Juventus are in Doha and lead Roma as battle heats up for third in Italian Serie A
MILAN // Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has insisted the Serie A season is far from over after the champions guaranteed year-end top spot with a three-point lead on challengers Roma.
Juventus face defending Cup champions Napoli in Doha on Monday where the Bianconeri will aim to secure their third consecutive Italian Super Cup.
It would be the 30-time Italian champions’ seventh trophy in the competition since it began in 1988, but for Allegri it comes third in his list of season priorities.
“It’s the last game of the year and our third objective of the season after the Serie A title and the last 16 of the Champions League,” Allegri told reporters from Doha on Sunday.
“It won’t be easy because Napoli are a quality side and a difficult team to face in a one-off match.”
Allegri has a lot to live up to, at least on the domestic front, after former Juve coach Antonio Conte led the Old Lady to three consecutive ‘scudetti’.
He added: “We still have a long way to go in Serie A and a lot of points to pick up because Roma will be keeping the pressure on. There’s a lot to play for in the league and we still have to face Roma at the Stadio Olimpico.”
As Juve look to secure their first silverware of the campaign, Roma head into the Christmas break kicking their heels after spurning the chance to keep the Bianconeri on a tighter rein.
Two consecutive draws by Juve prior to Thursday’s 3-1 away win in Cagliari had allowed Roma to close the gap to just a point but Rudi Garcia’s men slipped up when held to a scoreless draw at home to Milan on Saturday.
Roma remain second three points behind, and with a nine-point lead on third-placed Napoli remain the only side keeping pace with the Turin giants.
But after their sluggish performance at the Stadio Olimpico, the French coach hinted that this season’s efforts so far had taken a toll.
“Footballers aren’t machines; they can’t go ten months non-stop without resting, and they need to rest both physically and mentally,” said Garcia.
“I hope we always have breaks like this, not like in England.”
Having exited the Champions League at the group stages following a 2-0 home defeat to Manchester City, Roma dropped into the Europa League where they will face Feyenoord in the last 32.
With Italian Cup duties also on the horizon in January, Garcia is hoping the winter break has a soothing effect on his players.
“I hope the lads return from the holidays full of determination and with the same hunger we’ve shown in the first five months of the season,” he added.
As Juventus and Roma forge a path towards the first two Champions League qualifying spots, the fight for third in the second half of the season should be epic.
Thanks to a 2-2 draw away to Inter on Sunday, Lazio snatched third place from Napoli to make sure they begin 2015 on a positive note before hosting Sampdoria on January 5.
Stefano Pioli’s men sit on 27 points, 12 shy of Juve and nine behind Roma with Napoli and Sampdoria in fourth and fifth respectively only on inferior goals difference.
“Now we have a chance to recharge our batteries for January which will be crucial for us,” said Pioli as he responded to questions about Lazio’s push for third place.
“But the lads have shown they are up to the job.”
Genoa are a point further adrift in sixth but with Milan, in seventh and 11th-placed city rivals Inter also desperate to qualify for next season’s Champions League the second half of the campaign won’t be short on drama.
Milan handler Filippo Inzaghi, for one, feels the seven-time European champions should be setting their targets high.
“We are Milan, we shouldn’t be fighting to finish third. We should be gunning for the title.”
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Published: December 22, 2014 04:00 AM