Juventus will take on SPAL in the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia on Wednesday without Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portuguese forward came off the bench in the previous round, helping Juve edge past Genoa after extra time, but has not been included in a 23-man squad named by Andrea Pirlo. Paulo Dybala and Rodrigo Bentancur have also been left out.

Ronaldo, who has managed 20 goals in all competitions this season, has been given a break ahead of Saturday's Serie A trip to Sampdoria.

With their leading scorer absent, Alvaro Morata looks set to lead the line. Alex Sandro could also feature for the hosts, the Brazilian defender available again after recovering from coronavirus.

The Bianconeri host their second-tier opponents looking to extend their unbeaten streak at home in the cup competition; they have not lost in their 12 previous ties at their own ground.

A victory for the hosts in Turin will set up a semi-final clash with Inter, who knocked out rivals Milan in a feisty derby at San Siro on Tuesday thanks to a stoppage-time winner from Christian Eriksen.

Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli does not expect fans to be allowed back into stadiums this season and fears the losses incurred by European clubs due to the COVID-19 crisis could rise to €8.5billion.

The Deloitte Football Money League this week reported that the 20 richest clubs in Europe are predicted to lose in excess of €2billion by the end of the 2020-21 campaign as a result of the pandemic.

A lack of matchday revenue with games played behind closed doors and less broadcast income have hit clubs across the continent hard.

Agnelli, also chairman of the European Club Association, does not envisage supporters returning to watch their teams live this season and believes the financial picture is bleaker than Deloitte painted.

"My firm opinion that we will have a real understanding of what this crisis has meant for clubs only at the end of the season," Agnelli said at the News Tank Football seminar on Wednesday.

"I have seen the Deloitte study that came out yesterday. I was looking at data for the top 20 clubs whereby we had a €1.1billion hit in the 2019-20 season and the estimate for those 20 clubs alone is a €2billion hit for the combined two years.

"I think it's going to be much worse than that. The 2019-20 season only has three or four months of crisis, of empty stadiums, no fans, commercial rebates, broadcasting rebates, while as it seems right now from my point of observation 2020-21 will be a full season without fans in stadiums.

"We are in the middle of [broadcast] tenders. Some have been out, the Germans have been out, they've had a loss of value 10 per cent. We are seeing international broadcasters not paying their dues.

"And so I think this season will be much worse. It's going to be much worse than what we've seen there.

"When I look at the best information I've had so far, we're looking at a bottom-line loss for the industry in the region of €6.5 billion to €8.5 billion for the combined two years, and about 360 clubs in need of cash injections, whether it's debt or equity within those two years, for an amount of €6billion."

Gianluigi Buffon is set to be sanctioned by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) after he was found to have used a "blasphemous expression" during Juventus' 4-0 win at Parma in December.

The FIGC's disciplinary committee will now consider Buffon's case, with the veteran goalkeeper expected to receive a one-match ban.

A statement from the federation said Buffon was caught on camera committing the offence when shouting instructions to team-mate Manolo Portanova during the 80th minute of the match.

Buffon, 42, has made six appearances in all competitions for Juve this season and has served as backup to Wojciech Szczesny since returning to Turin from Paris Saint-Germain in 2019.

Andrea Pirlo warned his Juventus side they risk going the way of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich if they take SPAL lightly in Wednesday's Coppa Italia quarter-final tie.

SPAL knocked out Sassuolo in the last round and make the trip to the Allianz Stadium sitting fifth in Serie B as they seek a swift return to the top tier of Italian football.

Record 13-time Coppa winners Juve enter the game as strong favourites to progress to the semi-finals, where the winner of Tuesday's game between Inter and Milan would await.

However, in a month that has seen Madrid exit the Copa del Rey with defeat to third-tier Alcoyano and Bayern lose to second-tier Holstein Kiel in the DFB-Pokal, Pirlo is taking nothing for granted.

"There are a lot of possible risks because we are facing a Serie B team on paper. But if you look at the foreign cups, Bayern lost to a team from a lower division, as did Madrid," Pirlo told Juventus TV.

"We have to assume that it will be a difficult game. We need maximum concentration because we want to go through. They are a good team that are doing well in the league and cup.

"We of course have to be careful because the main objective is to pass through to the next round.

"They are a very good team that like to play football, play with three defenders and sometimes three forwards or half-strikers. It is a difficult team to face so we will have to be at our best to avoid losing."

Juve's Scudetto hopes took a major dent with defeat to Inter on January 17, but they have since responded with 2-0 wins over Napoli in the Supercoppa Italiana and Bologna in the league.

Pirlo now has near enough a fully-fit squad to choose from and believes that will be reflected on the results front.

"It means we can improve because we have great players back," he said. "I hope to finally have the whole squad available and we can then work on all the concepts, which we have not been able to do this season."

Rodrigo Bentancur will miss the cup tie but Matthijs de Ligt and Merih Demiral will return to the starting line-up after recovering from coronavirus and injury respectively.

"Bentancur will rest for sure because on Sunday he played the whole game with a hole in his foot," Pirlo said. "We had to put three stitches in - he made a big sacrifice and now he will need a few days of rest to absorb the bruise.

"Some players who played on Sunday will rest. De Ligt and Demiral will return and start from the beginning. Then for the rest we will have a competitive team.

Pirlo also confirmed Gianluigi Buffon will start against SPAL, with regular goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny being given a breather.

Szczesny has conceded 16 goals in 14 league matches this term for a save percentage of 68.63, which is below the 74.42 he managed last season and 75.61 in 2018-19.

He made three saves against both Napoli and Bologna to keep successive clean sheets, but Pirlo is after even more from the Poland international.

"He is giving us great confidence with his performances," the rookie head coach said. "We are more than satisfied with the displays he is putting in on the pitch.

"We know he can still improve because he's a world-class goalkeeper who plays for a great team. We are hoping that he can still do better."

For so long, Real Madrid have been linked with Kylian Mbappe but will the LaLiga champions bring the French forward to the Santiago Bernabeu?

Mbappe is reportedly open to the idea of making the move to the Spanish capital.

However, Liverpool could be ready to hijack any transfer.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE TO MADRID?

Kylian Mbappe dominates the front pages of Tuesday's Diario AS and Mundo Deportivo as Real Madrid try to sign the Paris Saint-Germain star.

Mbappe – out of contract in 2022 – has been tipped to swap Ligue 1 holders PSG for LaLiga champions Madrid at the end of the season.

While the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic impacts Madrid, the Spanish giants are still working on a deal to prise the Frenchman to the Santiago Bernabeu, with Vinicius Junior a possible makeweight.

Mundo Deportivo says Premier League champions Liverpool are ready to pounce should Madrid fail to sign Mbappe.

 

ROUND-UP

- Onda Cero reports PSG have offered Madrid captain Sergio Ramos a three-year deal worth €15million a season. Ramos is set to become a free agent at the end of the season and the superstar has been linked with the likes of Manchester United and Juventus.

- Both Madrid and Barcelona are considering a shock move for Roma striker Edin Dzeko, according to Mundo Deportivo. Dzeko has had a falling out with under-fire head coach Paulo Fonseca, prompting links to Juve and Inter.

Thomas Tuchel is set to be named Frank Lampard's Chelsea replacement, with Fabrizio Romano claiming an announcement is "just a matter of time". Tuchel was sacked by PSG in December.

- The Athletic says Juve have identified Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres as a long-term replacement for veteran Giorgio Chiellini. Torres has also been linked with United, Manchester City, Barca, Madrid and Chelsea.

Tottenham have approached PSG's Angel Di Maria, who is out of contract at the end of the season, according to L'Equipe. Di Maria has history in England, having spent a difficult season playing for United in 2014-15.

- Sport 1 says Borussia Dortmund are interested in Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli. The likes of Juve and City have also emerged as suitors.

Inter beat Juventus. Juventus beat Milan. Milan beat Inter. For once it has been tough to predict the title race in Serie A.

Winning the Scudetto was not enough for Maurizio Sarri to keep his job at Juve last season, meaning Andrea Pirlo is under significant pressure as the Bianconeri chase a 10th straight league crown.

However, they have struggled to convince under the former midfield metronome and sit seven points adrift of leaders Milan in fourth, although they hold a game in hand.

There has seemingly never been a better chance for Inter, who are two points off top in second, and Milan to end Scudetto droughts that date back to 2009-10 and 2010-11 respectively.

Fans and pundits will continue to have their say on who will sit top come the end of the season, and the Stats Perform AI team have also crunched the numbers to predict the champions for the 2020-21 campaign.

With the majority of the 20 teams having reached the halfway stage of the league campaign, they have simulated how the rest of the season may play out.

 

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Without further ado, let's have a good look at the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table.

 

INTER END JUVE'S REIGN

Although they sit second at the halfway stage, our model predicts Inter will end Juve's dominance of Serie A.

Inter have a 35.7 per cent chance of topping the table for the first time since their treble-winning campaign of 2009-10 and it is projected they will do so by a two-point advantage.

Not only do Milan surrender top spot to the Nerazzurri, they slip behind Juve into third with the top three separated by just three points. It would still represent their best finish since 2012-13.

Juve's chance of retaining the title is deemed to be 23.1 per cent, marginally better than Milan's 21.6 per cent.

ATALANTA RETURN TO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Gian Piero Gasperini steered Atalanta to Champions League qualification for the first time in their history in 2018-19 and made it back-to-back top-three finishes last season.

They are predicted to return to Europe's premier club competition by finishing fourth, edging out Napoli – they even have a 6.8 per cent chance of pulling off an unlikely title win.

Gennaro Gattuso's side have a 17 per cent probability of snatching the final Champions League qualification berth, with Atalanta's prospects narrowly superior at 17.4 per cent.

Roma are predicted to fall from their current position of third down to sixth but that is still good enough for them to deny arch-rivals Lazio qualification to the inaugural Europa Conference League.

The top six may need to beware of Sassuolo, Hellas Verona and Sampdoria, however. Sassuolo have a 0.3 per cent likelihood of finishing inside the top four, while Verona (0.6 per cent) and Sampdoria (0.3 per cent) also have an outside chance of stealing European qualification, though our predictor suggests Lazio will finish 12 points clear of Sassuolo in seventh.

 

GENOA AND TORINO ESCAPE DROP

At the turn of the year Torino were rock bottom with one win from their opening 14 games and Genoa were in the relegation zone with them.

However, Torino and Genoa have both moved out of the bottom three by claiming six points and eight points respectively over their past five games.

The two sides are predicted to maintain strong enough form to stay out of the drop zone, with Crotone (20th), Parma (19th) and Cagliari (18th) projected to suffer relegation to Serie B.

It is by no means a guarantee, though. Genoa are only 0.2 per cent more likely to come 17th than they are to suffer relegation by finishing 18th, while Torino's differential between 15th – where they are predicted to place – and third-bottom is 2.7 per cent.

Frank Lampard's appointment as Chelsea head coach was widely heralded by the club's fanbase, who were desperate for a returning hero to succeed in the dugout.

Just 18 months later and Lampard – the club's record all-time leading goalscorer who won 11 major honours at Stamford Bridge – has been sacked.

The Blues have proven in the past there is little time for sentimentality or to dwell on past successes and not even a player with the stature Lampard holds at the club has been granted extra time.

Lampard's first season in charge brought a top-four finish and an FA Cup final but a run of just two wins in eight league matches saw Chelsea wield the axe with the team ninth and 11 points off top.

A huge close-season recruitment drive that saw the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Ben Chilwell arrive perhaps gave the Blues hierarchy itchy feet and brought about the end for Lampard.

With that in mind, we have looked at some hits and misses when players have returned to a club as boss.

HITS

Pep Guardiola

After leaving Barcelona as a player in 2001, Guardiola returned as the Barca B boss in 2007 before being promoted to head coach of the first team a year later. Over four years in charge at Camp Nou he led the Blaugrana to 14 trophies, including three LaLiga titles and two Champions League crowns. Success has continued to come Guardiola's way with Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

Zinedine Zidane

World Cup winner Zidane was part of Real Madrid's 'Galacticos' in the early 2000s and he finished his playing career at the Santiago Bernabeu. Like Guardiola, he returned to oversee the second team before stepping up to the top job after the departure of Rafael Benitez in January 2016. Zidane went on to win an unprecedented three successive Champions League titles with Madrid before stepping down in May 2018, only to return 10 months later. He has already won LaLiga and the Supercopa de Espana in his second stint, though a slump this term has left his long-term future shrouded in doubt.

