Maurizio Sarri

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Serie A roundup: Dybala, Ramsey strike against Inter, put Juventus back on top of Serie A

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Juventus’ complete performance against Inter Milan highlights Sunday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Juventus 2-0 Inter Milan

Aaron Ramsey and Paulo Dybala each scored, as Juventus ran past Inter Milan in front of an empty Allianz Stadium, which, like all other sporting events in Italy until April 3, was empty due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The victory sends the Old Lady back to the top of Serie A, giving them a one-point lead on second best Lazio and a nine-point lead on third-place Inter. Juventus are one of three Serie A teams with an active three-match winning streak.

After a standstill during the first 45 minutes, Cristiano Ronaldo touch inside the box found a opportune Ramsey, who belted the ball into the back of the net. It’s the Wales international’s second goal in back-to-back Serie A bouts, and Maurizio Sarri is happy with his effectiveness.

“He [Ramsey] maintains that he needs to see more of the pitch in front of him, or he gets a little lost,” said the Juve coach. “He is doing well in this role, although in fairness he’s also in much better physical condition now than he was when playing as a trequartista.”

For a team that dominated the league during the first half of the season, not all is well for Antonio Conte and Inter, losers of their last two league matches. The Italian was quick to mention that his players must grown from such defeats, quickly.

“We tried to stay in their slipstream, but must learn from defeat and take the lessons of comparison to grow in terms of character, quality and strength,” he said.

“It’s a loss that must help us to grow and understand how far away we are,” he added. “It certainly shouldn’t make us distraught, as we knew there was a gap and we lost both meetings with them. The results speak clearly, they won two and we got zero points.”

With a win in hand, Juventus steer their attention towards Friday’s match against Bologna, while Inter host Getafe in Europa League’s Round of 16 action.

Elsewhere in Serie A 

Parma 0-1 Spal

Sampdoria 2-1 Hellas Verona

AC Milan 1-2 Genoa

Udinese 0-0 Fiorentina 

Matthijs de Ligt taking a student role at Juventus

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Matthijs de Ligt is at Juventus to win, but the 20-year-old is quite self-aware. He knows he’s also at Juventus to become a better player.

“I was told: ‘You are a great player, but above all learn from these lads. We need you this season,’” de Ligt told Dutch website Ziggo Sport in an interview.

De Ligt, who joined Juventus this past summer from Dutch side Ajax, was immediately thrown to the wolves thanks to an ACL injury to Juventus legend Giorgio Chiellini just minutes into the season. The young defender has struggled at times this season with defensive errors resulting in occasional fan backlash, but he is soaking in the opportunity to grow, particularly with the presence of Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci.

“There are more eyes on you and people expect a great deal, all of which is new compared to my time at Ajax,” De Ligt said. “Bonucci and Chiellini are just players, but they are players who won everything for nine years and know what it’s all about.”

There were early bumps in the road, but the Dutchman feels he is already beginning to see improvements in his performances.

“I think that I’ve done well in every match since the start of November and I am happy that the club has faith in me,” de Ligt said. “I was on the bench for a little while and talked it over with the coach. I then had that problem with my shoulder and then a groin strain, so I couldn’t train. The coach told me very clearly: ‘Calm down, we need you further along in the season and in your best shape, so there’s no rush.’”

De Ligt spoke of the language barrier being a serious hindrance to his early development, but he developed a friendship with fellow new arrival Aaron Ramsey thanks to their mutual grasp of English, and eventually he was able to learn Italian and become more settled in the squad.

Since Chiellini’s return, Juventus manager Maurizio Sarri has rotated the center-backs heavily, with de Ligt, Chiellini, Bonucci, and Daniele Rugani all seeing time in league play. Juve has not seen the field since February 22 thanks to coronavirus fears causing recent postponement of play in Serie A.

Juventus ‘could tell something wasn’t switched on’ in Lyon

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Juventus’ obsession with winning another European Cup has the club on edge after a 1-0 first leg loss to Lyon on Wednesday in the first leg of the Round of 16.

Stalwart defender Leonardo Bonucci, defender Danilo, and manager Maurizio Sarri were less than pleased with the performance.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Bonucci was spotted yelling at substitute midfielder Blaise Matuidi in warm-ups, and that was a prelude to a poor performance from most of the team.

“I didn’t tell Matuidi off, I told him the team includes those who are on the bench and we must all be ready to contribute,” Bonucci said, via Football-Italia. “I could tell something wasn’t switched on with the XI starters either. We’ve got to sort this out, as these are the things that make the difference.”

Sarri, the system man, is quite upset with his players after what he said was a lightning-fast training session on Tuesday.

