Juventus aim to rebound after year-end woe

Alasdair Mackenzie
·2-min read

Andrea Pirlo will be hoping a new year can inject fresh impetus into his Juventus side when the Italian champions return to action against Udinese with a calamitous end to 2020 still fresh in the memory.

The Turin club's nine-year dominance of Serie A is under threat this season, as they must begin to fight their way back into title contention on Sunday after dropping six points in one day before the winter break.

In the final round of action before Italy's top division stopped for 10 days, Juventus fell to their first league defeat under Pirlo as struggling Fiorentina stormed to a shock 3-0 win in Turin.

To make matters worse, the defeat came hours after news broke that Napoli had won an appeal against the decision to hand them a one-point deduction and award Juve a 3-0 victory for failing to turn up for their Serie A fixture in Turin in October.

Napoli claimed that they were instructed by their local health authority to stay at home after two squad members had tested positive for COVID-19.

But their appeals to Serie A's disciplinary tribunal and the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) were unsuccessful before the highest tribunal in Italian sport, the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) Guarantee Board, ordered that the match be played later in the season.

Juventus therefore lost three points from their league tally, and the subsequent combination of defeat by Fiorentina and leaders AC Milan's late win away to Lazio suddenly left the champions down in sixth place and 10 points off top.

This sequence of events has left Pirlo and his side with a mountain to climb.

Juventus' performance against Fiorentina also troubled the rookie coach, who has had a season of ups and downs since taking on his first managerial job by replacing Maurizio Sarri last year.

"The attitude was wrong," he complained after the match. "We were thinking about the holidays already."

There will be little room for error when mid-table Udinese visit the Allianz Stadium on Sunday, as it is Juventus' final test before they travel to San Siro to face unbeaten Milan on Wednesday.

The league leaders Milan travel to Benevento on Sunday, while second-placed Inter Milan, one point below them, host Crotone in the lunchtime kick-off.

Milan boss Stefano Pioli has encouraged his players to put a memorable 2020 behind them and focus on improving.

"What we did in 2020 doesn't matter anymore," he told a news conference.

"I must do more myself above all, we need to become even stronger."

"In my head I have micro-objectives, like Benevento versus Milan," he continued.

"2020 was positive because all the components made themselves available to reach their maximum potential. We start this year with great enthusiasm, confidence and conviction in our ability."