Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Stefano Pioli have proved critics wrong to earn the right to be at Manchester United and Milan, Massimo Taibi says.

United host the Rossoneri on Thursday in the first leg of the Europa League last 16 in what will be their 11th competitive meeting but the first outside the European Cup or Champions League.

Since they last faced one another in the Champions League last 16 11 years ago, when United won 7-2 on aggregate, each club has fallen far from their previous positions at the top of English and Italian football.

Milan's last Scudetto triumph came in 2011, while United have not won the Premier League since Alex Ferguson's final season in charge in 2012-13.

There have been signs of recovery under Solskjaer and Pioli, however. United are second in the league this term, 11 points behind leaders Manchester City after their 2-0 derby win, while Milan are above champions Juventus in Serie A and only six points behind leaders Inter.

Taibi enjoyed only brief spells as a keeper at each club, with high-profile mistakes leading to rather perfunctory exits, but he went on to make more than 550 club appearances in Italy in a respectable career.

The 51-year-old therefore knows only too well the way the Red Devils and Rossoneri can be magnets for criticism, and he thinks Pioli and Solskjaer deserve immense credit for the work they have done in restoring respectability at two of the world's grandest clubs.

Taibi told Stats Perform News: "If these two managers have managed Milan and United for a while now, it is because they deserve it.

"In football, there are no presents, let alone at such big clubs who are always in the eye of the critics' storm. They very well deserve the clubs they are managing now. They started off in sceptical environments but they proved them wrong with results.

"I spent a few months with Solskjaer and I was impressed how easy it was for him to score, even coming from the bench. I remember they called him the 'angel-faced killer' because he looked like a decent kid but in front of goal was ruthless like a killer.

"I remember he was one of the many people in Manchester who tried to help me settle. Because he was a superb player, a champion who managed to carve out his shining space among Andy Cole, Dwight York and Teddy Sheringham and ended up scoring the winning goal in 1999 final versus Bayern Munich.

"A man who started humble and became great as a player and a manager."

Milan will be without a host of key names for the visit to Old Trafford, including former United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but Taibi thinks their true strength lies in their collective endeavour.

He believes Solskjaer has fostered a similar ethos at United, with star names such as Bruno Fernandes lifting a squad of Europa League quality to a higher standing.

"Milan's strength is the collective Pioli managed to create, just like United. In these two squads that are Europa League level, I dare say, there are some individuals who are added value and lift the quality to Champions League level.

"At Milan, you have Ibrahimovic despite being 39 years old, or [Gianluigi] Donnarumma, real world-class players who would play in any club aiming at winning the Champions League.

"The same goes for my ex-colleague, because I played with Solskjaer, who can boast Bruno Fernandes and the great striker [Marcus Rashford] or [David] De Gea, a keeper I like a lot.

"Solskjaer, just like Milan, managed to create a good group with some individual talent that brings that extra bit of quality you sometimes need.

"They are both having great seasons in their respective leagues. United have just won their derby, which is always a nerve-racking game, although I guess City are destined to win the title... just like Inter, I reckon.

"Both Milan and United have started the season to become more solid, to secure Champions League berths, and to me, they are working very well.

Despite some infamous errors against Southampton and Chelsea in his short-lived United career, Taibi still holds the club close to his heart – and even still fits into his old training shirt.

"Of course, watching this match is special for me. I spent two years at Milan and only some months at United but it is not down to length of time, it is about feelings and memories that settled in.

"I still feel a link to Milan and even to United, although I didn't stay long. As you know, you just called me while I was training. And I was training with this 1998 United training kit, the only one big size I have now for my fat belly. All the other shirts don't fit anymore!"

Cristiano Ronaldo should never have been signed by Juventus and the club must try to sell the superstar forward at the end of the campaign, according to former president Giovanni Cobolli Gigli.

Portugal international Ronaldo joined the Italian giants from Real Madrid in a high-profile €100million transfer ahead of the 2018-19 campaign on a lucrative four-year contract.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner guided Juve to back-to-back Serie A titles in his first two seasons at the Allianz Stadium, but the nine-in-a-row Italian champions trail Inter by 10 points this time around with a game in hand to play.

Juventus crashed out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage to Porto on Tuesday, having previously been knocked out by Ajax and Lyon in the quarter-finals and last-16 respectively during Ronaldo's time in Turin.

Sporting director Fabio Paratici revealed ahead of Juve's 4-4 away goals defeat that a new deal for Ronaldo, who failed to score in either leg against Porto, "is not on the agenda".

And Gigli, Juve president between 2006 and 2009, has hit out at Paratici for sanctioning the signing.

Asked if bringing in Ronaldo was the wrong choice, Gigli told Radio Punto Nuovo: "Absolutely, yes! I said that on his very first day at Juventus. He is a great champion but is too expensive.

"Now it's up to Juventus. They've been paying him €1m per goal. [Juve president Andrea] Agnelli must be self-critical, but he doesn't have great collaborators.

He added: "The club should free Ronaldo at the end of the season and the same goes for Paratici. Maybe Agnelli had promoted him to remove him from his position afterwards. This could be the scenario."

Gigli also questioned Pavel Nedved's position as vice-president on the back of Juve's latest disappointing Champions League elimination.

"I've known him as a great champion, but he is not capable of being the Juventus vice-president," he said. "They should think again about his role within the club.

"He didn't attend [Massimiliano] Allegri's last press conference and I didn't like that. I know they were not on good terms. He claimed he was abroad, but it's true, he was in Italy. He doesn't have the Juventus style."

Juventus won the Supercoppa Italiana in January with victory over Napoli and will take on Atalanta in May's Coppa Italia final, but Andrea Pirlo's first campaign as head coach looks set to go down as a disappointment.

"Juventus need a rebuild now," Gigli added. "I don't blame Pirlo. I hired [Ciro] Ferrara and it was not a positive experience. 

"Agnelli took a risk. He didn't want [Maurizio] Sarri but he accepted him because Paratici and Nedved pushed to hire him."

Gianluigi Donnarumma is out of contract at the end of the season, so where will he be playing in 2021-22?

The Milan and Italy goalkeeper – still in discussions with the Rossoneri – has attracted interest from across Europe.

Manchester United and Chelsea are reportedly circling.

 

TOP STORY – DONNARUMMA WANTED IN ENGLAND

Manchester United and Chelsea are considering signing Milan star Gianluigi Donnarumma as a free agent, according to The Transfer Window podcast.

Donnarumma is out of contract at the end of the season, though Tuttosport reports he and Milan remain in contract discussions.

Serie A champions Juventus and Ligue 1 titleholders Paris Saint-Germain have also been linked.

Sky Sports says United are also targeting Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak amid doubts over David de Gea's future.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Daily Mail claims United, Liverpool and Bayern Munich are eyeing Chelsea's Christian Pulisic. The United States international has found himself out of favour under new manager Thomas Tuchel at Stamford Bridge.

- The wish list of new Barcelona president Joan Laporta has been revealed. Sport reports aside from Manchester City defender Eric Garcia and Lyon captain Memphis Depay, Laporta is also targeting Sergio Aguero and Bayern star David Alaba, as well as in-demand Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

Arsenal want to sign Inter full-back Achraf Hakimi as a replacement for Hector Bellerin, according to the Telegraph. Bellerin has been linked to PSG and Barca.

- Sport Bild reports Bundesliga champions Bayern will let veteran defender Jerome Boateng leave amid his links with Chelsea.

Porto head coach Sergio Conceicao was not asked any questions by the media in his post-match news conference, despite the club's stunning triumph against Juventus in the Champions League.

Juventus beat 10-man Porto 3-2 after extra time on Tuesday, but the Portuguese powerhouse still advanced to the quarter-finals 4-4 on away goals.

Federico Chiesa scored a second-half brace for Juve and Adrien Rabiot headed home after Sergio Oliveira's second goal to set up a grandstand finish, but the Italian giants fell short at home in Turin.

It marked the first time Porto progressed from a Champions League knockout tie after winning the first leg since 2003-04.

But Conceicao left his post-match news conference without making any comments – no Portuguese journalists were on the Zoom call to discuss the memorable victory.

However, Conceicao did speak to UEFA about Porto's success after Mehdi Taremi was sent off for two bookable offences nine minutes into the second half.

"These games are marked in the history of the club. The players dignified the fans with the passion they have," Conceicao told UEFA.com.

"The players managed to get the true essence and true DNA of FC Porto. Their incredible determination and spirit of sacrifice touched me.

"I have a group of brave players who interpreted what we wanted in the best way, against a great team with players of a very high level. We suffered but also created difficulties for Juventus. We were a real team.

"Congratulations to the players, they did a fantastic job. After Taremi's expulsion, we showed the FC Porto DNA. We never stopped believing – this is the true DNA of FC Porto."

Porto's starting XI against Juventus was the second oldest in their Champions League history (29 years and 16 days), behind only their match with Barcelona in March 2000 (29 years and 86 days).

Andrea Pirlo said he has not received reassurances over his Juventus future, rather confirmation from the president that the "project has just started" in Turin following the club's Champions League last-16 exit at the hands of Porto.

Juve crashed out of the Champions League in the round-of-16 stage for the second consecutive season – the Serie A titleholders bowing out 4-4 on away goals despite beating 10-man Porto 3-2 after extra time on Tuesday.

Federico Chiesa scored a second-half brace for Juve and Adrien Rabiot headed home after Sergio Oliveira's second goal to set up a grandstand finish, but the Italian giants fell short.

For the first time in the European Cup/Champions League, Juventus have been eliminated in the last 16 for two consecutive seasons as pressure mounts on first-year head coach Andrea Pirlo.

Pirlo, who replaced Maurizio Sarri at the start of the season, also finds his Juve side third in Serie A and 10 points adrift of leaders Inter.

Asked about his future and whether he had spoken to Juve president Andrea Agnelli, Pirlo told reporters: "The president didn't reassure me. He just confirmed that this project has just started.

"I'm absolutely calm about the future, I'm sure we will go forward together. We just started last summer. All players that joined Juventus last summer have showed that they have what you need to play at this level. So I'm sure we can do better in the next future."

Juventus failed to progress from the knockout stage of the Champions League after extra time for the first time since 2016.

"I spoke with the president after the game and we spoke about the game and what we need to do to improve in the future," Pirlo added. "We started well the game tonight. We had an occasion to score with [Alvaro] Morata but we missed it and then we conceded the first goal.

"After their goal we suffered, we were too long and also psychologically we were not in the game thinking that was too hard to come back. In the second half instead we played with a different approach and we were able to overturn the result. We were unlucky in some episodes and in the end we made another mistake that costed us the qualification."

Cristiano Ronaldo fired a blank as Juventus bowed out on Tuesday – a result that immediately cast doubt over the 36-year-old's future with the Bianconeri.

Juve have not advanced past the quarter-finals since five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo arrived from Real Madrid in 2018, having finished runners-up in two of the previous four seasons prior to his blockbuster signing.

Aside from his assist for Chiesa's first goal, Ronaldo was largely subdued against Porto, but Pirlo defended the five-time Champions League winner.

"When Ronaldo plays in Champions League usually is like your team begin the game one goal ahead of your opponent. But it can happen even to an extraordinary player like him not to be able to score," Pirlo said.

"Federico scored twice and played a great much. Also a champion like him [Cristiano] can have a bad game. He fought a lot tonight but unfortunately he didn't lead us to go through the next stage this time."

Matthijs de Ligt has put to bed suggestions he could have joined Manchester United in 2019, insisting they were never an option when he signed for Juventus in order to learn from the world's best defenders.