Antonio Conte

In 13 seasons as a player for Juventus, Conte won almost everything there is to win – five league titles, the Coppa Italia, the Champions League and the UEFA Cup. He moved into management two years after retiring and worked his way back to Juve after spells with Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta and Siena. Juve won three straight Scudetti under Conte – the start of their ongoing dominance – before he accepted the Italy job in 2014. Conte is now battling to end the Bianconeri's domestic dominance as head coach of Inter.

Roberto Di Matteo

Di Matteo accepted the top job at Chelsea in 2012, having previously been assistant to Andre Villas-Boas. Di Matteo – who won the FA Cup twice with the Blues as a player – went on to lift two trophies as Chelsea boss, including their first Champions League title with a penalty shoot-out win over Bayern, but he was discarded early in the following season.

MISSES

Alan Shearer

Record Premier League goalscorer, Newcastle United legend and lethal England striker – Shearer's playing career was full of success. When he retired in 2006, Shearer moved into television as a pundit, but when the Magpies came calling in 2009 he stepped in to try to save them from relegation. Sadly for Shearer he was unsuccessful, his eight-game reign ending in Newcastle slipping out of the top flight after a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa on the final day.

Filippo Inzaghi

Employing former players as head coaches had previously worked well for Milan – Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti proving particularly successful. When the Rossoneri turned to Inzaghi in 2014 after Clarence Seedorf's brief tenure, the move was therefore no surprise. However, the former striker – who won eight major trophies at the club in his playing days – flopped, winning just 14 of his 40 matches in charge as Milan finished 10th, their worst league position in 17 years.

Thierry Henry

Henry made his name at Monaco after breaking into the first team in 1994, the forward going on to become a world champion and a Premier League icon with Arsenal. After a period as youth coach with the Gunners, Henry was named as Belgium boss Roberto Martinez's assistant. Permanent roles with Bordeaux and Aston Villa were mooted, but in October 2018 Henry chose Monaco. He lasted just three months, losing 11 of his 20 matches in charge across all competitions before being replaced by Leonardo Jardim, the man he had succeeded.

Juan Jose Lopez

One of the most decorated players in River Plate history, having won seven league titles in an 11-year spell, Lopez was a popular appointment after making a strong impact in his second period as caretaker manager in 2010. However, he subsequently presided over a poor 2011 Clausura campaign, forcing River into a relegation play-off against Belgrano, who won 3-1 on aggregate. It was the first time River dropped out of the top tier, sparking riots which left many people injured.

JURY'S OUT

Mikel Arteta

Arteta served Arsenal with distinction as a player between 2011 and 2016, captaining the club and winning the FA Cup twice. Success in football's oldest cup competition followed last term, with Arteta having replaced Unai Emery in December 2019. After finishing eighth, Arsenal defeated Liverpool on penalties to win the Community Shield but eight defeats from 19 league games in this campaign have left Arsenal 11th and 13 points off top spot.

Andrea Pirlo

Lampard's opportunity at Chelsea arrived when Maurizio Sarri departed for Juventus, but his stint in charge at the Bianconeri lasted just one season despite winning the Serie A title. Pirlo won four Scudetti, the Supercoppa Italiana twice and the Coppa Italia during a four-year stint as a player in Turin and was appointed head coach just a week after being installed as Under-23 boss. So far it has been a mixed bag in Juve's hunt for a 10th straight title, with six draws and two defeats in 18 matches leaving them seven points back of league leaders Milan – albeit they do have a game in hand. Pirlo also collected a first trophy courtesy of victory over Napoli in the Supercoppa Italiana last week.

If Paris Saint-Germain have their way, Lionel Messi will be playing for the French giants in 2021-22.

But will he be playing alongside Kylian Mbappe in Paris?

Real Madrid target Mbappe could stay.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI IN, MBAPPE OUT?

Paris Saint-Germain want to sign Lionel Messi but Kylian Mbappe could remain with the Ligue 1 champions, according to reports.

Barcelona captain Messi is out of contract at season's end and has been heavily linked with PSG and Manchester City.

Le Parisien says there is no doubt who will replace Mbappe at PSG if he departs for LaLiga champions Real Madrid, though Canal + journalist Pierre Menes claims the French forward is interested in staying at Parc des Princes.

