x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 December 2017

To join Messi at World Cup Higuain must play well for Juventus, says manager

Ahead of Serie A meeting with Lazio, Allegri predicts Argentine striker will 'have a good month'

Gonzalo Higuain, centre, has plenty at stake as a Juventus player this season. Massimo Pinca / Reuters
Gonzalo Higuain, centre, has plenty at stake as a Juventus player this season. Massimo Pinca / Reuters

Argentina may have sneaked over the line to reach next year's World Cup but Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri believes his striker Gonzalo Higuain faces a race against time to join them there.

On Tuesday a Lionel Messi hat-trick in Ecuador saw Higuain's countrymen snatch automatic qualification to Russia 2018.

Higuain was overlooked by manager Jorge Sampaoli, perhaps as a consequence of a slow start to the Serie A season from the man who cost Juve €90 million (Dh390.8m) in 2016.

Two goals from seven league outings thus far is not a return that has impressed Bianconeri boss Allegri either and he is demanding more as Juve prepare to host Scudetto rivals Lazio on Saturday.

Quoted by the club's official Twitter account, Allegri told a pre-match news conference: "Higuain is aiming to play at the World Cup, but in order to do so he must have a good season.

"I think he will have a good month - he is highly motivated and in great condition.

"Tomorrow is going to be difficult. We will have to raise our game in order to be competitive in March."

Simone Inzaghi's Lazio - fifth last term - are just three points behind the reigning champions and Allegri is suitably wary of the threat the Romans will pose at Allianz Stadium.

"We can't afford to make any mistakes against Lazio," he said. "We can't give them space on the pitch and allow them the opportunity to attack.

"Could Lazio win the Scudetto? I don't know but they're certainly one of the top six teams.

"Simone Inzaghi is one of the most talented young coaches, and he proved it last year."

Allegri confirmed Mario Mandzukic and Sami Khedira's availability while ruling Miralem Pjanic and Claudio Marchisio out of the Saturday night clash. Gianluigi Buffon will return in goal.

Inzaghi is missing Felipe Anderson, Wallace, Dusan Basta, Jordan Lukaku and Simone Palombi through injury.

Former Manchester United winger Nani, meanwhile, will hope to start after making his Lazio debut off the bench in the 6-1 thrashing of Sassuolo.

Another Premier League alumnus, Lucas Leiva, has settled quickly in the capital and is feeling positive about Lazio's pursuit of honours this season.

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The long-serving Liverpool midfielder, who left Anfield in July, told La Gazzetta dello Sport: "I needed a new challenge and at Lazio I've found everything I was looking for at this stage of my career.

"I've been given an opportunity to improve tactically.

"I am very happy with the start we've made in the league and also with our victory over Juventus in the Supercoppa."