Despite only being 21, De Ligt is already something of a household name in European football, having come through the ranks at Ajax and earned himself a reputation as arguably the best young defender in the world.

His rise was rapid and impressive at Ajax, at the time becoming the youngest player to play a major European final, the club's youngest ever captain and the first recipient of the Golden Boy award – given to the best under-21 player in Europe – to be a defender.

Much of the praise De Ligt was afforded during his early days at Ajax related to his ability on the ball, with many expecting him to join Barcelona such were his technical talents, although United were also said to be in the running.

Therefore, his move to Juve came as something of a surprise initially, but he is adamant United - linked again more recently - have never made an approach and the switch to Turin made sense in the context of his dream to be the world's best defender.

"Honestly, I never heard anything from them [United]," De Ligt told the Telegraph.

"It was like you did at school, like with mathematics. It was a long process. You put the pros and the cons and, in the end, I chose Juventus."

While De Ligt arguably has not quite hit the heights most were expecting yet, with injuries proving disruptive this season, he has been showing clear signs of progress.

Although restricted to just 21 appearances in all competitions this term – partly due to a shoulder problem that kept him sidelined for three months – the Dutchman seems to have improved across the board.

His touches (86.8 from 70.8), attempted passes (76 from 61.1), completed passes (69.6 from 55.7), successful passes in the opposing half (25.1 from 20.2), tackles won (1.2 from 0.6) and interceptions (1.6 from 0.9) are all up significantly on a per-90-minute basis from last term, showing De Ligt is enjoying more influence in his second season.

"If you can do it here, you can do it anywhere," he continued. "I'm where I want to be and where I can learn as much as possible. There are experienced guys – [Giorgio] Chiellini, [Leonardo] Bonucci – but also a goalkeeper like [Gianluigi] Buffon and Cristiano Ronaldo.

"We all have our different characteristics, and I do not try and copy them, but I look at Ronaldo and see what he does, how he stays fit all the time.

"I ask for tips, for advice. What I have also learnt is that I need to do things that are good for me. In the end you find your own rhythm."

Buffon returned to Juve around the same time De Ligt signed, having spent 2018-19 at Paris Saint-Germain, and is still going at the grand age of 43.

He is now just 24 matches behind Alessandro Del Piero's record of 705 appearances for the club, yet despite his longevity and age, De Ligt insists mentally he is as sharp as a player in his prime.

"Well, he could be my father!" De Ligt quipped. "It's funny because when I see him and the way he behaves, I don't think he's twice my age and that's also his strength and why he is still playing. He plays with a head like a 29-year-old."

Inter coach Antonio Conte is refusing to get carried away about his side's Serie A title prospects despite Monday's 1-0 win over contenders Atalanta restoring their six-point buffer.

Milan Skriniar scored the lone goal of the game from a 54th-minute corner as Inter responded after their closest competitors Milan and Juventus both won earlier in the weekend.

Fifth-placed Atalanta, the second top scorers in Serie A behind Inter this season, posed a major threat but the Nerazzurri did enough to claim their seventh consecutive league win, prompting calls they have one hand on the Scudetto already with 12 games to play.

"If I look in my pocket, I find €40," Conte laughed, when asked post-game if he felt he has a piece of the Scudetto in his pocket. "I went to get petrol and I have €40 left.

"Having said that, we must continue. There are still two games before the break against Torino, entangled in the bottom half of the standings, and the other is against Sassuolo, who create big problems for everyone.

"We have to continue not thinking about what it was. Tomorrow, the lads will rest, we recharge our batteries and get ready."

The ex-Chelsea manager added: "We went back being six points clear. We played later and knew that our direct rivals had won in Verona, Juve had won against Lazio and they had come closer, and it’s inevitable that pressure will increase from now until the end.

"There was a lot in it but we hope to carry on improving from now until the end, it's also important to mention that Atalanta is a tough team that takes points from all of the big sides."

