Paulo Dybala is coming to the end of his Juventus career, but Massimiliano Allegri will throw the Argentina forward into Sunday's Derby d'Italia regardless.

It could be Inter that Dybala plays for next season, as they reportedly court the 28-year-old who is entering the final months of his Juventus contract.

But this weekend the Nerazzurri will be the opposition as Dybala looks to help Juventus continue their surge up the table.

Victory at the Allianz Stadium would lift Juventus above faltering Inter and into third place, with the Scudetto perhaps not entirely off the table, despite Allegri's protestations they are not part of the title battle.

Amid intrigue over whether Dybala could miss out, Allegri backed him to make an impact in the biggest match of the weekend's Serie A schedule.

"Dybala will start the game," Allegri told a news conference on Saturday.

Talks over a new contract for Dybala broke down in March, meaning he can leave on a free transfer, and Allegri said Juventus agreed that outcome would be for the best.

"We are in agreement with the club on everything," Allegri said. "There is always a unity of purpose to move forward. The choices are made together.

"When we talk, I present my ideas and the company its own, and then in the end we always find unity of purpose to plan. We plan everything together.

"I don't think it's the first case of a player changing clubs. Right now, we need to be focused for the season finale."

Dybala has scored a modest three goals in his 10 previous Serie A games against Inter.

Allegri smarted at the mention of speculation over a possible move for Dybala to Inter, and for Paul Pogba to Juventus. Like Dybala, Manchester United's Pogba, a former Juve star, will be a free agent come the end of June.

"Dybala at Inter and Pogba at Juve? I don't do my own transfer market, let alone those of others," Allegri said, quoted by Gazzetta Dello Sport.

Inter looked strong favourites for the Serie A title earlier in the year but have taken only 11 points from their last nine Serie A games (W2 D5 L2), while Juventus have taken 21 points in the same stretch to hurtle into a strong fourth spot, closing in on the top three.

A 1-1 draw at San Siro when these teams met in the league in October was followed in January by Inter edging Juve 2-1 in the Supercoppa Italiana.

"It's not easy to say who is favourite in the Derby d'Italia," Allegri said. "We have been following our path steadily, and we are ready to face Inter... maybe it's our turn to win this fixture.

"Inter, together with Milan and Napoli, are one of three candidates for the Scudetto. As for Juventus, we need to keep our focus on fourth place. That's the position we are in right now but Atalanta are breathing down our necks. Our aim is to qualify for the Champions League next season."

Allegri's Juventus have recently pulled clear of Atalanta, who headed into the weekend nine points adrift of the Turin giants, albeit with one game in hand. This has come about due to Juventus having the longest current unbeaten run in Serie A – a stretch of 16 games (W11 D5).

Simone Inzaghi wants Inter to take their "anger" out on Juventus when they do battle in the Derby d’Italia at Allianz Stadium on Sunday.

The Nerazzurri have slipped from the top of the table to third after winning just one of their past seven Serie A games.

Inter are six points behind leaders Milan with a game in hand and in-form Juve will move above the champions if they win the derby in Turin.

Head coach Inzaghi expects his side to show what they are made of in such a huge game after the international break.

He told reporters on Saturday: "We have only been back in full training for two days. Yesterday we trained well, we need anger, but also character.

"We know that in the last seven games we have lost points and results, rather than performances. Tomorrow we have to play a great match, of personality and character, against an opponent of great value and in a difficult stadium."

While Inter have lost their way, Juve are unbeaten in 16 Serie A matches.

Yet Inzaghi sees the game as the perfect opportunity for Inter to make a statement and silence their critics.

"It will be a very important match, there could not have been a better match at the moment to give a strong signal." the former Lazio boss said.

He added: "I think that criticism is part of our profession and must be accepted. I can distinguish the constructive ones that help to grow and mature, from those built with art that I don't take into consideration."

Inter duo Marcelo Brozovic and Stefan de Vrij will be assessed after training on Saturday, having been sidelined by calf injuries.

The Nerazzurri have won only one of their past 15 away meetings with Juve in all competitions, that solitary victory coming back in November 2012.

