x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Odds stack up for Juve

The Juventus coach Claudio Ranieri admits his struggling side are feeling the pressure ahead of their Champions League encounter with Real Madrid tomorrow.

Juventus' Giorgio Chiellini, right, and Napoli's Marcelo Zalayeta tussle for the ball.
Juventus' Giorgio Chiellini, right, and Napoli's Marcelo Zalayeta tussle for the ball.

TURIN // The Juventus coach Claudio Ranieri admits his struggling side are feeling the pressure ahead of their Champions League encounter with Real Madrid tomorrow. Ranieri's men have failed to fire in Serie A so far and were beaten 2-1 by the high-flying Napoli on Saturday, a result which leaves the Old Lady in mid-table with just two wins from seven league games.

Juventus are undefeated in Champions League Group H, however, and are just two points behind the Spanish champions. Ranieri is sweating on the fitness of Christian Poulsen and Claudio Marchisio, who both picked up injuries in the defeat to Napoli, and the coach is desperate to find some consistency as speculation mounts over his future. "We're doing the best we can at the moment, but the fact we're not able to win weighs down on everybody," Ranieri said.

"Unfortunately this year we haven't been consistent - we have good spells, but we are not smooth enough. Juventus were missing 10 players for the trip to Naples and Ranieri believes the further problems suffered by his injured midfield duo contributed to the loss. "I liked how we played in the first hour, we put pressure on Napoli and scored the goal," the former Chelsea boss continued. "Unfortunately both Poulsen and Marchisio had physical problems and I had to strengthen the midfield, taking off [Alessandro] Del Piero and putting [Paolo] De Ceglie on."

The Brazilian Amauri put the Bianconeri ahead in the 62nd minute of the game in Naples, but Marek Hamsik brought the home team level two minutes later and Ezequiel Lavezzi grabbed the winner 10 minutes from time. Marchisio, meanwhile, said Juve must not dwell on the defeat. "After going one up, we made the mistake that great teams cannot make. We let go and they punished us. Now we must turn the page immediately and focus on Tuesday's game."

Meanwhile, Lazio relinquished their place at the top yesterday when they were comprehensively beaten at struggling Bologna. Marco Di Vaio scored twice to add to Sergio Volpi's early opener as the hosts romped to a 3-0 half-time lead. Tommaso Rocchi's goal shortly after the break was a mere consolation. AC Milan also continued their recovery from a rocky start to the season with a 3-0 victory over Sampdoria, but it was not always as straight forward as the final score suggests.

A depleted Sampdoria put up a good fight until Stefano Lucchini handled Ronaldinho's shot inside the area to earn a second yellow card in the 54th minute. Ronaldinho scored the resulting penalty, then added a second in the 66th minute before Filippo Inzaghi capped the victory in the final minute. Lazio were undone twice from set-pieces in the opening 12 minutes. Volpi's superb curling free-kick from outside the box in the fifth minute was followed by another seven minutes later but with Di Vaio providing the final touches.

Di Vaio grabbed his second in the 27th minute when he controlled a long ball out of defence, beat Sebastiano Siviglia with a deft touch and stroked the ball in into the bottom left corner. Rossi brought on Rocchi soon after the break and the switch paid off immediately when Rocchi beat the offside trap and shot from inside the box. That effort was saved by Francesco Antonioli but the goalkeeper could only push the ball back to Rocchi who did not miss on the second attempt.

* Agencies