 

ROUND-UP

Madrid are considering a €45million (£39.9m) bid to re-sign Sergio Reguilon from Tottenham, according to Sport. Reguilon left the LaLiga champions at the start of the season, but Madrid have an option to buy him back within two years.

- Calciomercato says Juventus are eyeing Bayern Munich duo Corentin Tolisso and Joshua Zirkzee. Bayern are reportedly unwilling to let Zirkzee leave permanently.

- Sport 1 claims Borussia Dortmund are set to battle German rivals Bayern for Borussia Monchengladbach star Florian Neuhaus. The 23-year-old reportedly has a €40m release clause.

- RB Leipzig attacker Hwang Hee-chan could be loaned out amid links to West Ham, reports Kicker.

Inter and Lautaro Martinez remain in negotiations over a new contract, reports Calciomercato. Once tipped to join Barca, Martinez's Camp Nou dream appears to be fading due to the economic situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Inter are not prepared to meet Martinez's wage demands at the moment.

Andrea Pirlo revealed he hopes to sign a striker before the transfer window closes if the right opportunity arises after Juventus beat Bologna 2-0 in Serie A on Sunday.

Roma frontman Edin Dzeko and Sassuolo's Gianluca Scamacca – who is on loan at Genoa – have been linked with a move to Juve ahead of the February 1 deadline.

Dzeko was left out of Roma's squad for their 4-3 win over Spezia on Saturday, leading to further speculation he could be on his way out of the club.

Scamacca, Olivier Giroud, Fernando Llorente and Graziano Pelle have also been mentioned as potential signings for the Bianconeri.

Pirlo said he would like to add more firepower to his squad after goals from Arthur and Weston McKennie moved the champions into fourth place in Serie A, seven points behind leaders Milan with a game in hand.

"We are watching what happens, there is not much around," Juve head coach Pirlo told Sky Sport Italia when asked about the possibility of going into the market.

"We do not have the obligation [to do any business], it will be a last-minute thing and if there is an opportunity to take it we will be happy."

Arthur scored his first Juve goal in fortuitous fashion with a long-range strike that took a big deflection in the first half and McKennie sealed all three points with a header 19 minutes from time.

Juve had 23 shots, 11 of which were on target, and Cristiano Ronaldo endured a rare off day, failing to find the back of the net with any of his five attempts.

Pirlo warned the Turin giants must be more clinical as they go in search of more trophies after their Supercoppa Italiana triumph in midweek.

"The important thing was to win after the satisfaction of the victory in the Supercoppa," he said.

"We started well but missed a few too many opportunities to end the game."

He added: "We played a good match against a team that attacks well, we were good at finding the spaces they left us."

Arthur scored his first goal for Juventus as the defending champions beat Bologna 2-0 to go fourth in Serie A.

Juve claimed their first trophy under boss Andrea Pirlo with a Supercoppa Italiana victory over Napoli in midweek and got their title bid back on track at Allianz Stadium on Sunday.

Arthur's deflected first-half strike and a Weston McKennie header moved the Turin giants seven points adrift of leaders Milan with a game in hand.

Juve, beaten by Inter last weekend, were not at their best but although Bologna had their chances, they are now without a win over the Bianconeri in 19 attempts.

Pirlo's side took the lead in fortuitous fashion after 15 minutes, when Arthur's long-range drive struck Jerdy Schouten and gave wrongfooted goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski no chance.

Skorupski produced a fine double save to prevent Juve from increasing their advantage, using his feet to deny Federico Bernardeschi from close range after palming away a strike from Cristiano Ronaldo.

Juan Cuadrado fired wastefully off target before Roberto Soriano went close to equalising late in the first half with a shot from inside the penalty area that flashed wide.

A fine reflex save from Wojciech Szczesny prevented Cuadrado's header from gifting Bologna an own goal early in the second half and the Juve keeper once again had to be alert keep out Riccardo Orsolini's left-footed strike.

Bologna were made to pay for their profligacy when an unmarked McKennie nodded in Cuadrado's corner 19 minutes from time.

Skorupski denied McKennie a quickfire double with a great reaction save before preventing Alvaro Morata from adding a third goal at his near post.

The busy Skorupski beat away Adrien Rabiot's left-footed shot and saved a powerful Ronaldo strike as Juve saw out a comfortable win.

Liverpool are reportedly prioritising a new deal for Virgil van Dijk over Mohamed Salah, while they could be beaten to Dayot Upamecano by Manchester United.

Salah's future has been a talking point in recent weeks, although the forward is contracted until 2023.

Van Dijk also has an agreement at Anfield until 2023, but the injured defender is apparently Liverpool's focus.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL PRIORITISE VAN DIJK DEAL OVER SALAH

Liverpool are prioritising a new contract for Van Dijk over Salah, according to Eurosport.

Van Dijk, 29, is recovering from a serious knee injury and his absence has been felt by the Premier League champions.

Salah, meanwhile, has scored 13 goals in 18 league games this season, but in an interview with AS last month the 28-year-old refused to rule out a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona.

The report also says Liverpool may look at West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, with Georginio Wijnaldum set to leave as a free agent at the end of the campaign.

ROUND-UP

- With Van Dijk and Joe Gomez injured, Liverpool have been linked with a move for RB Leipzig defender Upamecano. But The Sun reports Manchester United are poised to sign the centre-back for £38million (€42.7m).

- Amid uncertainty over his future at Barcelona, Ousmane Dembele is being looked at by numerous European giants. Sport reports Chelsea, Manchester United, Juventus and Bayern Munich are monitoring the forward's situation. Dembele is out of contract in 2022 and the Catalan giants could sell him if he does not extend his deal.

- Frank Lampard is under enormous pressure at Chelsea as the Premier League side struggle for form. The Mirror reports Chelsea could turn to Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers if they move on from Lampard.

- Yet to re-sign with Southampton with his contract expiring next year, Danny Ings is linked with a move. 90min reports Leicester City and Everton have joined the race for the forward, who has also been linked to Tottenham.

Matthijs de Ligt has been cleared to join up with his Juventus team-mates after recovering from COVID-19.

The centre-back tested positive on January 8 and went into isolation, meaning he missed the Serie A games against Sassuolo and Inter, as well as the Supercoppa Italiana clash with Napoli.

However, having returned two clear swab tests, De Ligt will be included in Andrea Pirlo's squad for Sunday's home fixture with Bologna.

"Matthijs de Ligt carried out, as per protocol, two controls of molecular test (swab) for Covid-19 with negative results," a statement from the club read. 

"Therefore, the player has recovered and is no longer subjected to the isolation regime.

"He will join the team at the J Hotel for the retreat this evening and will be included in the squad list for tomorrow's match."

De Ligt has started 12 games in all competitions so far in the 2020-21 season; Juve have only lost once when the defender has played in Serie A, a 3-0 home reverse to Fiorentina.

The Netherlands international missed the start of the campaign after undergoing shoulder surgery in August, returning to action in late November.

Juventus are chasing a 10th straight league title in Italy, though have found the going tough in Pirlo's first season in charge and go into the game with Bologna outside the top four in the table.

Andrea Pirlo is hopeful Juventus can use this week's Supercoppa Italiana success to get their Serie A title defence back on track.

Juve saw off Napoli 2-0 in Reggio Emilia on Wednesday through goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata as Pirlo claimed his first piece of silverware as a coach. 

The nine-in-a-row Scudetto champions have struggled in the league this term, however, and sit 10 points adrift of pace-setters Milan with a game in hand on the leaders.

After losing 2-0 away to Inter last time out in the top flight, Pirlo accepts that Juve must start showing more consistency if they are to retain their title.

"All matches are different but we need to continue entering the field with the attitude we had the other evening," he said at a news conference ahead of Sunday's home meeting with Bologna.  

"If we have this desire and concentration, positive results will come. Winning a trophy doesn't change my enthusiasm for the job. I have felt the same since day one.

"Winning a trophy does not change anything – I want to win others. I know we have to improve and continue growing as a team.

"We have had many ups and downs already, like many other teams. It's down to the number of games and not having the right preparation ahead of the season.

"It's hard to stay focused for the full 90 minutes every three days. It's something we are working on and know we have to improve on. It's our Achilles heel."

Juve's return of 33 points is their joint-lowest at this stage of a Serie A campaign in the last 10 seasons, equal to their tally after 17 games in 2015-16.

The Bianconeri have gone league games without a clean sheet, conceding eight goals during that run - including a 3-0 home reverse at the hands of Fiorentina.

