Juve turn focus back on Serie A title defence

13 December 2013 01:31

Juventus return to the defence of their Serie A title on Sunday when they host Sassuolo looking to pull further ahead of Roma and Napoli and forget their Champions League misery.

Antonio Conte's side crashed out of the Champions League group stages on Wednesday after a 1-0 defeat to Galatasaray in Istanbul, although the circumstances meant it was a bitter pill to swallow for the Italian giants.

The sides' Group B fixture on Tuesday was stopped after 31 minutes due to heavy snow. The remaining 59 minutes were played on Wednesday, but on a pitch that was virtually unplayable.

Juventus, who tried in vain to have the match postponed further, eventually succumbed to an 85th minute strike by Wesley Sneijder to finish third in the group and drop into the Europa League.

With the 2014 final being played at Juventus Stadium in May, Conte admitted they will soon turn their focus to Europe's second tier club competition.

But the immediate priority is to win the two games before Christmas, against Sassuolo on Sunday and away to Atalanta next week.

"We have to turn our focus back on Serie A and this disappointment -- because it is a big disappointment -- has to spur us on domestically," Conte said.

"We have another two games before the festive break and then we can start thinking about the Europa League. We'll do our best, just as we wanted to in the Champions League."

A Juventus win on Sunday would give them a six-point lead over Roma and heap the pressure on Rudi Garcia's men ahead of their trip to Milan on Monday.

Early season pacesetters Roma ended a streak of four consecutive draws last week with a 2-1 win at home to Fiorentina to close the gap to three points.

Roma playmaker Francesco Totti made his return to the bench at the Olympic Stadium last week following a lengthy injury lay-off and is being widely tipped to start against Milan.

Milan have struggled for form all season and, having won only once in their last seven league games, sit in ninth, 22 points adrift of Juventus and 14 behind Napoli who occupy third and the final Champions League qualifying place.

Despite their poor domestic form, Milan are Italy's only remaining team in the Champions League.

They succeeded where Juventus and Napoli failed, securing their last 16 ticket on Wednesday thanks to a scoreless draw at home to Ajax, despite being reduced to 10 men.

On Monday, Milan will celebrate their 114th anniversary, find out their last 16 opponents in the Champions League draw and host Roma.

After calling their achievement in Europe a "huge sigh of relief", coach Massimiliano Allegri promptly hinted there could be a clear-out in January when defender Adil Rami and midfielder Keisuke Honda will join the club following respective transfers from Valencia and CKSA Moscow.

"Rami and Honda can make positive contributions to the team," said Allegri.

"But we still have too many players. I don't like players being on vacation at our training ground for a year."

Like Juventus, Napoli are licking their wounds after beating Arsenal 2-0 at the San Paolo but losing out to Borussia Dortmund for second place in their Champions League Group H.

Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain shed tears of disappointment on Wednesday but Rafael Benitez's side can't linger on lost opportunities for long with Inter Milan visiting on Sunday.

Fixtures (times GMT)


Catania v Verona (1945)


Chievo v Sampdoria, Fiorentina v Bologna, Genoa v Atalanta, Lazio v Livorno, Parma v Cagliari, Udinese v Torino (all 1500), Juventus v Sassuolo (1730), Napoli v Inter (1945)


Milan v Roma (1945)

Source: AFP