“I don’t know why, I cannot get the players to understand the importance of moving the ball quickly,” said the flummoxed ex-Chelsea man. “This is fundamental, we’ll keep working on it and sooner or later this concept will get into their heads.”

Sarri was happier with the ball movement in the second half, and will expect Juve to do the same in its home second leg.

Danilo had a decent day in the loss. He didn’t sugar coat the performance.

“We cannot just gift the first half to the opposition in such an important tournament. We are aware that we did that and need to work harder,” Danilo said.

Champions League preview: Real Madrid renews rivalry with Pep; Lyon hosts Juve

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The final two ties of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 begin Wednesday when Manchester City and Juventus head to Spain and France.

The focus for many will be on the former, as City continues to weather UEFA drama while its manager prepares for his fiercest foe as a player and manager.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Pep Guardiola has managed against Real Madrid 17 times and boasts a 9-4-4 record between Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

The Catalan wizard has lost his last three versus Real, two with Bayern and once in his final El Clasico as Barca boss.

Even as Guardiola stresses preparation and plan, he knows there will be bounces and that both teams will have to cope with them.

“We have to be strong, have quality and need to have luck,” he said, via The Manchester Evening News. “At this stage, it’s important but we cannot control that. We can control what we can control and we will see. This competition, last season, against Liverpool, there are decisions. You have to overcome. You need incredible concentration in our game and game plan plus try to be a little lucky.”

Real Madrid living legend Sergio Ramos has earned the ire of Guardiola on plenty of occasions, one of the few things Liverpool and City fans have in common.

Ramos wouldn’t get drawn into rivalry talk, sying the stage somewhat negates the opponent.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Ramos said via the club’s web site. “I think he’s a fantastic coach, with loads of experience, and his numbers speak for themselves. We’re motivated by the Champions League, regardless of the players or coaches who may have been rivals in the past. We’re up for the Champions League and our next task is to beat City. From a personal point of view, I’m just focused on making the next round.”

[ MORE: Key battles for Real-Man City ]

Wednesday’s other match sees a club long linked with Guardiola, as Juventus will play the role of heavy favorites against Lyon.

Maurizio Sarri‘s side is to bidding to win what’s eluded all Juve bosses since Marcello Lippi beat Ajax in 1996. If they succeed, it will be by going down a different path than it’s traveled in recent years.

Here’s Leonardo Bonucci, via Football-Italia:

“What the coach asks of us now is basically the opposite of what the previous coach did,” Bonucci mused. “It was usually individual against individual, now it’s more about organized team movements. Obviously, you need to train consistently to get that down and playing every three days makes it difficult. But we started this journey well aware of the positives it could bring and the difficulties of getting there.”

Lyon has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, sitting seventh in the Ligue 1 table, but has the tools to surprise if Juve doesn’t bring its best. That starts in France on Wednesday.

Chiellini on track for imminent Juventus return

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35-year-old Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini has been out since tearing his ACL in late August just one game into the Serie A campaign.

Just over five months later, the Juventus captain could be set for a return to the field in the coming weeks, with Juve confirming that Chiellini has returned to partial training and reports claiming he has his eye on a few significant matches later this month for his possible comeback.

Ahead of Juventus’s weekend match against Chievo Verona, manager Maurizio Sarri said during his Friday press conference, “We are on schedule after his surgery, at the moment he is training with the group.”

That follows Wednesday’s edition of Gazzetta dello Sport that stated Chiellini is hoping to be back for the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 matchup against Lyon on February 26. That would mean theoretically he would be available for the critical game against Inter that weekend on March 1 and the second leg of their Coppa Italia semifinal against AC Milan the following Wednesday, March 4.

In Chiellini’s absence, young Matthijs de Ligt has partnered in defense with stand-in captain Leonardo Bonucci to moderate success, with Merih Demiral occasionally standing in as well. However, should Chiellini return to full fitness, it’s likely he would regain his place in the starting lineup. De Ligt has occasionally had to answer for costly mistakes, saying back in late January, “If I had been in their [fans’] shoes, I would also be angry at such mistakes. But as a player these are problems that shouldn’t interest me. I just have to think about working to improve myself, understand if I’m making progress or not.”

With that in mind, and given that de Ligt is still just 20 years old and has plenty of time to continue developing at Juventus, Chiellini is likely to see the field again after returning. However, on the flip side, the Italian is at an advanced age that may require a slower reintegration to full appearances, making just the simple fact of his imminent return impressive to begin with, and fans might need to be patient as he regains the ability to consistently pump out 90-minute performances at the highest level.