Inter restored their lead at the top of Serie A to six points as Milan Skriniar's second-half strike sealed a 1-0 victory over Atalanta.

With Milan and Juventus winning over the weekend, Antonio Conte's side needed three points to keep their title rivals firmly at arm's length.

It was hard work, but the points duly came their way, with centre-back Skriniar arrowing home in the 54th minute.

A rare moment of profligacy from Romelu Lukaku might have cost Inter had Duvan Zapata's subsequent effort been a foot to the right, but other than Luis Muriel's shot from a tight angle, that was the closest Atalanta came to a comeback.

Conte's temper did not take long to reach boiling point – Inter's coach receiving a caution, seemingly for complaining against the award of an Atalanta corner, in the 14th minute.

Cristian Romero almost cheered Conte up moments later when he inadvertently lobbed his own goalkeeper, with Marco Sportiello just recovering to head it over.

Samir Handanovic had to be at his best to prevent Zapata from putting Atalanta ahead before half-time, yet Inter's breakthrough came shortly into the second half, with two unlikely sources combining.

Alessandro Bastoni managed to get to a corner, and though he wanted a penalty, claiming he was pulled down, his fellow defender Skriniar was on hand to lash in.

Lukaku looked set to extend Inter's lead within four minutes, only for Romero to make a superb last-ditch challenge.

Inter's work was nearly undone with 20 minutes remaining, but Zapata dragged a low effort wide from the edge of the area.

Zapata's strike partner Muriel tried his luck shortly after, though Handanovic was again in sharp form to help Inter wrap up a 10th straight home league win.

Matthijs de Ligt was linked with Manchester United before his move to Juventus in 2019.

United have reportedly renewed their interest in the 21-year-old Dutch defender.

Could he end up in Manchester?

 

TOP STORY – UNITED WANT DE LIGT

Manchester United are set to target Juventus centre-back Matthijs de Ligt, according to TodoFichajes.

United were heavily linked with De Ligt before the Netherlands international swapped Ajax for Serie A champions Juve in 2019.

With United reportedly not advancing in their pursuit of Real Madrid pair Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, the Red Devils are eyeing De Ligt.

United have also been linked with RB Leipzig's Ibrahima Konate, Sevilla defender Jules Kounde and Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato reports Paris Saint-Germain are poised to offer David Alaba a €25million-per year deal in an attempt to prise the Bayern Munich star to the French capital. Out of contract at season's end, Alaba has been tipped to join Madrid. Chelsea, Barcelona and Manchester City have also been linked.

United have been left alone in the fight to sign Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, claims TodoFichajes. Unwilling to match Villa's valuation, City have reportedly exited the race for Grealish. The report also says United could sell Marcus Rashford to fund the move.

- Madrid stars Lucas Vazquez and Isco are wanted by Everton, according to Calciomercato. After prising James Rodriguez from the LaLiga champions, Everton are targeting another two players from the Spanish capital, though Milan and Juve are also keen.

- Diario AS reports Madrid are prioritising a move for in-demand Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland. Chelsea, United, City, Juve, PSG, Barca and Bayern have all been linked but Madrid are reportedly shifting their attention from Kylian Mbappe to Haaland.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic said he is open to extending his Milan contract if technical director Paolo Maldini "wants".

Ibrahimovic has been a revelation since returning to Milan for a second spell in January last year, the evergreen 39-year-old spearheading the club's Scudetto charge this term.

The former Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain star – out of contract at season's end – has scored 14 Serie A goals to help Milan up to second position, three points adrift of city rivals Inter.

Asked about his future, Ibrahimovic told RAI's Che Tempo Che Fa via RAI: "I don't know, let's see. If Paolo wants, I am up for it.

"The season is still long, there are many games left.

"We always play to win, even if they can play once a week."

Nursing an injury, Ibrahimovic has been sidelined as he participated in the Sanremo music festival during the week.

Ibrahimovic was in attendance for Milan's 2-0 victory at Hellas Verona on Sunday.

