Allan Ssekamatte is a columnist with PML Daily (PHOTO/File).
Pressure is mounting on Andrea Pirlo to justify his position at the managerial helm of Italy’s most successful club. Much was expected of the Juventus legend when he was handpicked in an internal promotion to replace Maurizio Sarri at the end of the 2019/20 season. Pirlo’s job description entailed leading the Bianconeri to a historic tenth consecutive Scudetto while improving or matching the two Champions League final losses suffered under Sarri’s predecessor Maximilliano Allegri. It hasn’t gone according to plan. Five matches to the end of Serie A’s season, Juventus find themselves fourth and caught up in a five-way battle for Champions League qualification.
Three victories in their last seven Serie A games has left the perennial champions 13 points behind Antonio Conte’s runaway leaders Inter Milan and level on points with Gennaro Gattuso’s Napoli, as well as Stefano Pioli’s AC Milan. Worryingly for Pirlo, both Napoli and GianPiero Gasperini’s second placed Atalanta have turned on the afterburners by winning six out of their last seven Italian top-flight fixtures. At the heart of the record Serie A champions’ problems, has been top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo’s loss of form. The 25-goal top scorer hasn’t scored in his last three Serie A outings.
On Sunday, Juventus travel to the Dacia Arena to face Luca Gotti’s talented Udinese side well aware that if results don’t go their way, they could drop out of the top four. Pirlo will be hoping recently recuperated Paulo Dybala, Alvaro Morata and Federico Chiesa can help Ronaldo carry Bianconeri’s goal scoring burden as Gotti has assembled a good attacking line up. Argentina playmaker Rodrigo de Paul, Jen Stryger Larsen and a quartet of former Premier League forwards – Roberto Pereyra, Stefano Okaka and Gerard Deulofeu, all of whom were at Watford; and Fernando Llorente, will pose a goalscoring threat at the Stadio Fruilli.
Parma and Crotone, with just 18 and 20 points respectively, are already preparing for life in Serie B next season. This has left Torino, Cagliari and Benevento, all of whom are tied on 31 points, in a three-way battle against the drop. On paper Torino, who are powered by Italian international forwards Belotti and Simone Zaza have the more straight forward task of subduing relegation bound Parma on Monday. Cagliari have the more uphill task of confronting Napoli at the intimidating Stadio Diego Armando Maradona where Lorenzo Insigne, Victor Osimhen, Politano and Dries Maartens have been running rings around opponents in recent weeks. Meanwhile, Benevento face a daunting trip to Champions League chasing AC Milan on Sunday.
SATURDAYHellas Verona v Spezia, Crotone v Inter Milan, AC Milan v BeneventoUdinese v Juventus,
Sampdoria v AS Roma
SUNDAYLazio v Genoa,
Napoli v Cagliari,
Sassuolo v Atalanta,
Bologna v FiorentinaMONDAYTorino v Parma
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