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Never have the stakes been higher for a North-East derby as Newcastle and Middlesbrough do battle in a massive six-pointer at St James’ Park.

Juventus coach Claudio Ranieri has insisted that his team have emerged from their recent slump despite failing to win for a sixth league match in a row.

Juve held Milan to a 1-1 draw at the San Siro on Sunday night when Vincenzo Iaquinta’s diving header cancelled out Clarence Seedorf’s opener.

It leaves Juve third in the table, four points behind second-placed Milan and three ahead of fourth-placed Fiorentina.

Only the top three in Italy will go directly into the Champions League group stages next season, with the fourth-placed finisher having to negotiate two qualifying rounds.

There had been speculation before the match that Ranieri would be fired if Juve lost.

“We have been reactivated. The international break knocked us off the tracks and we weren’t ourselves anymore,” said Ranieri.

“After we were knocked out of the Champions League we became mentally unplugged and there was a very real crisis.

“Milan were the right team to help us return to the team we have been for the last year and nine months (since Ranieri took over).”

The performance may have saved Ranieri’s job, but Juve president Giovanni Cobolli Gigli was giving nothing away after the match.

“The team honoured the name and brand of Juventus, we could even have won the match,” he said.

“As for Ranieri, we’ll do the sums at the end of the season.”

Never have the stakes been higher for a North-East derby as Newcastle and Middlesbrough do battle in a massive six-pointer at St James’ Park.

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