Thu, Dec 18, 2014 - Page 18 News List

Juventus, Napoli targeting morale-boosting victories

AFP, MILAN, Italy

Champions Juventus hope to end a roller-coaster week on a high with a win away at Cagliari today, while SSC Napoli bid to return to winning ways at home to bottom of the table Parma.

Juventus and Coppa Italia holders Napoli play their respective league fixtures two days before the rest of Serie A because of their Italian Super Cup final in Doha on Monday next week.

Both Juventus and Napoli would dearly love to head to Qatar on the back of a victory apiece — the former to maintain their place at the top of the table and the latter to end a four-match winless run.

Juventus’ 1-1 draw at home to high-flying UC Sampdoria last weekend allowed closest challengers AS Roma, 1-0 winners at Genoa, to close the gap on them to just a point.

Juventus had a more enjoyable experience on Monday at a Gala evening in Milan, where former coach Antonio Conte — now the Italy boss — won the Coach of the Year award and midfielder Andrea Pirlo took his third consecutive Player of the Year accolade.

However, the champions suffered a blow on Tuesday when coach Massimiliano Allegri was handed a one-game touchline ban for “stepping out of the coach’s enclosure and insulting a match official” during Sunday’s draw with Sampdoria.

Allegri is now expected to watch from the stands at Cagliari’s Stadio Sant’Elia, but the champions can ill afford to lose the game and wishing to have their coach in the dugout they have lodged an emergency appeal against the ban.

“Juventus are to lodge an urgent appeal against the one-match touchline ban handed to Massimiliano Allegri during Sunday’s home encounter against Sampdoria,” a club statement said on Tuesday.

Juventus will definitely be without defender Leonardo Bonucci, who is suspended after being booked against Sampdoria, triggering an automatic one-game suspension, but even in Allegri and Bonucci’s absence, Juventus would be expected to account for Cagliari and stretch their lead over Roma to four points ahead of the latter’s tough weekend clash at the Stadio Olimpico with a resurgent AC Milan.

TALL ORDER

Cagliari have won only twice this season and the Sardinians are on a seven-game winless streak that means beating a well-oiled Juventus side, who recently booked their ticket for the round-of-16 of the UEFA Champions League, would be a tall order.

The Sardinians’ coach is wily veteran Zdenek Zeman, who has spent long enough in Serie A — more than 30 years — to know what it will take to beat the 30-time champions.

“So many teams have tried to beat them [Juventus] and so few have succeeded — we will try too,” Zeman said on Sunday after his side’s scoreless draw away at Parma.

Napoli’s need for a win is just as desperate.

Rafael Benitez’s men slumped to seventh place, their lowest position in the table this season, after a 2-0 defeat at AC Milan on Sunday, where Napoli’s characteristic grit and fight was conspicuous by its absence.

Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain was visibly frustrated and Benitez admitted after the game: “It’s normal he got angry.”

“Everyone is disappointed at how the game went,” Benitez said. “We’re lacking in confidence.”

Napoli are winless in four games and although a win against a Parma side struggling for their top-flight survival would help boost morale, Benitez has admitted a third-placed finish and Champions League qualification for next season is now hanging by a thread.

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