Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane said "Juventus are still important to me" amid links with the under-fire Serie A champions.

First-year Juve coach Andrea Pirlo is under mounting pressure in Turin, where the Italian giants are fourth in Serie A and in danger of missing out on Champions League qualification for next season.

Cristiano Ronaldo's Juve were stunned by Portuguese side Porto in the Champions League last 16 this term.

Former boss Massimiliano Allegri – who left in 2019 – has been linked with a return after meeting president Andrea Agnelli.

Zidane spent five years at Juventus, winning two Serie A titles among other honours before joining Madrid in 2001, and the Frenchman did not rule out a possible Bianconeri reunion.

"Both, Italy is in my heart, I spent five years in Turin and Juventus are still important to me," Zidane told Sky Italia.

"Future at Juve? For now I'm here, we'll see," 

Zidane was speaking after Madrid defeated Liverpool 3-1 in the opening leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie on Tuesday.

Vinicius Junior scored twice for hosts Madrid in the Spanish capital, where Marco Asensio was also on target against the Premier League holders in the absence of centre-back duo Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

Toni Kroos teed up Vinicius for the opening goal with an exceptional pass in the 27th minute before Trent Alexander-Arnold's error gifted Asensio a goal of his own nine minutes later.

Liverpool star Mohamed Salah reduced the deficit six minutes into the second half, but Vinicius restored Madrid's two-goal advantage within 14 minutes.

Aged 20 years and 268 days, Vinicius became the second youngest goalscorer for LaLiga holders Madrid in a Champions League knockout match after 18-year-old Raul netted against Juventus in March 1996.

"I'm happy for him because he needed to score, like Marco [Asensio] or Karim [Benzema] do," said Zidane, who took charge of his 50th Champions League fixture with his 31st victory – only Jupp Heynckes (32) won more of his first 50 managerial games in the competition than the Frenchman.

"He's playing well, he's helping the team and he gets a boost by scoring a goal.

"Vini was lacking goals and he's going to gain a lot of confidence from today. He deserves it.

"I don't know if it was his best game [at Real Madrid], but two goals in a quarter final is something very important."

Madrid have progressed from 15 of their last 16 Champions League knockout matches after winning the opening leg, only failing to do so against Ajax in the 2018-19 round of 16.

In all European competition, no side has beaten Liverpool more often than Real Madrid (four, level with Benfica), with the Reds suffering defeat in each of the last four encounters with Los Blancos.

"We studied Liverpool pretty well before the game and prevented them from playing their way," Zidane said ahead of Saturday's Clasico showdown with LaLiga rivals Barcelona.

"We weren't going to play with three at the back with Varane, 4-3-3 was the preferred choice from the start."

"3-1 is a deserved victory, I'm proud of my team, we're in good form but the players are very tired now. I hope we recover well for the Clasico."

Zidane added: "We haven't won anything. We're happy with what we're doing. What the players are doing is tremendous considering the difficulties we've had."

Andrea Pirlo was not concerned by a meeting between former Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri and president Andrea Agnelli, insisting he retains the support of the Serie A champions.

Reports this week revealed Allegri, who won five Scudetti in five seasons in Turin, had met with Bianconeri chief Agnelli.

That appeared to increase pressure on Pirlo, whose first season as a senior coach has badly gone off the rails.

Juve are fourth heading into Wednesday's game against Napoli, who are fifth on the same number of points.

After nine consecutive Serie A titles, Juve risk missing out on Champions League qualification for next season.

But Pirlo feels he still has the backing of Agnelli, who informed him of the encounter with Allegri, a coach who has been without a job since his departure in 2019.

"There is no position," Pirlo said ahead of the Napoli game. "I was warned by the president himself about the meeting with Allegri.

"Football is one thing, friendship is another. I have a daily relationship with Agnelli, we tell each other everything that happens.

"I knew about this meeting and I know I have his confidence, then obviously it's up to me to prove that I can be the coach for next season as well."

Pirlo might find the going tough against Napoli, as the Partenopei arrive in Turin on a four-match winning run in Serie A.

