ROME. – Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has urged his side to step on the gas in December to tighten their grip on an eighth successive Italian Serie A soccer title before they turn their focus back to their Champions League pursuit in February.
The Italian champions booked their ticket to the knockout rounds of the elite European competition with a game to spare this week with Cristiano Ronaldo setting up Mario Mandzukic to score the only goal against Valencia. Next up will be a trip to Tuscany side Fiorentina today, the first of six league games before the end of 2018, which includes home games against European rivals Inter Milan and Roma in Turin.
“We have reached the first goal with Champions League qualification, now we must maintain the same energy throughout December,” said Allegri.
Juventus are eight points ahead of second-placed Napoli, who were held to a goalless draw against bottom club Chievo last weekend.
But Allegri said: “We still have lots of matches to play, by dropping three points you might lose the championships in the end. We hope to bring all the trophies home.”
For Fiorentina “the match against Juventus always remains the most important of the year,” warned Allegri.
Juventus have won six of their last seven Serie A matches against midtable Fiorentina, two points off the Europa League berths and coming off a run of five consecutive draws. Juventus’s strike force of Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Mandzukic are firing on all cylinders, with one of the trio on target in 13 consecutive games in all competitions.
Ronaldo has scored 10 times in total, including five in four straight away games, with Mandzukic on seven and Dybala on six. And Portuguese star Ronaldo will be looking to impress on the final weekend before the Ballon d’Or winner is announced in Paris.
Fiorentina’s midfielder Jordan Veretout said there was a great sense of anticipation ahead of the arrival of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
“For us it will be a very difficult task because they were already very strong and with Ronaldo they have become even more so,” said the French player.
“They really can win everything from the Scudetto to the Champions League. We’ll have to leave everything on the pitch.”
Brazilian left-back Alex Sandro is out for the champions with a muscular problem picked up against Valencia, with Emre Can still recovering from a thyroid operation, but winger Federico Bernardeschi is set to return.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli travel to ninth-placed Atalanta on Monday with Inter Milan, a point behind the southerners in third, facing a tricky trip to Roma after their Champions League defeat to Tottenham.
Roma progressed to the Champions League last 16, but Napoli and Inter will have to wait until the final round of games in mid-December.
“The Chievo game is the only one where we had a big drop in intensity,” conceded Ancelotti after their 3-1 win over Red Star Belgrade in Europe.
“But we haven’t done so badly, have we? There are some very strong teams behind us in the table.”
Eusebio Di Francesco’s Roma lost to Udinese to drop to seventh, and need to be wary of Inter striker Mauro Icardi who has scored five goals in his last three Serie A matches at the Stadio Olimpico.
Lazio, in fourth, will try to close the gap on the top three with a trip to Verona side Chievo, who are boosted by their performance in Naples. AC Milan, without suspended striker Gonzalo Higuain, look to get back winning in Serie A against promoted Parma after their 5-2 win over Dudelange in the Europa League.
Gennaro Gattuso’s side lost to Juventus in their last home game before holding Lazio 0-0 in the Stadio Olimpico.
Italian Serie A Fixtures
Today: SPAL v Empoli (4pm), Fiorentina v Juventus (7pm), Sampdoria v Bologna (9:30pm)
Tomorrow: AC Milan v Parma (1:30pm), Frosinone v Cagliari, Sassuolo v Udinese, Torino v Genoa (all 4pm), Chievo v Lazio (7pm), AS Roma v Inter Milan (9:30pm)
Monday: Atalanta v Napoli (1930GMT) – AFP