League-leading Juventus take on 19th-placed Empoli this weekend as the Bianconeri aim to stretch their one point lead over rivals Inter Milan who have a game in hand and travel to Fiorentina on Saturday.
Speaking during his pre-match press conference earlier today, coach Massimiliano Allegri attempted to keep the focus on this weekend’s game but the questions from the media kept wandering over to next weekend’s top of the table clash between Juve and Inter.
However, the questions started with Italian tennis player Jannik Sinner, who beat top-seeded Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open, one of the four prized Grand Slam events in the tennis calendar, and if Juve and Inter could be compared to them.
“I want to congratulate Sinner, who played an extraordinary game. He has a bright future ahead and played against a legend like Djokovic, who is always a pleasure to watch.
“The only thing I can say is that if we are younger, then we must be Sinner and they are Djokovic. But I don’t know…I don’t want them to take it badly, they are touchy.”
Allegri was referencing a recent report that indicated his jibes about Inter being title favourites was starting to get under the skin of the Nerazzuri directors, especially his comment about the title chase being like playing cops and robbers, with Inter being the latter.
However, the coach wants his side to focus on this weekend’s game.
“The team is doing well, the guys have worked and we know we have to do well.
“We must think about ourselves; Empoli are a tricky team, they have quality, and they play good football. It’s important to remain balanced.”
The media did turn the conversation right back to the title race though.
“Inter are a strong team; they are the favourites, and they’ve earned many points, so we must be proud to be close to them.
“This doesn’t mean we must be satisfied with what we’ve done until now. Inter are doing extraordinary things. They’ve just won the Supercoppa and played a Champions League Final last season. It’s so nice for us to face them because we are following different trajectories.
“Don’t forget about Milan. At the moment, they have earned more points than last season and their bad moment is behind them.”
Were his players responding differently in training now that they were sitting at the top of the table?
“I think we didn’t even realise [that we were leaders], luckily. Inter have a game in hand and I repeat, Milan can join the race for the first three placements. I always say that balance is the most important thing so we must focus on one game at a time.
“It’s useless to think about what will happen in three months; football is so bad that one day you are good, but the day after, you are not good enough. Surely, this is a team with a bright future ahead.
“When I spoke about an impossible target I was not talking about the Scudetto. It’s a psychological condition that we need in our heads. We need to give our best and believe in what we do. Self-esteem is vital and if there will be better teams at the end of the season, we’ll congratulate them. We must be convinced we can do great things. Perfection doesn’t exist, but we must aim for that because it pushes you higher and higher.”
The coach provided a squad update, starting with Federico Chiesa who will miss tomorrow’s game.
“Chiesa is not available for tomorrow. He didn’t train for a week. We hope he’ll be available against Inter in the best possible condition. We must recover him because he’s a very important player to us. The second part of the season has just begun, and we must earn many points and play in the Coppa Italia semis.
“I think Miretti will play. I have a few doubts about the wingers and defence. I will see whether Danilo will play given that he is on a yellow card.
“As for Weah, I must decide. As I always say, substitutions are crucial. Weah did well in Lecce; everyone gave their contribution from the bench, including Iling, Alex Sandro, and Milik. Everyone must be ready: those who start and those who go on the bench.
“Milik is doing well physically. He is a reliable player with great technique who is always decisive when he’s involved. The important thing is to keep this spirit and play in the Champions League next season. Everyone has this target, the more games we have, the more everyone plays.”
Allegri expounded on Miretti, who is quickly turning into a key player for the side.
“Fabio was born in 2003 and has already played 15 games this season. He has more than 50 games at Juventus, which is not easy, especially at his age. I think he can do even more because he has great potential. Like all the players with less experience, we must let them grow. It happened to all young players; it’s normal and a growth process that will allow them to play all games well.
“We have a difficult game tomorrow, which we must win by doing good things, nothing out of the ordinary. We’ll have a week to prepare for the following game. We must remain balanced, knowing that we have a game against Empoli tomorrow, right now I don’t think about the table.”
Another youngster Kenan Yildiz has quickly slotted into the role vacated by Chiesa as the Italian international continues to be plagued by injuries.
“Yildiz is a player who has done really well in these games. Federico is unique because he quickly brings the ball to the other side of the pitch; sometimes, he goes wide, while Yildz stays more in the middle. He needs the freedom to make errors, but he is already settled for his age.”
How about Moise Kean who has been pushed to the fringes by the emergence of Yildiz?
“Kean is resuming training. At the moment, he is a Juventus player; we’ll see what happens in the next few days before the end of the transfer window is closed.”