Juventus stand on the threshold of a remarkable achievement, but first they must see off the holders Real Madrid.
As he prepares for arguably the most important match of his career so far, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri received some welcome encouragement from one of his predecessors on the Juventus bench, namely 2006 World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi.
As Juve prepare to take a 2-1 lead into the second leg of their Champions League semi-final away to Real Madrid, Lippi says that he sees many analogies between himself and Allegri, between his Juventus and the current team: “[Like my Juventus] this side has grown tactically, technically and psychologically and it has got to a point of self-realisation”, Lippi told Italian radio, RAI 1, this morning, adding: “To be honest, I often see myself again in him [Allegri]. We both took over at Juventus at the same age (46) and we both won the league title at the first time of asking. We were both coaches who had coached and played at every level, we had worked our way up.”
Lippi went on to praise the manner in which Allegri had taken over a winning Juventus side last summer, in the immediate wake of the surprise resignation of Antonio Conte, saying: “He didn’t mess about with any of the things which worked well in [Conte’s] side but then, bit by bit, he got his players to acknowledge that you could add on some things so that now this side can use different tactical systems in the same game and, at international level, that is a great advantage.”
Lippi believes that Juventus have everything to play for tomorrow night, arguing that having won four consecutive Serie A titles, this side is driven by a huge awareness of its own potential. In the context of an obviously difficult game in front of 90,000 Real fans, Lippi argues that Allegri should call on the services of talented Frenchman, Paul Pogba, on the way back from injury: “It is always better to have your class players out there, even if they can only play for 70 minutes, they can still be important. In that context, I can see guys like [goalkeeper] Buffon and [midfielder] Vidal having good games.”
Pogba played his first competitive game in almost two months on Saturday evening when he scored Juve’s goal in a 1-1 home draw with Cagliari. Given that Juventus had already won the title last weekend, Allegri was able to permit himself the luxury of fielding a reserve team in which Pogba and midfielder Claudio Marchisio were the only usual first team players, thus allowing Tevez, Vidal, Pirlo, Buffon et al to rest in view of tomorrow night’s clash at the Bernabeu.
At the moment, Pogba would appear to represent the only doubt in Allegri’s initial line-up in Madrid. The Frenchman is in contention with Stefano Sturaro and Argentinian Roberto Pyerera for a midfield place alongside the Pirlo-Vidal-Marchisio trio. Otherwise, Allegri is expected to name the same team which started in the first leg against Real.
Juventus (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Evra; Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba, Marchisio; Morata, Tevez
Plucky Parma, long since destined for Serie B next season, continue to see out the season with dignity. Since the beginning of April, they have picked nine points, winning against Juventus and Palermo and drawing with Inter, Empoli and most recently with Napoli.
Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Napoli, however, ended with hardly edifying scenes as players and team officials became involved in a massive scrimmage as they attempted to ensure that Parma goalkeeper, Antonio Mirante, and Napoli’s Argentinian star, Gonzalo Higuain, did not come to blows.
Parma coach Roberto Donadoni launched some heavy post-match accusations at Napoli, claiming that his players had been insulted throughout the match with the epithet “failures”, in reference both to their impending relegation and the possibility that the club could yet go into liquidation, saying: “Starting with Higuain, the Napoli players called us ‘failures’ right through the game. We’re giving it our all and this lot insult us by telling us that we are failures and due for relegation. They probably thought that they would pick up three handy points here but we will honour Parma right until the very last second of the season.”
Napoli’s post-match bad temper, as evidenced by Higuain, was a clear expression of the club’s frustration at having failed to make the most of a weekend when both second placed Roma and third placed Lazio lost, to Milan and to Inter respectively. Napoli are now fourth, three points behind Lazio and four behind Roma as they head into a crucial week which sees them take a disappointing 1-1 home draw into the second leg of their Europe League semi-final, away to Ukranian team Dnipro.
Given that Napoli, with three Serie A games still to play, have seemingly jeopardised their chances of qualifying for the Champions League by finishing second or third in Serie A, the Europa League remains a huge attraction. After all, remember that for the first time, the winners of this season’s Europa League qualify for the Champions League next season. That would do very nicely for Napoli, thank you.
The prospected sale of Milan begins to look a deal less certain than two weeks ago. Club owner, media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi confirmed last weekend that he was still trying to choose between at least three offers for Milan – two Chinese and one from Thailand:
“My family simply cannot carry the huge costs. What is important is to find someone willing to invest new resources so that we can go looking for some big name players.
“When I talk to them [the prospective buyers], I ask them all if they intend merely to take advantage of the great popularity of Milan or are they seriously interested in making Milan the best club in the world.
“So, to our fans I say this – I am going ahead carefully and prudently and I will sell the club when I am certain I am leaving it in sound hands.”
For the record, the three potential buyers thus far are Thai broker, Bee Taechaubol, Chinese construction millionaire, Wang Jainlin and a consortium led by Hong Kong based businessman Richard Lee.