players like Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo co-exist, but they can always make the difference.
“It’s not simple on a tactical level to use them together, but when two players with this type of quality are available, the rest of the squad has to adapt, both when attacking and defending.
“There is the risk that the opposition penalty area can seem a little empty, but all this is a very pleasant problem to have.”
Miralem Pjanic had endured a rough season so far as fatigue seemed to play as big a part as a general unease about his discomfort in Sarri’s system.
“He seems much better now than he did before the lockdown. I spoke a great deal to Miralem, he is an extraordinary player and cannot afford to have four or five games below his standards, which is what happened lately.
“He agreed with me, and struggled at first to find the strength to react, but he must convince himself that he’s a great player. He can get one match wrong, but has to lift his head up and react. It’s been a positive mental journey for him and he can get back on his feet.”
Juventus lead the Scudetto race by a point ahead of Lazio, and will only play the second leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie against Lyon in August.
“With 12 rounds to go, we have to take every possibility into account. Dropping points at this stage of the season when we play every three days can be all too easy to do.
“As for the Champions League, I don’t think the long pause between legs will make that much of a difference, as it’s practically a one-off game.”