Among Juventus coaches with at least 17 league games under their belt, only Alberto Zaccheroni (two) managed fewer shutouts than Pirlo after as many matches.

And Pirlo acknowledged the importance of tightening up at the back if his side are to climb up the standings.

"You always have to work on aspects," he said. "There are so many teams that want to play football and develop their game.

"Maybe teams tend to attack more and defend less, leading to more open games. But if you have the best defence, you often win championships."

Pirlo attempted to freshen up his attack against Napoli by using Federico Chiesa and Dejan Kulusevski either side of Ronaldo, with Weston McKennie providing further support.

The rookie coach is pleased with the tactical versatility of his players and reserved special praise for McKennie, who created more chances in the Supercoppa clash (three) than any other player on the field.

"McKennie is an important player for us," Pirlo said. "He has strength and dynamism, can play between the lines and gives us a lot in attack.

"Each of these players can exchange positions with Cristiano, as we saw the other night. Chiesa is another who can player on the left if he has to.

"As for Kulusevski, he can cover a number of positions. Perhaps in this period of his career, a second striker allows him to be freer so that is perhaps the best solution for him."

Could Barcelona be about to make a splash in the free-agent market?

Strapped for cash amid the coronavirus pandemic, Barca are believed to have set their sights on two stars.

David Alaba and Sergio Aguero are on the agenda at Camp Nou…

 

TOP STORY – BARCA EYEING OUT-OF-CONTRACT DUO

Barcelona are set to target Bayern Munich star David Alaba and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero , according to Mundo Deportivo.

Alaba and Aguero are both out of contract at the end of the season, prompting interest from embattled LaLiga giants Barca.

Bayern's Alaba has been tipped to join Real Madrid , while the likes of Manchester United , Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain have also been linked.

Aguero, meanwhile, is no certainty to renew in Manchester, where Pep Guardiola is reportedly eyeing Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and Inter's Romelu Lukaku .

 

ROUND-UP

-   Sport reports Raphael Varane wants to leave LaLiga champions Madrid . The French defender has previously been linked to United .

- Madrid cannot afford to sign the likes of PSG star Kylian Mbappe and Haaland due to their current financial situation amid the coronavirus pandemic, claims Marca.

- The Guardian says West Ham have lowered their asking price for Declan Rice , who has been linked to Chelsea and United .

- Martin Odegaard is close to swapping Madrid for Arsenal on loan, reports journalist Fabrizio Romano.

- Romano also says United have not opened talks with Lens to sign Argentine centre-back Facundo Medina . The Red Devils are eyeing a new centre-back amid links with in-demand RB Leipzig star Dayot Upamecano .

Napoli want to sign either Sporting CP full-back Nuno Mendes or Benfica's Nuno Tavares , reports Calciomercato.

- There are serious doubts over Edin Dzeko's future at Roma, with Calciomercato claiming Juventus and Inter are monitoring the situation.

Zinedine Zidane's future at Real Madrid is being questioned, while Paul Pogba could be set to stay at Manchester United.

Madrid were stunned by third-tier side Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, sparking fresh talk about Zidane's position at the helm.

Zidane is under fire, but the Frenchman may get more time.

 

TOP STORY – ZIDANE BEING QUESTIONED AS REAL MADRID BOSS

Zinedine Zidane is being questioned more than ever as Real Madrid head coach, according to AS.

The report says he will remain at the helm until the Champions League, which will resume in February, and former star forward Raul is the top candidate to replace him.

Madrid are second in LaLiga, seven points behind Atletico Madrid, who also have a game in hand.

ROUND-UP

- Pogba may be happier at Manchester United. The Daily Star reports United are increasingly confident the midfielder will see out his contract, which runs until 2022, despite interest from Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.

- Christian Eriksen looks set to leave Inter, but it remains to be seen where he ends up. The Telegraph claims Leicester City have ruled out a loan move for the midfielder due to his wage demands.

- RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano is set to be the subject of speculation for months to come. Goal reports Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have shown interest in the defender, who is also wanted by Bayern Munich.

- Dele Alli wants to reunite with Mauricio Pochettino at PSG. 90min says the Tottenham midfielder has asked chairman Daniel Levy not to block a potential switch this month.

- Arsenal appear set to strengthen in January. Sport reports midfielder Martin Odegaard is very close to joining the Premier League club on loan from Real Madrid.

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