"I am Zlatan, I feel the responsibility and I feel like a leader. This team is the only one that made me feel thrilled. I want to teach, I want to be a guide," he added.

"When I say something, they others are like: 'Ok, we are doing it'. Today I wanted to be in Verona, I felt it inside.

"When I spend a day without them is like staying without my sons."

Stefano Pioli felt Milan showed they have the belief in their ability to sustain a challenge for trophies in a 2-0 Serie A win at Hellas Verona on Sunday.

Rade Krunic and Diogo Dalot scored superb first Serie A goals to move second-placed Milan three points behind leaders Inter.

Krunic opened the scoring with a sublime first-half free-kick and Dalot doubled their lead with a classy strike early in the second half.

Rossoneri head coach Pioli was proud of the way his side extended their unbeaten run to four matches ahead of a Europa League round-of-16 first-leg tie at Manchester United on Thursday.

He told Sky Sport Italia. "We have shown that we have belief. It was a difficult match."

Pioli added: "We are not Martians, we are a young team of the which everyone was proud of and which everyone now asks for continuity.

"But we know how to overcome our defects, we know our strength and merits."

Theo Hernandez and Ante Rebic were added to Milan's injury list following the draw with Udinese, but Pioli says they will not complain about absentees, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic also sidelined.

He said: "We were good at not feeling sorry for ourselves, we must be balanced in evaluating our performance, even when we win."

Rade Krunic and Diogo Dalot scored their first Serie A goals for Milan in an impressive 2-0 victory at Hellas Verona.

Krunic opened the scoring with a brilliant first-half free-kick and Dalot doubled Milan's lead with a classy strike early in the second period at Marcantonio Bentegodi on Sunday.

Stefano Pioli’s side should have won by a more emphatic margin, but victory moved them three points behind leaders Inter, who play Atalanta on Monday.

The Rossoneri are now unbeaten in four matches ahead of a Europa League encounter with Manchester United on Thursday.

Milan made a positive start and they should have been in front when Rafael Leao headed Davide Calabria's whipped delivery over the crossbar.

Pioli's men continued to pose an attacking threat and Krunic made the breakthrough 27 minutes in, finding the far corner of the net with a sublime free-kick after he was upended by Giangiacomo Magnani at full tilt.

Striker Leao twice fired over to ensure Verona trailed by just the one goal at the end of a one-sided first half.

But Dalot put Milan two up just four minutes into the second half with a sublime finish, finding the top-right corner of the net with his right foot after throwing a clever dummy just outside the penalty area.

Alexis Saelemaekers came close to a third goal when he drilled a venomous strike over the bar as Verona struggled to contain Milan.

Federico Ceccherini headed wide at the other end with around 14 minutes to go and Krunic cleared Marco Faraoni’s header off the line as Milan secured three precious points.

 

Antonio Conte is focused only on this season with Inter, rather than his long-term future at the club, as the Serie A leaders prepare to host Atalanta.  

Inter's 2-1 triumph at Parma on Thursday – sealed thanks to a brace from Alexis Sanchez – made it four league wins on the spin, though Conte acknowledges there is still a long way to go yet in their bid for a first Scudetto since 2010.  

The former Juventus and Chelsea boss is in his second year in charge of the Nerazzurri, his current deal running until the end of the 2021-22 campaign.  

It remains to be seen if he will sign an extension to extend his tenure beyond then, though his primary concern right now is staying clear of the chasing pack in the title race.  

"The fact is I have another year to run on the contract. At this moment, all of us – me, the coaches, the players – must focus on the present," Conte said.

"We cannot be distracted by other factors, we must be concentrated because we can influence the present, from here to the end of the season.  

"What will happen externally, I do not know. We have no influence over that. We can influence the present and our job.  

"I know that people want to talk about other factors, but we must stay concentrated. We need continuity and consistency. We want to show that Inter are back to the levels it deserves. 

"We cannot get carried away and think about the future – we must stay focused and think about the here and now. Our objective is playing matters and doing well for the club." 