Napoli have also won their previous two games against Juve, while they have a joint-high five wins over the Bianconeri since the start of their sequence of nine championships in a row.

Pirlo will also be without Merih Demiral, Leonardo Bonucci and Federico Bernardeschi following positive coronavirus tests, but the coach insisted he had no issue with the game going ahead.

The fixture was originally scheduled to take place in October but did not go ahead as planned, after Napoli did not travel to Turin on the recommendation of their local health authority (ASL).

"We respect the protocol," Pirlo said. "We are in tune with what the ASL says. We will do what we have always done, we will present ourselves and play."

Paulo Dybala, left out against Torino on Saturday after breaching COVID-19 regulations, is back in contention, while Pirlo is keeping faith with Wojciech Szczesny and Dejan Kulusevski, who have each been guilty of recent on-field mistakes.

Juve had not committed a single error leading to a goal in Serie A this season until March but have since had three.

Szczesny's, against Torino, also saw Kulusevski - at fault against Lazio - give the ball away cheaply.

"Szczesny will play because after a negative performance there is always a desire for redemption," Pirlo said, adding: "I spoke to Kulusevski. I reassured him. Mistakes can happen - you have to raise your head."

Juventus knew exactly what they were getting when hiring Andrea Pirlo and would be wrong twice if they decided to make a change now, according to Fabio Cannavaro.

Despite winning Serie A for a ninth successive season, Juve reacted to the team's shock Champions League exit to Lyon last year by sacking head coach Maurizio Sarri.

Pirlo was promoted from within to the top job, the former Italy international - who had only just been appointed as the club's new under-23 boss - signing a two-year deal to take charge of the first team.

His debut campaign has been tough, both at home and abroad. Juve's dominance in the league looks set to come to an end, while their hopes of European glory were dashed again at the last-16 stage, this time unexpectedly losing over two legs to Porto.

Pirlo's position has come into question as a consequence, yet former team-mate Cannavaro insists the club must show faith in the decision they made to appoint him in the first place.

"When Juve chose Andrea they knew very well that he had no experience," Cannavaro said in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport

"It is logical that he should have his time to mature, even in the relationship with the team. There are still 30 points at stake, so it is right to leave it.

"And he did good things, throwing young people and managing a complicated dressing room, one full of people who have won a lot. Of course, some things don't work, he was wrong: he is a human.

"It's a heritage that must be protected. After all, if Juve don't confirm his position, what did they choose him to do last summer?

"They would be wrong twice if they take that decision now. And the blame can't only be his if the players make mistakes on and off the pitch."

Pirlo's Juve have a 57.14 per cent win percentage in Serie A, having scored 56 goals and conceded 25. The team averages exactly two points a game, considerably lower than the 2019-20 season.

They face a fight just to qualify for the Champions League again: Saturday's 2-2 draw against Torino saw them slip to fourth in the table, with a crucial home game against Napoli - who sit fifth, albeit level with Juventus on 56 points – to come on Wednesday.

As for Sarri, his solitary campaign in charge averaged out at 2.18 points per game, the former Napoli and Chelsea boss winning 68.42 per cent of his league fixtures as he secured the title again.

However, both slip below the lofty standards set by Massimiliano Allegri in his final year in the job. In 2018-19, his squad won 73.68 per cent of their Serie A outings, conceding just 30 goals as they picked up points at a rate of 2.37 per game.

Juventus have announced Federico Bernardeschi has tested positive for COVID-19, ruling him out of Wednesday's crucial game against Napoli.

Bernardeschi is isolating away from the rest of the first-team squad following the test result, though Juve revealed on Tuesday that the Italy international is asymptomatic.

The 27-year-old came on as a second-half substitute as the reigning champions drew 2-2 with Torino on Saturday, a result that further damaged their bid to win the league for a 10th straight season.

Juve boss Andrea Pirlo was without both Leonardo Bonucci and Merih Demiral for the Turin derby after the defenders tested positive for coronavirus during the international break.

