Serie A talking points as Juventus and Roma put Champions League to one side

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The Juventus players were angered by events at Santiago Bernabeu.

Leaders Juventus and fourth-placed Roma come into Sunday’s Serie A fixtures on the back of wildly contrasting results in Europe, while on-song Sassuolo can put another nail in bottom-placed Benevento’s coffin.

Here are the talking points:

JUVENTUS V SAMPDORIA (20:00)

For all their domestic dominance of the previous 50 years, European pain is not an alien emotion for the Old Lady.

Yet the 97th-minute heartbreak at Santiago Bernabeu will arguably have hurt more than last year’s final defeat to the same opponents.

To earn a 3-0 lead at the two-time-successive holders is an incredible achievement. For this to be taken away by a late, late penalty – hotly contested, at that – could inflict serious wounds.

Coach Massimiliano Allegri will know his team cannot wallow. A four-point lead over Napoli can soon disappear, especially as Samp have already inflicted a 3-2 loss this term.

But Juve have won 14 of the last 15 league games to storm past the Neapolitans.

Their professionalism and strength in depth should see them through.

Prediction 2-0

LAZIO V ROMA (22:45)

The chance to secure one of the greatest weeks in Roma’s 90-year history is at hand for Eusebio Di Francesco’s current vintage.

Fresh from the blitzkrieg of Tuesday’s ‘Romantada’ to eliminate hallowed Barcelona with a 3-0 second-leg triumph in the Champions League’s quarter-finals comes the derby with hated rivals Lazio.

Sunday’s combatants are virtually inseparable having won, drawn and lost the same amount of games across the campaign. But Lazio suffered the indignity of blowing a 5-2 aggregate lead and conceding three goals in four minutes to exit the Europa League to unfancied Red Bull Salzburg on Thursday.

Simone Inzaghi’s troops, like Juventus, can ill-afford to mope around. A loss would have a major impact on their hopes of reaching the Champions League.

It should be intriguing to see how this situation plays out at Stadio Olimpico.

Prediction 2-2

SASSUOLO V BENEVENTO (17:00)

After building the foundations during five undefeated matches, it is now time for Sassuolo to go on the offensive in the battle against the drop.

Impressive draws have been earned during this spell against title-chasers Napoli and resurgent AC Milan. But still only three points and four places separate them from third-bottom Crotone.

A double header against rock-bottom Benevento and second-bottom Hellas Verona begins on Sunday. Goals have been the major issue for Beppe Iachini’s side, finding the back of the net just 21 times.

Now would be the time for out-of-sorts prospect Domenico Berardi to rediscover his best form.

Opponents Benevento have long since been resigned to relegation, but in five-goal January buy Cheick Diabate they boast a sharpshooter who could inflict real damage.

Prediction 3-0

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AC Milan owner Li Yonghong remains committed to Serie A giants

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The Milan owner has reaffirmed his commitment to the club.

AC Milan‘s Chinese owner Li Yonghong insisted Thursday he remains committed to the Serie A club as he marked the first anniversary of his takeover.

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s 30-year ownership ended last April when he sold the club to Li’s Chinese-led consortium for 740 million euros ($913m).

Since then, there have been questions about the financial stability of the consortium that subsequently went on a 200-million-euro summer spending spree on new players.

“I’m very excited to say that today we are celebrating our first-year anniversary with the club,” Li, 48, said in an open letter to fans published on the club’s website.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to stress once again we are fully committed in this project for AC Milan’s growth.

“Of course, we still have a long way to go to achieve our goal, which is to bring the club back to where it belongs: at the top of European football.

“While we are celebrating a positive first year, we know this is only the beginning of our project to make AC Milan successful and stable, a project we shall pursue aiming for excellence, and fully respecting all the financial commitments we undertook.”

It has been a turbulent first year for Li who was forced to issue a statement in February dismissing claims he has been declared bankrupt in China while Italian prosecutors are reported to have opened an investigation into his purchase following claims of suspect financial dealings.

Coached by former AC Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso the club are currently sixth in Serie A and through to the Italian Cup final in May.

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Paulo Dybala hat-trick sends Juventus seven points clear at the top of Serie A

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Paulo Dybala scored a hat-trick including two from the spot to extend Juventus’ lead at the top of Serie A with a 4-2 win at battling bottom club Benevento on Saturday.

The Turin giants moved a step closer to a seventh straight Italian title, four days before they travel to Real Madrid needing to overturn a 3-0 deficit to reach the Champions League semi-finals.

Juventus now lead second-placed Napoli, who travel to Chievo on Sunday, by seven points.

Malian forward Cheick Diabate scored a brace to pull Benevento back into the game twice but the promoted side fell to their 26th defeat in 31 games.

Dybala – who will miss to trip to Madrid after seeing red in the first leg – opened the scoring after quarter of an hour in Naples, and got the second just before the break when he slotted in a penalty awarded after consultation with the video assistant referee.

The 24-year-old completed his treble with a penalty awarded after 74 minutes when Gonzalo Higuain was brought down in the box, before Douglas Costa added the fourth eight minutes from time with a magnificent curling effort.

Argentine Dybala now has 25 goals in all competitions this season.

Juventus dominated early against a side who were 65 points below them before kick-off.

Mario Mandzukic threatened, getting his head to a Mario Pjanic chipped ball after five minutes but it flew wide.

But Dybala broke through on 16 minutes when Juan Cuadrado knocked down the ball for the Argentine international to finish with a left-footed shot from the edge of the box.

But six minutes later Benevento were level after Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny saved a Filip Djuricic effort only for Diabate to tap in the rebound.

Mandzukic put the ball in the back of the Benevento net again after 36 minutes, finishing off a Cuadrado cross, but the goal was disallowed because of the Croatian forward’s handball in the build-up.

The champions went into half-time ahead through Dybala’s first penalty after Berat Djimsiti’s foul on Pjanic.
Five minutes after the break Benevento were back level as Diabate rose higher than defender Medhi Benatia to head home a corner.

It was the 29-year-old’s fifth goal in five games for the club since February.

But Dybala put Juventus back in front, before Costa sealed the three points with a searing left-footed shot high into the top corner.

Napoli will need a win at 14th-placed Chievo on Sunday after being held 1-1 at Sassuolo last weekend to keep their push for their first title since 1990 alive.

Roma, in third, host Fiorentina later Saturday before next Tuesday’s visit of Barcelona to the Stadio Olimpico, looking to stay ahead of Inter Milan, who are just a point behind in fourth.

Fiorentina are pushing for the Europa League spots as they sit four points adrift of sixth-placed AC Milan along with Atalanta and Sampdoria.

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