Juventus will host Sevilla tomorrow in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final as they attempt to get to the final of this iteration of the competition for the first time. The Bianconeri come into this game after an impressive win away at Champions League-chasing Atalanta over the weekend while the visitors tomorrow managed to come from behind to beat second-from-bottom Espanyol.
Sevilla are currently in 11th place in La Liga, but are only three points out of seventh place with five games left to play and the Europa League presents their best chance of remaining in Europe next season.
Off-field drama continues to swirl around the club as hearings in the Prisma trial today were postponed and news that a possible points punishment would be levied on May 22nd. Speaking during his pre-match press conference earlier today, coach Massimiliano Allegri insisted that his side were insulated from all the noise.
“I don’t know what will happen, we have armour and nothing affects us anymore.
“One day is black, one is yellow. Everyone speaks and knows everything, but we’ve been strengthened. Now we have these Europa League games and four more matches in Serie A.”
The coach gave a squad update, starting with the news that defender Bremer would miss the game.
“Bremer has muscle fatigue, I don’t remember where exactly, I think in his thigh, so he won’t be there.
“The others are ok. It was a pleasure to watch the training session yesterday. We need enthusiasm, the Final in Budapest would be a great achievement.
“All the team feels well, it will be difficult for me [to make decisions]. Those who have played 15 or 20 minutes have helped their teammates. Vlahovis scored [over the weekend] and those on the bench will have a chance to help the team tomorrow.”
On tomorrow’s opponents, Allegri warned that they should not be taken lightly.
“We face a club that has won the Europa League six times, they have experience and are always in the game. We’ll need a great performance tomorrow. It’s a semi-final and it’s complicated. We must make the most of their weaknesses.”
“We need the same attitude as in Bergamo, Lecce and Bologna, knowing that Sevilla have won many trophies, so we must respect them.”
What did Allegri say to Dusan Vlahovic who endured torrents of abuse from the Atalanta fans before silencing them on the scoreboard with the second goal and on the pitch with his forefinger?
“I haven’t spoken with him. I understand that it’s not nice to be racially abused, but it’s better to ignore them and let those in charge punish the guilty ones.”
The coach was joined on the podium by the highly experienced Angel Di Maria and before signing off he tipped his hat to the World Cup winner.
“Di Maria knows what he has to do in knock-out games, we need a result and a good performance.”
The 35-year-old started off by crediting his coach for his patience and support that helped him adapt to the Italian game.
“I’ve had plenty of great coaches, I’m happy with Allegri too. He is an exceptional coach, he makes us work a lot but it’s different to what I was used to before. Now I’ve built up a rhythm and I think I’ve reached a good level.
“In reality it was tough at the beginning, I had injuries, I couldn’t give 100% and it was difficult to prove my worth. I gained more confidence, I started working better with the coach. Now we have to win and we want a strong end to the season for the supporters and finish in the top four.”
Would he still be at Juventus next season especially if the club cannot participate in the Champions League?
“Nothing changes in my mind, whether we go to the Champions League or not, it doesn’t matter.
“With everything that’s happened this season, we try to maintain concentration in the league and have the mindset that we’re second and playing well despite the news that arrived. We have to devote ourselves to gaining points on the pitch.
“The future? We’ve been talking about it with the management for a while now, but now I’m focused on Sevilla.”
The Europa League is one of the very few trophies that the veteran player is yet to win.
“True, It’s a trophy that I only played once with Benfica. It’s a trophy I’m missing and I’m focused on it. For me all trophies are important.”
When asked his opinion on tonight’s Champions League semi-final between AC Milan and Inter Milan, Di Maria was dismissive.
“Whatever happens with Inter and Milan is their business. We have to think about everything we have to do.”