It wasn't so long ago that voicing the idea of Juventus challenging for the Scudetto this season would have seen you laughed out of the room.

Yet, remarkably, they could potentially end the weekend just four points off the summit, and a victory over defending champions Inter would be a decent barometer of just how emphatic their late push is going to be.

Serie A's standout match this week is undoubtedly the Derby d'Italia between Juve and Inter in Turin, with Italy's top flight essentially establishing a pretty firm top four ahead of the international break.

But Massimiliano Allegri's Juve surely won't be content with just settling for fourth spot, and a win on Sunday will show they mean business.

A bedrock for improvement

Even if Juve do end up winning Serie A, Allegri will still have to contend with plenty of critics given their shock Champions League exit to Villarreal.

However, there's little doubt he has presided over a significant improvement since Andrea Pirlo's exit, even if the Old Lady remains more functional than fun.

 

The most notable aspect of their improved form is Juve's unbeaten streak. They have not lost any of their previous 16 league games, making them only one of two teams across the big five leagues to not suffer a domestic defeat in the past four months, the other being Sevilla in LaLiga.

The omens are good for Inter's visit as well: the Nerazzurri have won just once in 15 trips to Juve and that came way back in November 2012.
 

Timely break

Simone Inzaghi must have been concerned about Inter's form prior to the international break, which seemingly came at a good time for them.

Over their previous nine Serie A matches, Inter have gained just 11 points and won only two matches – sure, victory on Sunday and another in their game in hand will put them within three points of the summit, but that previous run is hardly a hallmark of champions.

By comparison, Juve have hit the accelerator at arguably the perfect time. Over the same period, Allegri's men have taken 21 points.

The Bianconeri have rocketed into contention by finding consistency when, for the most part, the top three have wobbled, and if they continue their run, Juventus will be hard to ignore in the title race.

Juve, beware!

For all of their recent woes, Inter of course remain a dangerous opponent with a particularly threatening tail.

That's to say Inter do have a habit of finishing strong and not knowing when they're beaten.

In Serie A this season, Inter's 19 points won from losing positions is more than any other team, while they have scored 22 times in the final 30 minutes of games – that's a joint-high with Atalanta, Lazio and Hellas Verona.

Juve ought to heed such a warning – don't get complacent with a slender lead in the latter stages.
 

A tight affair?

While Inter are the league's top scorers with 62 goals, there's reason to suggest this won't be an unrelenting goalfest… *cue eight-goal thriller*.

These are two of the league's best three defences, while no team has kept more clean sheets than Juve's 13 this term.

 

On top of that, Juve have proven rather miserly when it comes to allowing goalscoring situations, with their average of 3.1 shots on target concede per 90 minutes being bettered only by Torino.

Inter aren't much worse in that respect, with their average at 3.6 – that's the sixth best in Serie A. Of course, a clinical display in that regard could still lead to plenty of goals, but clearly if there's any area both of these sides have excelled in domestically this term, it's defensively.

 

Dusan Vlahovic joins Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland as "the best players of their generation", according to Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri.

Allegri signed Serbia international Vlahovic from Fiorentina in January in a transfer initially worth €70million, and the striker has managed four goals in his first seven Serie A games for his new club.

The former Viola star also netted 33 times in the league in 2021, matching Cristiano Ronaldo's record for the most scored in the Italian top flight during a calendar year.

Indeed, his 21-goal league haul last season was the highest recorded by a Fiorentina player in a single campaign since Alberto Gilardino in 2008-09 (25), and he has carried that form into the new campaign as well.

Vlahovic has registered 21 goals across appearances for Juve and Fiorentina in Serie A this season, making him the league's joint-top scorer – level with Ciro Immobile – while only Robert Lewandowski (31) and Karim Benzema (22) have scored more in Europe's top-five leagues.

Haaland, who has been limited by injuries at Borussia Dortmund, is ninth in the same list with 16 Bundesliga goals, striking once every 81 minutes on average, while Paris Saint-Germain's Mbappe is 11th with 15 to his name in the French top flight.

Allegri hailed the youthful trio as he expressed his excitement to see Vlahovic develop more.

"He is a young player with not much international experience. But he has quality. He wants and can improve. He has time to do it," Allegri said of Vlahovic in an interview with GQ, as quoted by CalcioMercato.

"He is ruthless in front of the goal and Juventus made an important signing. He, Mbappe and Haaland are the best players of their generation."

While there were expectations that Vlahovic's arrival may knock Alvaro Morata down the pecking order of Juve strikers, Allegri reiterated that the Spain international remains integral to his plans in Turin.

"I called him that night [when Juve signed Vlahovic] to tell him: 'You are going nowhere, with him, you will become even more important,' and that's what happened," Allegri added on Morata.

"It's crazy to question Morata. He can't be at his best if he is asked to do things that he can't. But he's always been available playing in a position which is not exactly the best one for him."

Allegri will be hoping for Morata and Vlahovic to link-up once more when Juve, who are fourth in Serie A and seven points adrift of leaders Milan, host Inter on Sunday.

Massimiliano Allegri has revealed he signed an agreement to become Real Madrid head coach before opting to return to Juventus.

The Italian guided the Bianconeri to two Champions League finals, in 2015 and 2017, while winning 11 trophies during his five-season stay, including five straight Serie A titles and four consecutive Coppa Italias.

However, Allegri was dismissed by Juve president Andrea Agnelli at the end of the 2018-19 campaign, with a quarter-final Champions League exit to Ajax defining the season in which they signed Cristiano Ronaldo as a failure.

Spells with Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo yielded unsuccessful returns for Juve, who brought back Allegri at the start of this season, but the 54-year-old almost became the Madrid boss.

"I had already signed with [Madrid] last summer, but I called the president [Florentino Perez] to tell him that I would not go because I had chosen Juventus," Allegri said in an interview with GC, as quoted by CalcioMercato. "He thanked me. When they called me in May, I had no doubts.

"I have no regrets, it would have been a great professionally: Milan, Juventus, Real Madrid… but you can't have everything in life. I am proud to have coached Milan for four years and to be at Juventus now.

"I rejected Real Madrid twice. The first time I was in talks to extend with Juventus. I told Florentino that I had already given my word to Agnelli."

Allegri did not take up a managerial role between his exit and return to Juve, and believes he made the right decision to come back at the time he did.

"It was the right time. I could have returned earlier, but I didn't do it because of personal reasons," he added.

"My mother died in 2018, so I didn't want to go too far away. I remained close to my son Giorgio and my father, who was severely affected by the death of my mum. He still lives in Livorno.

"I decided to return to Juventus because I have a strong bond with the club and the owners, but also to stay closer to my son, who lives in Turin with his mother. I like to be close to my loved ones."

The Juve head coach will be hoping his side, who are fourth in the league and seven points adrift of leaders Milan, can continue their strong run of form when they host Inter on Sunday.

Barcelona have already secured the signings of two free agents, Joan Laporta says, and Leeds United winger Raphinha could be their next recruit.

Rejuvenated under Xavi, Barca are now setting in motion their plans for the transfer window at the end of the season.

In an interview with RAC1, president Laporta suggested the Blaugrana would struggle to afford Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappe and ruled out a return for Lionel Messi.

But he did have positive news for Barca fans, too, revealing: "We have closed two players who end their contracts this season."

It is widely thought Laporta's comments relate to Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen – unable to renew terms at Stamford Bridge due to government sanctions – and Milan midfielder Franck Kessie.

Meanwhile, Brazil international Raphinha would demand a fee, but Laporta confirmed his interest in a player who is represented by ex-Barca man Deco.

"We have had good reports," Laporta said.

"Deco has his work and informs us of details so that we do not commit errors. In some cases, he has helped us a lot."

Barcelona's rebuild under Xavi has shown positive signs, but a new striker appears to be a priority going forward.

Following Sergio Aguero's retirement in December, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang arrived during the January transfer window and quickly excelled under Xavi, but his position may yet come under threat.

Memphis Depay remains the club's top scorer this season, netting 10 times in all competitions, yet one potential signing guarantees goals.

TOP STORY – LEWANDOWSKI SETTLES ON BARCELONA MOVE

Barcelona have reportedly reached an agreement with Robert Lewandowski.

Sport claims the Poland striker wants to leave Bayern Munich for the Catalan giants, but they will have to convince Bayern to sell him.

The 33-year-old's contract expires at the end of next season and he is yet to agree to an extension in Bavaria.

Lewandowski has scored 45 goals in all competitions this term, and Barca are reportedly willing to pay as much as €60million to bring him to Camp Nou for next season.

ROUND-UP

– Tottenham are leading the race to sign Memphis Depay, per reports in Mundo Deportivo.

– Napoli have set a price tag of €100million for striker Victor Osimhen, according to Corriere dello Sport.

– The Mirror is reporting Ainsley Maitland-Niles is expected not to be retained by Roma, on loan from Arsenal.

 Inter show continued interest in Torino's Gleison Bremer, with talks in progress with a defender also linked to Milan, per Fabrizio Romano.

Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has put his failure to land a Ballon d'Or award down to not fitting the "Mr Perfect" mould of perennial winners Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Despite registering over 500 club goals for the likes of Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, Ibrahimovic has never finished in the top three of the voting for the prestigious individual prize.

The Sweden international's highest finish came in 2013 when claiming fourth place behind Franck Ribery, Messi and Ronaldo, the latter two having taken the award 12 times between them (Messi 7, Ronaldo 5).

Indeed, only Luka Modric in 2018 – after winning the Champions League with Real Madrid and playing a starring role in Croatia's run to the World Cup final – has broken that duopoly over the past 14 years.

But Ibrahimovic, who has not been afraid to air his thoughts across a remarkable 23-year career, does not believe the Ballon d'Or is awarded on footballing ability alone and therefore has no regrets about missing out.

"These are political awards. They want 'Mr Perfect'," he told Bild. "If you speak and say what you think, you can't get them.

"It's easy to give them to Mr Nice Guy. It doesn't change anything for me, it doesn't make me better or worse."

Ibrahimovic is continuing to prove his worth at the age of 40 with Milan and is reportedly in talks over signing a contract beyond the end of this season, when his existing deal is due to expire.

The Malmo academy product has won trophies in five different countries, including Italy, France, Spain and England, but he has never plied his trade in the German top flight.

While a move to Bayern Munich may now be out of the equation, Ibrahimovic revealed he has a soft spot for the reigning Bundesliga champions.

"I've always been curious about the Bundesliga," he said. "There are teams like Bayern Munich, an incredible club.

"Every time I played against them I could always see their facilities, the stadium, their organisation. The history of the club is impressive."

Arsenal continue their rejuvenation under Mikel Arteta, but a striker is becoming a positional need.

After his relationship with Arteta soured, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang left for Barcelona during the January transfer window and has found verve under Xavi.

Although Alexandre Lacazette has been a compatible fit for Arsenal, he and Eddie Nketiah are out of contract at the end of the season, and the Gunners may look to Old Trafford. 

 

TOP STORY – ARSENAL TO MOVE FOR RASHFORD

Arsenal are preparing an approach for Manchester United star Marcus Rashford in an attempt to bolster their stocks up front, according to The Mirror.

The Gunners were linked with a number of forwards during January, including Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Real Sociedad's Alexander Isak, but it appears Rashford's status at Old Trafford has shifted following United's Champions League exit.

The 24-year-old has one year plus an option for a further season on his current deal, but appears to be a peripheral figure under interim boss Ralf Rangnick.

Rashford has made just 10 starts in the Premier League this season and scored only five goals across all competitions. 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City and Real Madrid are in best position to sign Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland, but the 21-year-old has rejected City's first offer, AS reports.

- Barcelona could offer versatile defender Oscar Mingueza as part of a package to land Leeds United winger Raphinha, Sport has reported.

- Juventus have shown their interest in Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger as they aim to replace Giorgio Chiellini, according to The Sun.