Cristiano Ronaldo struck a late equaliser but the Bianconeri still dropped down to fourth in the table, 12 points behind leaders Inter with just 10 matches remaining.

Juve host fifth-placed Napoli in midweek too, a key fixture for both clubs in the battle to qualify for next season's Champions League.

Like compatriot Bonucci, Bernardeschi was involved for the Azzurri as they started their World Cup qualifying campaign last month – he made appearances in all three Group C fixtures in March, against Northern Ireland, Bulgaria and Lithuania.

The Italian Football Federation announced four members of their staff had returned positive tests prior to the game in Lithuania, which resulted in a 2-0 win for Roberto Mancini's side.

Romelu Lukaku has starred for Inter since arriving from Manchester United in 2019.

Lukaku is spearheading Inter's quest for a Serie A title, with Antonio Conte's side clear atop the table.

His exploits, however, have not gone unnoticed in Europe.

 

TOP STORY – LUKAKU HAPPY AT INTER

Inter star Romelu Lukaku is flattered by Barcelona's interest but is not looking to leave the Nerazzurri, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Lukaku has been linked with Barca, Real Madrid and former club Chelsea following his exploits for Inter, who are closing in on the Scudetto.

But Lukaku is happy at Inter, with the Belgium international only possibly leaving San Siro should the Italian powerhouse seek to raise funds.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tuttosport reports Cristiano Ronaldo wants to see out his Juventus contract, which runs until June 2022. Ronaldo has been tipped to leave Turin, where Juve are struggling under Andrea Pirlo this season. Former clubs Madrid and United have emerged as possible destinations, as well as Paris Saint-Germain. However, Ronaldo is keen to continue at the club, should they qualify for the Champions League.

- PSG star Kylian Mbappe remains a priority signing for Madrid, claims Diario AS. Mbappe has been a long-term target in the Spanish capital, though the economic fallout following the coronavirus pandemic appears to have derailed Madrid's pursuit. But Los Blancos – also linked with in-demand Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland – are still determined to prise Mbappe from Paris.

- Record reports United are ready to make a move for Sporting CP star Nuno Mendes, who has also been linked with Manchester City and Liverpool. United could reportedly use Alex Telles in a deal to sign the Portuguese full-back.

- Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli is eyeing a new deal amid interest from Barca and Chelsea, according to Calciomercato. Romagnoli is contracted to the Rossoneri until 2022. Barca's reported pursuit comes as they eye the likes of Bayern Munich star David Alaba, City duo Eric Garcia and Sergio Aguero, Lyon forward Memphis Depay and Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum.

Can Borussia Dortmund keep a hold of Erling Haaland for another season?

Europe's elite are queuing up to sign the Norway sensation.

Dortmund's disappointing season could be about to force their hand.

 

TOP STORY – DORTMUND TRYING TO RETAIN HAALAND

Borussia Dortmund will try to keep Erling Haaland for another season but their hopes are fading amid the club's struggles to finish in the Bundesliga's top four, according to Fabrizio Romano.

As it stands, Dortmund are set to miss out on Champions League qualification, with the German side fifth and seven points adrift of fourth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt following Saturday's loss.

Haaland is a player in demand, linked with Real Madrid, Manchester City, Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Mirror reports United are set to part with star goalkeeper David de Gea. The Red Devils are reportedly prepared to pay a large chunk of De Gea's remaining contract, with Dean Henderson pushing to become the club's first choice.

Haaland is ahead of Lionel Messi on City's transfer list, claims The Mirror. Pep Guardiola's City have been heavily linked with Barcelona superstar Messi, who is out of contract at season's end. But City now appear determined to prise Haaland from Dortmund as Sergio Aguero prepares to leave. Aguero has been linked with the likes of Chelsea, InterBarca, PSG and Juventus on a free transfer.

Neymar has put contract talks with PSG on hold, according to Ara, which claims he is willing to return to Barca.

- It comes as Marca says PSG are eyeing Madrid forward Vinicius Junior amid Kylian Mbappe's links with the LaLiga champions.

