Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri believes Friday’s away trip to Bologna will be crucial to keeping title rivals Napoli at bay as the champions begin preparations for the imminent, bigger challenge of Bayern Munich.
Juventus, the four-time consecutive champions, sit top of Serie A with a one-point lead on Napoli after a 1-0 win over Maurizio Sarri’s title-chasers in Turin.
League officials moved Juve’s weekend Serie A fixture against Bologna to Friday to allow the Bianconeri an extra day to prepare for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Bayern on Tuesday.
On paper, it doesn’t have the allure of a clash with Serie A’s bigger sides. But Roberto Donadoni has transformed Bologna in recent months and for Allegri, Friday’s match remains crucial to their chances of making it five ‘scudetto’ championships on the trot.
“Tomorrow we’ll play our best possible side because Donadoni is doing some great work at Bologna, and they have nothing to lose against us,” said Allegri, who has recently played down reports of a move to take over at Chelsea next season.
“This match is worth a small part of the scudetto. We need the three points. Napoli, who are one point behind, won’t give us an inch. We have to either maintain or improve our lead.”
With Napoli not hosting AC Milan until Monday evening due to their Europa League commitments on Thursday, a win at Bologna would see Juventus sit on a four-point lead over the weekend.
But with Bayern on the horizon and several players coming off the treatment table, Allegri is expected to reshuffle in a bid to keep as much powder dry as possible for Tuesday.
Simone Zaza came off the bench to hit Juve’s late winner against Napoli last week and the 24-year-old could force Argentine striker Paulo Dybala on to the subs’ bench.
Allegri said, however, he was yet to choose whether Dybala, Mario Mandzukic or Alvaro Morata would partner Zaza: “Zaza will start at Bologna, but I don’t know who with yet.”
Juventus upset predictions to make the Champions League final last May, only to be outclassed 3-1 by Barcelona. Although pundits are predicting Bayern will end Juve’s run in Europe at the knockout phase this time around, Juve’s elimination of Real Madrid in last year’s semis means there is plenty of belief at the club.
Allegri, 48, is a master at selecting the right men for the job at hand, whether Bologna or Bayern, but several players are currently fighting for full match fitness.
Brazilian wingback Alex Sandro is not fit for Bologna after suffering a muscle problem but “could be ready for Tuesday,” said Allegri.
Giorgio Chiellini missed the visit of Napoli through injury, while fellow defender Leonardo Bonucci was forced off during the first half. Both are expected to be fit for Friday.
Allegri left doubts, however, on German midfielder Sami Khedira and Croatian striker Mandzukic. Both could be rested on Friday in a bid to be fully fit for Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse