Juventus resume their trophy hunt tomorrow with a quarter-final first leg clash against Sporting Clube de Portugal (aka Sporting CP), with the visitors riding high coming into this round.
Speaking to the media ahead of the game tomorrow, coach Massimiliano Allegri praised Sporting, who are led by highly-regarded Rúben Amorim, a former midfielder with 14 Portugal international appearances between 2010-14.
“They are a technical team, very well organised and with a young coach who won the title for the first time in 19 years. We must have great respect, but tomorrow it’s only the first step.
“We would be crazy to underestimate Sporting, they are different from 2017, they eliminated Arsenal who are the Premier League leaders.”
The coach provided an injury update on his squad, with big news about midfielder Paul Pogba as he attempts to return to the squad for the umpteenth time this season.
“Alex Sandro and Dusan Vlahovic are available, but not Mattia De Sciglio. Dusan can also play for 90 minutes, tomorrow he’s available.
“Paul has been called up, we’ll see tomorrow. It’s important that he completed a few training sessions with the team without stopping. It would be important to have him at his best in the final part of the season. There’s a long way to go still.
“I’ll decide on the line-up tomorrow. We must play as a unit, be balanced and know that the game is played across 180 minutes. We have to win.
“Federico Chiesa? Let’s see tomorrow, it doesn’t depend on the formation.”
Regarding the criticism of Vlahovic with the goals seemingly having dried up for the striker, Allegri was adamant.
“I remember there was criticism for Cristiano Ronaldo because he didn’t score in his first five games here. That’s where a striker is judged on. Vlahovic is young, he is only 22, and has improved technically. Difficult moments happen in a season, also to the greatest. Dusan must remain calm.
“Don’t forget that somebody didn’t want to see Adrien Rabiot on the pitch again. Am I wrong? I have a good memory, here opinions change like the wind in Livorno. Dusan has clear characteristics, he is young and strong, I am happy with what he does even if he is not scoring much.”
As the season wears on there’s been quite a few incidents of players’ tempers getting the better of them, with Juan Cuadrado now suspended for three games following his actions after the 1-1 draw with Inter Milan last week in the Coppa Italia.
“What happened against Inter was not pleasant to see, negative things are always highlighted in Italy, but it’s normal. We are sorry for what happened the other night, starting from Cuadrado. These are not nice things to see.
“There is always pressure at Juventus, we must continue working on the pitch. This is an important month. If we qualify, we have two semifinals and 27 points to play for in Serie A.
“All situations must become an opportunity. Like it or not, we’ve earned 59 points on the pitch, let’s see how many we’ll get in the final nine games, what happens off the pitch should not concern the lads, for now, we are second in Serie A.”
News reports this week mentioned a bust-up between Allegri and midfielder Leandro Paredes, with the player then leaving the Continassa training ground after that missing a team lunch.
“We ate well, it was a great day! There was a chat with Leandro, we wanted him at all costs and I understand the frustration, it’s part of the game. What matters the most is that everyone’s focused on the last 60 days of the season. I based my decisions on the team’s good. I trust those who are available. I am happy he had this reaction, it means that he wants to do well in the last two months.”
Inter beat Benfica handily yesterday away, and today will see two Italian sides going up against each other in AC Milan vs Napoli in the Champions League. Is winning the Europa League a possibility for Juve?
“It’s easy to win a game, but not so easy to win a competition. Winning is always extraordinary, not normal. Europa League is a difficult competition, and playing the Final would be a great success, but four games are remaining and we have to start with the first one tomorrow.
“I am happy with what Inter did yesterday and Milan-Napoli is good for Italian football. We deserve to be here and we’ll do our best to return to the Champions League, but I am not surprised by the results of Italian clubs.”
The coach was joined in the media session by captain Danilo, who insisted tomorrow’s game was not going to be easy in any way.
“Surely, we must be at our best. Sporting beat Arsenal, who are the Premier League leaders, which proves their worth. We must be aware that the qualification is not decided tomorrow, it’s only the first game.”
The 31-year-old just signed a contract extension with the club, with no doubt in the Brazilian’s mind that this is where he wanted to be.
“This is my fourth season here. Time passes quickly and I’ve enjoyed every moment, even the most difficult ones. There has always been great synergy since we first spoke about the renewal. I can say it’s a choice I made with my heart.
“Crisis offers an opportunity to grow. Young players have been given a chance to play consistently and everyone has responsibility, including them.
“What I am doing now it’s not too different from what I did when I arrived. There is always a hierarchy that must be respected and I’ve always done that. Help young players and try to be a reference point, especially in tough moments.”
If Allegri goes with a back-three, then Danilo will likely be flanked by Gleison Bremer and Federico Gatti in the line-up.
“Physically, Bremer is stronger than anyone else. You can see that in duels. He is very good off the pitch too. He is a listener and he always wants to learn. What he has to improve is part of a path, that’s what happens when you play for Juventus. He can become an even better defender.
“Gatti is an example for all of us. He arrived from Serie B and didn’t play for six or seven months, but he has always remained focused, trying to improve. He has proved that he has the quality to play for Juventus when he’s involved. He is humble and he wants to stay here.”
Danilo was also asked about Vlahovic’s struggles this season.
“It’s part of a path. It’s a situation that he can only overcome with hard work and patience. We often talk, but he is calm and he only wants to do well for the team. This is a temporary situation, it will pass soon, it won’t be easy because nothing is easy, but he has the quality to overcome it.
“He makes the difference when he scores, but it’s not his only task, he helps defensively and when we have the ball. He shouldn’t only be judged for his goals.”
Juventus’ appeal against the 15-point deduction will be heard next week the day before the return leg in Portugal.
“It’s normal to be anxious, but we try not to speak too much about this. We are focused on the field. What happens off the pitch is something for the club.”