- The Daily Mail are reporting that Inter are keen to sign Juve's Paulo Dybala, who will be out of contract at the end of the season and is not having his deal renewed.

Marco Verratti and Jorginho were among a group of six players to leave the Italy camp after their failure to qualify for the World Cup. 

Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne, Domenico Berardi and Gianluca Mancini also returned to their clubs ahead of schedule, with the latter two having sustained knocks. 

Italy coach Roberto Mancini is expected to ring the changes in a friendly against Turkey on Tuesday following the Azzurri's shock defeat to North Macedonia in a World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final on Thursday. 

The Euro 2020 champions' first ever home loss in World Cup qualifying meant they failed to reach successive finals for the first time in their history. 

Instead of taking on Portugal in the play-off final, Italy will depart for Konya on Monday. 

Sinisa Mihajlovic is facing a new leukaemia battle after the Bologna head coach revealed he is heading back to hospital for treatment.

The Serie A stalwart, who played for Roma, Sampdoria, Lazio and Inter, was first diagnosed with the disease ahead of the 2019-20 season and underwent a bone marrow transplant in October 2019. He was back in the dugout six weeks later.

He has remained boss of Bologna since then but will step away from his responsibilities for an indeterminate period after revealing he has encountered a setback.

Mihajlovic announced the news on Saturday, telling reporters in a news conference that a routine test had given cause for concern.

"In recent years the recovery was excellent, but unfortunately, from the latest analysis some alarm bells have emerged and there is a risk of a reappearance of the disease," Mihajlovic said.

"This disease is very courageous in returning to face an opponent like me."

Former Yugoslavia hard man Mihajlovic, who has coached teams including Sampdoria, Milan and Fiorentina, spoke of the challenges of always knowing there might be a bump in the road after his initial recovery.

"You can fall, and you have to find the strength to get up," he said. "At the beginning of next week I will have to be absent, and I will be hospitalised again at Sant'Orsola. I know I am in excellent hands. Unlike two and a half years ago, when I was in tears, this time you see me calmer.

"I know what I have to do, and my situation is very different than it was then."

Mihajlovic is hoping for a swift return to his Bologna duties, but it will not be immediate. "I will certainly have to skip some matches," he said.

Bologna sit 12th in Serie A and have won just one of 10 league games since the turn of the year, losing six times. Mihajlovic is convinced his players can thrive without him and rise to his encouragement which will come from afar.

Their next match is an April 4 clash with leaders Milan.

"I know they will fight for me. They are all good guys and good players," said 53-year-old Mihajlovic. "I ask the wonderful Bologna fans to support and help them, I am sure it will happen both in training and in matches. 

"None of us will give an inch, we'll move up in the table, and I'll be back with the team soon."

Roberto Mancini has "worked miracles" in charge of Italy and should not be hounded out of the role after their stunning failure to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.

That is the view of former Italy international Antonio Cassano, who described the current Azzurri vintage as "mediocre", citing last year's Euro 2020 triumph as proof of Mancini's brilliance.

Italy suffered a shock 1-0 loss to North Macedonia on Thursday to miss out on the World Cup for a second edition in a row, with some pointing the finger of blame of boss Mancini.

However, Cassano, who played 39 times and scored 10 goals for his country, said those critics "should be ashamed".

"Let's face it: our national team is a mediocre team and Mancini took them to the top of Europe last summer, making a miracle, playing in a way never seen before," he told Bobo TV. 

"I am truly sorry for Roberto, whoever asks for his resignation should be ashamed.

"We should all pray that Mancini will remain at the helm of the national team, he is the lifeline of Italy.

"[Ciro] Immobile, [Lorenzo] Insigne... many players seemed to me in difficulty. Italy has a mediocre team and Mancini had worked miracles so far."

The 39-year-old, who last played for his country in 2014, said Italy had been missing a talisman since Christian Vieri left the international stage in 2005.

He said: "Bobo, we haven't had a striker in the national team since you left."

Barcelona have re-established themselves this term after a strong January transfer window.

Barca head coach Xavi, appointed in November, has overseen a major form reversal culminating in last week's 4-0 Clasico win.

