After what promised to be an epic four-way battle for the Scudetto in this COVID-enforced elongated season, now all the pretenders have fallen away and a win away at Udine will hand Juventus a record ninth consecutive Serie A title, with three more games still left to play.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference before Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan stumbled against Fiorentina to give the Bianconeri the chance to clinch against Udinese, Maurizio Sarri insisted he wanted to finish the season on a good run.
“I am a man of sport, which means that ‘almost’ is meaningless. We know that we need to pick up four points, which is difficult at the moment. We’ve got to focus on one game at a time, think of Udinese, then of Sampdoria, stay in the moment and continue fully aware this is a tough period for everyone.”
Sarri has often been derided for his non-footballing background and his failure to win any top flight titles apart from a Europa League trophy with Chelsea.
“Why am I still criticised? Evidently I get on someone’s nerves! I’m not particularly interested, I know the difficulties we face daily and I think we’ve got more data on our side than those who express opinions.”
Cristiano Ronaldo is tied with Ciro Immobile in the race for the Capocannoniere title, just six goals behind Gonzalo Higuain’s record of 36 goals, and will have his eyes set on both after becoming the fastest player to 50 Serie A goals in the win over Lazio.
“I spoke to him 10 minutes ago and he said he’s in great shape. This is part of his strength, the ability to quickly recover both physical and emotional energy, setting his sights immediately on the next target. It allows him to push beyond fatigue.
“It’s evident that we can play a lot better and have ample margin for improvement. I don’t see this difficulty in having top level players like Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala sharing the field, as they scored 51 goals between them.”
Daniele Rugani should get the start alongside Matthijs de Ligt in defence after Leonardo Bonucci was suspended for one game.
“Rugani would’ve deserved to play more at times this season and has been unfairly criticised. He did well with Milan for an hour, then crumbled at the same time as everyone else. We needed Bonucci’s experience, so it’s our fault he hasn’t played as much.
“Udinese are a very physical team and they’re in good shape at the moment, so it’s going to be a difficult match and we need to be on our toes.”
In the few games since the resumption of football, Adrien Rabiot has really started to show his value in the Juve midfield.
“Rabiot is a player with quality outside the norm. After some big changes in his career, he is starting to emerge, but it’s the same path many foreign players have gone through in Italy. I can see his character now in the way he plays.
“Miralem Pjanic is fine, we just sometimes make different choices due to the characteristics of players and the matches we are going into.”