Andrea Pirlo has admitted he is fed up with Juventus failing to display enough imagination and ambition to overcome rivals' spoiling tactics.

A 2-2 derby draw with lowly Torino on Sunday followed a shock 1-0 loss to Benevento before the international break, with hopes of a 10th successive Scudetto now forlorn.

Pirlo's first season as head coach has been one of major underachievement given the quality within his squad, but Juventus have said they will support his plans to take the team forward.

It means Pirlo looks sure to get a second season, but he and the club's leadership will expect to see more from the team in 2021-22, with the coach telling his players their current level is not good enough.

"We've played lots of games so it's natural for a bit of fatigue to creep in but we can't let that happen," Pirlo said.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a 79th-minute leveller after Antonio Sanabria's double saw Torino overcome losing an early goal to Federico Chiesa. Rodrigo Bentancur fired against the post, but Juventus could not find a third goal.

"After we equalised we took control of the game again and hit the post, so we did respond well," Pirlo said. "But when we're up against sides that sit in and defend it's hard to play through the middle - we have to channel moves down the wings.

"We need to be a bit patient, keep the ball moving and attack down the flanks.

"Obviously I'm not happy when we don't win and we're dropping lots of points. We have to work hard on occupying the space better and finding more options between the lines."

Giorgio Chiellini said there were "too many mistakes" before looking ahead to Wednesday's clash with a Napoli side who could yet pip Juventus to a Champions League place.

Juventus sit fourth but are only ahead of fifth-placed Napoli on goal difference.

Chiellini, quoted on the club website, said: "We have to stick together, keep our heads down and carry on working hard every day.

"We have another important match on Wednesday and it's one we need to win. We must push on, keep giving our all and try to secure our minimum target, which is qualifying for the Champions League. We know it's going to be a battle until the end of the season."

Andrea Pirlo said sloppy Juventus only had themselves to blame for a 2-2 derby draw against relegation-threatened Torino on Saturday.

Juve's slim hopes of retaining the Serie A title suffered another blow as they had to settle for a point from a frantic clash with their city rivals at the Olimpico Grande Torino.

Federico Chiesa put the champions in front, but Antonio Sanabria nodded home a deserved equaliser in the first half.

A poor Dejan Kulusevski pass and a mistake from Juve goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny allowed Sanabria to put Torino in front only 15 seconds into the second half.

Cristiano Ronaldo levelled 11 minutes from time before Rodrigo Bentancur struck the post as Juve slipped up again, having suffered a shock defeat to Benevento before the international break.

The fourth-placed Bianconeri are well adrift of leaders Inter, and head coach Pirlo said there were no excuses for their latest setback.

He told DAZN: "Unfortunately we complicated the games by ourselves. We also made a good start, we unlocked them but then we let it slip.

"We thought we could play another kind of second half and instead we went under and the game got difficult.

"We make mistakes that are happening a little too often, we lose concentration. We need to improve and understand that we cannot be devoid of focus, not even for a second.

"Whenever you make a mistake, you pay for it."

Cristiano Ronaldo salvaged a 2-2 Serie A draw for Juventus after Antonio Sanabria's double threatened to secure a shock derby win for struggling Torino. 

Federico Chiesa's 13th goal of the season put the champions in front, but Sanabria equalised before the break and struck again just 15 seconds into the second half at Olimpico Grande Torino.

Ronaldo denied Torino when he levelled 11 minutes from time with a goal that was initially ruled out, but a VAR checked showed he was onside.

Rodrigo Bentancur struck the post as fourth-placed Juve slipped up again following their shock loss to Benevento and they will be 12 points adrift of leaders Inter if Antonio Conte's side beat Bologna later on Saturday.

Harry Kane has been linked with a move away from Tottenham this upcoming transfer window.

But the England forward has another three years on his contract and a deal will not come easy for suitors.

Manchester City are the latest club to be linked with Kane, as they assess their options if they cannot land Erling Haaland this close-season.

 

TOP STORY - TOTTENHAM WARD OFF KANE INTEREST

Tottenham have placed a £175million price tag on Harry Kane amid reports of interest in their star captain.