The Blaugrana have their sights set on more additions as they continue to re-build after Lionel Messi's exit last year.

TOP STORY - BARCELONA SET SIGHTS ON SALAH

Barcelona boss Xavi is determined to land Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah , claims Mundo Deportivo.

The cash-strapped Catalans have switched their attention from the race for Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland.

Salah is yet to re-sign with Liverpool where he is out of contract in 2023.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta said he will not put the club at financial risk in order to sign Erling Haaland, per Fabrizio Romano for Mundo Deportivo.

 

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool will not pursue West Ham United's Declan Rice amid interest from several clubs in the England international midfielder, claims Football Insider.

- Leeds United has rejected a £29million bid from  Barcelona  for 25-year-old Brazilian winger  Raphinha , whose release clause is set at £60million, according to Sport.

- Arsenal midfielder  Granit Xhaka  remains a transfer target for  Roma head coach Jose Mourinho, per the Gazzetta dello Sport.

- According to the Daily Mail, Wolves and Portugal winger  Pedro Neto  is on  Paris Saint-Germain's  wanted list.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic says he will only consider retirement when there is someone better to take his place.

The 40-year-old experienced something of a European renaissance after returning to Milan from the LA Galaxy in January 2020, scoring 33 goals in 55 Serie A appearances since then.

However, 20 of those goals came in 2020 alone, with Ibrahimovic subsequently dealing with a succession of fitness issues.

The Sweden international says he wants to play as long as he can, though, which means continuing until another player deserves to be picked ahead of him.

"The future is yet to be written. I don't plan. Let's see what happens," Ibrahimovic told UEFA.com.

"I don't want to regret stopping football and then saying that I could continue to play football, because then I'd regret it for the rest of my life, seeing that I could have continued.

"I want to play as long as I can. The reality is I'll play until I see that someone is better than me, so I'm still playing."

Despite being limited to 18 appearances in the league this season, Ibrahimovic is Milan's joint-top scorer alongside Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud with eight goals.

Ibrahimovic also shared the scoring burden in Milan's last successful Scudetto charge, netting 14 times in 2010-11 – a tally matched by Alexandre Pato and Robinho – while supplying 11 assists.

Although he has continued to perform at an elite level in the intervening years, the veteran striker knows his incredible career must eventually come to an end.

"I know one day it will stop, and I won't have that adrenaline anymore," Ibrahimovic said. "This is a problem for every football player because you have adrenaline when you play football.

"That adrenaline, you will never get in doing something else because we are programmed."

Italy's humiliating failure to qualify for the World Cup means "profound change" must follow the sorrow, according to Serie A president Lorenzo Casini.

A stunning 1-0 defeat to North Macedonia in Thursday's play-off semi-final in Palermo has left Italy knowing they will miss consecutive World Cups for the first time in their history.

The Azzurri will be absent at Qatar 2022, just as they played no part in Russia 2018, and there will be a process whereby some are likely to be held to account over such a dire outcome for the four-time winners.

Elation at triumphing at Euro 2020 has been replaced by suspicions that was a flicker of rude health amid serious worries over the health of the Italian game.

Casini said on Friday: "Failure to qualify for the final phase of the World Cup is a failure for the whole of Italian football, which must lead everyone to serious reflection and a profound change in our system.

"Right now I am only experiencing the great disappointment of all the fans. I am very sorry when I think of the girls and boys who are still waiting to see Italy at the World Cup and who must be able to continue growing in the blue dream.

"Serie A clubs and their players have always responded positively to the call of the national team and always will, also because it is about the sporting commitment that unites the country and should always make us overcome every allegiance and every division. The national team belongs to everyone."

Roberto Mancini was backed to stay on as head coach by Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president Gabriele Gravina in the immediate aftermath of Italy's defeat.

Gravina wanted the previous round of Serie A fixtures to be postponed to give Italy more time to prepare for the game, but his request was denied by the league. 

"I'm sorry the boys only met for one day to prepare for the game," Gravina said after Thursday's game. "It doesn't help, but I don't want to cause a controversy."

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