MILAN: Resurgent champions Juventus travel to crisis-hit Lazio on Friday (Saturday in Manila) looking for a fifth consecutive victory that would reduce the gap on leaders Napoli and possibly cost Stefano Pioli his job.
The champions’ trip to the Italian capital has been brought forward a day due to Juve’s Champions League trip to Sevilla next week and, going on recent form, the smart money is on the Bianconeri.
Juve’s 3-0 win at Palermo on Sunday, their fourth consecutive league victory, hoisted Massimiliano Allegri’s men up to fifth place in Serie A.
They may be seven points off the pace but it is a remarkable turnaround given Juventus were only a handful of points above the drop zone six weeks ago.
Yet despite Lazio’s current troubles, Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio has warned of a possible backlash: “We have to be wary of Lazio exactly because they’re going through a difficult time.
“On a positive note, we’re preparing the match in the best way possible with two extra days compared to what we’ve had in recent weeks.”
With Paul Pogba suspended and Sami Khedira still sidelined, Allegri is expected to deploy a rarely-used 3-5-2 formation to help shore up his injury-hit midfield, with either Alvaro Morata or Mario Mandzukic set to partner Paulo Dybala up front.
Pioli, meanwhile, is reported to be hanging on to his job by a thread only months after transforming a mediocre Lazio into arguably the league’s most impressive team at the end of last season.
Lazio have blazed a trail through their Europa League group to secure their place in the last 32 by finishing top with a game to spare.
But their hopes of qualifying for any European competition next season look severely compromised after five defeats in their last seven league outings dropped Pioli’s men to 10th place, six points above the drop zone.
Indeed Lazio have taken only one point from their last five games, after managing to hold Palermo to a 1-1 draw at home a fortnight ago.
Pioli admits he can’t fathom his side’s failure to spark but said he is confident they can turn the screw.
“In our last two games, in the Europa League and against Empoli we’ve played well. But the numbers say otherwise,” Pioli said after last week’s 1-0 defeat away to Empoli.
“Our results recently have been terrible and so is our standing in the league. But I have faith in my work and the squad and we’re all determined to turn things around.”
Leaders Napoli are not in action until Sunday’s visit to Bologna.