The Sun has reported Tottenham are unwilling to sell Kane, let alone to a Premier League rival such as City.

Kane is understood be content to stay at Tottenham and the price tag will likely deter any continental interest.

 

ROUND-UP

- Real Madrid are willing to sell one Norwegian Martin Odegaard, who is on loan at Arsenal, to generate the funds required to land his compatriot Haaland, according to The Times. The Gunners are understood to be keen to sign Odegaard permanently.

- Barcelona are lining up Inter's Lautaro Martinez as a possible signing if they fail to win the race for Haaland, reports Spanish publication Sport.

- Tuttosport claims that Juventus are readying a move to bring Moise Kean back to Turin from Everton after starring on loan at Paris Saint-Germain.

- Spanish outlet ABC is reporting that both Manchester United and Chelsea are keen on Real Madrid winger Lucas Vazquez.

The armband tossed away by an angry Cristiano Ronaldo in Portugal's match against Serbia last Saturday has sold for more than £50,000 in a charity auction.

Jovan Simic, founder of the humanitarian organisation Zajedno za Zivot (Together for Life), said the discarded armband had been bought by a betting firm for the "great figure of 7.5million dinars".

That amounts to around £54,300 and the funds will go towards paying for treatment for a Serbian six-month-old boy, Gavrilo Djurdjevic. According to Serbian news reports, the young child has spinal muscular atrophy and the treatment he requires will cost over €2million, with a major fundraising campaign under way.

Firefighter Djordje Vukicevic, at pitchside for the game, was able to pick up the armband and donate it for auction.

Portugal superstar Ronaldo flung it away and stormed off the pitch in Belgrade in the closing moments of the March 27 match, having felt he was wronged by a decision to disallow his last-gasp effort.

Ronaldo was certain the ball had crossed the line, but officials disagreed as Serbia rallied from two goals down to secure a 2-2 draw in the World Cup qualifier. The 36-year-old forward was booked for his protestations.

Simic added: "Congratulations to firefighter Djordje and his colleagues, as well as to all the wonderful people who helped!"

The auction was blighted by fake bids, Serbian news reports said, before the Mozzart Bet company made its winning offer.

Juventus trio Arthur, Paulo Dybala and Weston McKennie have been left out by head coach Andrea Pirlo as punishment for their breach of coronavirus protocols.

Italian newspaper La Stampa reported that police were called to McKennie's home late on Wednesday to break up a social gathering, with such events forbidden under current social restrictions.

Arthur and Dybala were among those to attend, despite a nationwide curfew put in place amid the global health pandemic.

Ahead of Saturday's derby with Torino, Pirlo confirmed the three players would not be involved – and did not make it clear exactly when they will be considered again for first-team action.

"The three players involved in the episode are not called up for tomorrow's match and we will see when they will resume," the Juve boss told the media on Friday. "Having said that, let's talk about the derby.

"I took the decision not to call them, the club did the rest. This certainly wasn't the right time to have a dinner until late, both because it was two days away from a match and out of respect for those who respect the rules."

For Dybala, it is the latest setback in a difficult season. The forward has featured in just 11 Serie A games in 2020-21 and has been sidelined since the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie with Porto through injury.

The Argentina international issued an apology via Instagram on Friday having attended the gathering with his colleagues, adding: "I know that in such a difficult moment for the world with COVID it would've been better not to make a mistake, but I was wrong to stay out to dinner."

Pirlo is also without defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Merih Demiral after both tested positive for coronavirus during the international break.

It is hardly ideal for the reigning league champions as they desperately look to stay in the title race; Juve suffered a shock 1-0 home loss to Benevento last time out and trail leaders Inter by 10 points.

"Tomorrow is very important, we will speak to each other before the match in order to face it in the best possible way. The approach doesn't change, you play to win, always," Pirlo said.

"After defeats you have to get up and react as best you can. We are ready to do that, we will show great pride, we have champions and a great group who want to react."

Pirlo will have Alex Sandro available after he returned to training without any issues, while Danilo offers an option for Juve in either defence or midfield.