Conte will come up against one of his former clubs on Monday, though Atalanta are a far different proposition now to when he was in charge in 2009-10.

Gian Piero Gasperini's side are once again fighting for a top-four finish, their total of 49 points a club-record tally after 25 games in a top-flight campaign.

Inter have triumphed only once in their last six matches against Atalanta in Serie A, with Conte full of praise for his opposite number ahead of the game at San Siro.

"We are facing a team that creates big problems for everyone, in the Champions League and in the league, where they have won several times against the big names," Conte said. 

"Atalanta have consolidated, aware of their means and have strong players, both the starters and those who enter during the match – I think of [Luis] Muriel, who has taken over many times and has solved complicated games. 

"Gasperini is doing an extraordinary job, the group is following his ideas and I'm happy for him and for Atalanta, who I coached for a while."

Andrea Pirlo saluted the spirit of his Juventus side after they came from behind to seal a 3-1 win over Lazio in Serie A on Saturday.

The Bianconeri fell behind to Joaquin Correa's 14th-minute strike, but powered back to claim all three points thanks to Adrien Rabiot's fine strike and Alvaro Morata's second-half brace – the second of which came from the penalty spot. 

Morata's double took his goal involvement tally this season to 15 (seven goals, eight assists) – his best return in a Serie A campaign. 

The result means third-placed Juve are now seven points behind leaders Inter, having played the same number of games. 

With an eye on Tuesday's Champions League last-16 second leg against Porto, which the Portuguese side hold a 2-1 advantage in, Pirlo opted to shuffle his pack against Lazio. 

Serie A's leading goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo started on the substitutes' bench, while Federico Bernardeschi was deployed at left-back and Danilo was used in a defensive midfield role. 

While Pirlo was disappointed with his side's sluggish start, he was pleased they were able to secure all three points after going behind for the first time since the 2-1 win over Torino in December. 

"We started badly and conceded with our poor back pass, but then there was a strong reaction from the whole team despite missing so many players," he told DAZN. 

"We didn't let our heads drop, we started to step up the tempo and that was the most important thing.

"We thought about Tuesday's game. We knew tonight was like a final, some had to play in new positions and showed great professionalism and spirit of sacrifice.

"The most important thing was the three points. Danilo was ready to work in central midfield, while Bernardeschi deserves all the compliments for playing as a left-back.

"What I liked the most was the reaction of the team, as we didn't accept being behind in such a delicate and important game, so it was that spirit I appreciated."

While he did not get on the scoresheet, Federico Chiesa was particularly impressive for the reigning champions, and the winger, who laid on Morata's first, believes something has sparked amongst his team-mates. 

"We put in a great performance, but only after conceding the opening goal, which was a mistake," he said. "We proved that we have heart, grit and I think we'll battle to the end if we play like this.

"Lazio have shown themselves to be a great team, always in the fight for the top four, so it was a big game. Having said that, they are all big if we want to win the Scudetto.

"I do what the coach asks of me. Winning the ball back comes above all from the team pressing and not just individuals. The assist was mine, but I was able to get the ball because we all worked so hard to win it back.

"After tonight, I think we're all in great shape. Something sparked within us and from now on every game is a final, whether it's in Serie A, the Champions League or the Coppa Italia."

Alvaro Morata scored twice to help Juventus to a 3-1 home win over Lazio on Saturday and keep alive their faint hopes of a 10th consecutive Serie A title.

The Bianconeri, who started with Cristiano Ronaldo on the substitutes' bench, had started sluggishly and fell behind inside 15 minutes courtesy of Joaquin Correa's third league goal of the campaign. 

Adrien Rabiot pulled them level with their first shot on target in the 39th minute, though, before Morata's quickfire double after the break – the second from the penalty spot – sealed a third win in four top-flight games. 

Andrea Pirlo's side remain in third, but have moved to within a point of Milan and seven of leaders Inter, having played the same number of games.

 

 

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