Torino have won only one of their past 29 Serie A derbies between the sides, though they too are in need of points as they sit precariously placed in 17th, just above the relegation zone.

Juve are unbeaten in their past 33 league fixtures against teams starting the matchday in the bottom four (W29 D4), their last defeat against such opposition coming back in May 2016 against Verona.

Gianluigi Buffon is "the best goalkeeper in the football history" but should have retired after leaving Paris Saint-Germain, according to Gianluca Pagliuca.

Italy great Buffon has appeared only five times in Serie A so far for Juventus this season.

Indeed, the 43-year-old has featured in just 25 matches in all competitions since returning to Turin in 2019, keeping 11 clean sheets and conceding a meagre 17 goals.

Buffon's save percentage of 80.5 per cent ranks second among goalkeepers in Europe's 'top five' leagues to start 25 games in the past two seasons, but he is very much playing second fiddle to Wojciech Szczesny (72.8 per cent), who has had 67 Juve outings over that time.

The legendary Buffon played on 25 occasions in a single season with PSG and ex-Italy goalkeeper Pagliuca feels he should have called time on his career following his spell in the French capital.

"If I was him, I have already retired," Pagliuca told Stats Perform News. "I would have retired after PSG.

"It was a good idea to go to Paris because it's a big club and he was playing regularly.

"Buffon on the bench? Happy to play only in Coppa Italia? It's not great.

"Someone with his career, it's better to retire when you are 41 and you are still playing than having a couple of years on the bench. He is still a really good goalkeeper.

"The best thing was to retire after PSG, considering his career. Maybe he still wants to compete.

"However, we have to think he's been the best goalkeeper in the football history."

Montpellier centre-back Hilton, also aged 43, is the only player older than Buffon to appear for a club in Europe's 'top five' leagues this season.

Sergio Aguero's next destination is a hot topic of conversation after Manchester City confirmed he will leave at the end of the season.

The Argentina forward has been linked with a host of clubs, including Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

The 32-year-old has spent the past decade in England with City.

 

TOP STORY - BLUES IN BOX SEAT FOR AGUERO

Chelsea have moved into pole position to land Aguero, who wants to remain in England according to the Daily Mail.

The Blues, who wanted to sign Aguero in 2011 when he left Atletico Madrid for City, will be in the market for a forward with rumours about Timo Werner's future after an underwhelming debut season at Stamford Bridge.

Portuguese publication Record claims Benfica are also interested in Aguero, while The Sun has added Arsenal and his former club Independiente to the list.

 

ROUND-UP

- Lyon's Netherlands international Memphis Depay has been heavily linked with a move to Barcelona, but Marca claims Liverpool could 'muscle in' for the soon-to-be free agent.

- Le Parisien reports that Paris Saint-Germain are in a hurry to get Kylian Mbappe to commit to a new contract amid speculation linking him with a move away, including to Real Madrid.

- L’Equipe claims that Arkadiusz Milik has a €12million buyout clause in his Marseille loan contract from Napoli and Juventus are preparing an offer to swoop for him.

Sheffield United midfielder Ismaila Coulibaly has attracted interest from AC Milan and Galatasaray but the Blades want to keep him, according to Yorkshire Live.

Juventus forward Paulo Dybala has apologised for breaking coronavirus protocols by attending a get-together with a couple of his team-mates.

Italian newspaper La Stampa reported on Thursday that police were called to the house of Weston McKennie late on Wednesday to break up a party attended by up to 20 people.

Arthur is also alleged to have been in the Turin property and all three players are said to be facing large fines, and possibly a suspension, for attending the lockdown gathering.

Juventus have yet to officially comment on the reports, but Dybala took to Instagram on Thursday to confirm he was present.

"I know that in such a difficult moment for the world with COVID it would've been better not to make a mistake, but I was wrong to stay out to dinner," he said.

"It wasn't a party, but I was wrong anyway and I apologise."

Juventus announced earlier on Thursday that Leonardo Bonucci and Merih Demiral have tested positive for COVID-19.

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