Massimiliano Allegri braced for fierce examination as Juventus head to Fiorentina

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Juventus beat Valencia 1-0 in Turin on Wednesday.

Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri expects a tough test for his unbeaten Serie A leaders when they tackle Fiorentina on Saturday.

Juve head to Florence with an eight-point advantage over second-placed Napoli, while they also came through a tough midweek Champions League encounter, beating Valencia.

Fiorentina are nine places and 19 points below Juventus in Serie A, but Allegri is braced for a fierce examination.

“It’s a tough game because Fiorentina are a fine team with young, skilful players and they’re well drilled as a unit,” Allegri told the club website.

“They haven’t lost at home yet and they’ve scored 14 while conceding just three. Plus, this is the biggest game of the year for them so they’ll be really fired up and will do everything possible to beat us.

“They are well-coached with young, strong players who are doing well. They haven’t lost at home yet, they’ve scored 14 goals and only conceded three.

Focused: Massimiliano Allegri.

Focused: Massimiliano Allegri.

“This is an important weekend because all the teams at the top have tricky away fixtures. We’ll need to be patient and remember that matches in Florence are never over until they’re over.

“They’ll have the whole city behind them. We must show great character and be on the ball technically.”

Allegri is set to make changes to his side following the win on Tuesday night, with Sami Khedira set to miss out.

“Wednesday was a tough, intense match and we’ll need a lot of mental and physical energy tomorrow,” he said.

“(Federico) Bernardeschi is back but Khedira isn’t available. I doubt Alex Sandro will be either. We’ll go with either (Mattia) De Sciglio or (Joao) Cancelo at left-back.

“Emre Can trained with the squad for part of the session yesterday. We’ll speak with the doctors and see if he might make the bench.”

Fiorentina are looking to end a run of five successive draws, and their midfielder Gerson is relishing the challenge.

“Juventus are a beautiful team,” he told Corriere dello Sport. “They have champions of the calibre of (Cristiano) Ronaldo, Douglas Costa, (Blaise) Matuidi, and I could go on.

“We can’t be distracted, but we can draw energy from our fans because one thing is for sure, we never give up – especially tomorrow.”

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Cristiano Ronaldo genius makes difference for grateful Juventus in Valencia talking points

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Cristiano Ronaldo produced a moment of second-half genius to tee up Mario Mandzukic and hand Juventus a 1-0 win against now-eliminated Valencia, sending the Italians through to the Champions League’s knockouts.

The defeated 2016/17 finalists were frustrated by dogged opponents, prior to an exceptional 59th-minute piece of skill that gave Mandzukic the simplest of back-post tap-ins.

Victory sent Juve through as Group H-winners, with a game to spare. This result helped cause crushing late disappointment for defeated Los Che, as Marouane Fellaini’s superb 91st-minute effort earned Manchester United a tense 1-0 win against Young Boys that dumped them out.

Here are the talking points:

CLOGGING IT UP

To emerge undiminished from Allianz Stadium, you either have to ride your luck – like United – or box smart.

Valencia took the second option. Only a moment of genius from Ronaldo could derail their plan.

Head coach Marcelino made a tweak to his usual 4-4-2 formation, deploying Geoffrey Kondogbia, Francis Coquelin and Daniel Parejo largely in a midfield three. The helped kill centre-back Leonardo Bonucci’s passing lines, plus limited the space for forwards Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Juve pumped in plenty of shots against a deep-lying opponents (19 to Valencia’s six), but struggled to produce major chances. Frustrating matches like this were why the Portugal superstar was drafted in by the perennial Serie A-champions at exorbitant expense last summer from Real Madrid.

Ex-Arsenal defender Gabriel Paulista was utterly bamboozled just before the hour mark by an instant flick, step-over and rapid turn of pace that bought a yard inside the penalty box. A low cross was lazer beamed onto Mandzukic’s foot and a 92nd home victory in the Champions League was theirs.

This was also Ronaldo’s sixth assist in 17 run-outs in black and white.

Another exquisite cutback to the former Croatia striker almost produced a killer second on 80 minutes, only for Mandzukic’s half volley on the stretch to fall straight into goalkeeper Neto’s grateful grasp.

Still, Ronaldo’s brilliance secured top spot in their pool and an injection of belief after the 2-1 reversal to United that still defies belief.

NOT A HOT ROD

Rodrigo is a figure who has come to symbolise the malaise at the Mestalla in 2018/19.

The forward was hooked at the break for ex-France international Kevin Gameiro, even though his side required – an unlikely – victory to significantly boost hopes of progression.

In his time on the pitch, Rodrigo contributed; no shots, no key passes, one aerial won, one dribble and 16 touches. No wonder he didn’t come out for the second period – or that 11th-placed Valencia have drawn eight of their 13 La Liga fixtures this term.

From a career-best return of 19 goals in 44 games in 2017/18, it is now 17 matches ago – on August 20 in a 1-1 draw with stingy Atletico Madrid, of all teams – that he last netted at club level.

The promise of his pair of assists in the weekend’s 3-0 win against Rayo Vallecano went unrealised.

JOAO’S WOW FACTOR

Valencia didn’t need any telling about the brilliance of Joao Cancelo.

The – recalled – Portugal right-back was sold for €40.4 million by them in the summer after an exceptional campaign on loan at Inter Milan. They must still wish they could have held onto him.

Cancelo kept a lid on the roaming attacking triumvirate of Santi Mina, Rodrigo and countryman Goncalo Guedes to such an extent that the first two were substituted. An 85th-minute block on replacement Gameiro when a loose ball broke to him in the area exemplified his alertness.

When it came to making a half-time intervention as Juve struggled to create space on the wings against a condensed Valencia, it was Brazil left-back Alex Sandro who was hooked for Juan Cuadrado. Cancelo drifted to the other side, showing his admirable versatility.

In all, Cancelo led the way for Juve with dribbles (four) and crosses (six). In defence, his three tackles was the joint-fourth most.

More than one brilliant Portuguese has been landed by the Old Lady.

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Paulo Dybala believes Cristiano Ronaldo can inspire Juventus to Champions League glory

Tom Biggs 19/11/2018
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Everyone has their favourite. Whether you’re a fan, a player, a coach or a pundit, you’re either Team Messi or Team Cristiano.

The debate as to who is the best has rumbled on for more than a decade, but perhaps there are a select few who can truly judge whether Messi or Ronaldo is the greatest player of their generation.

Getting them to reveal where their loyalties lie may not be easy, for one reason or another. Just 12 players have had the opportunity to train and play alongside both stars at some stage during their career.

Gerard Pique and Henrik Larsson are the only two to have played with both at club level, while Carlos Tevez, Gabriel Heinze, Ezequiel Garay, Fernando Gago, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria have all played with Ronaldo at either Manchester United or Real Madrid, and Messi for Argentina. Deco, Andre Gomes and Nelson Semedo are the three players to have featured alongside Ronaldo for Portugal and Messi at Barcelona.

The newest member of that fortunate group is Paulo Dybala, who having played with Messi on the international stage, is now making the most of the chance to work with Ronaldo at club level, following the Portugal star’s move to Juventus in the summer.

Paulo Dybala is one of very few players to have played with both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi

Paulo Dybala is one of very few players to have played with both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi

As recently as September, Dybala was asked which player was best, and unsurprisingly – given his current situation – he wasn’t giving anything away.

“Between him [Ronaldo] and Messi there are no differences, they are too phenomenal. I’m lucky to play and learn from both,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Messi and Ronaldo should be getting worse (for age reasons), but instead they are still doing extraordinary things. They are not normal. My objective is to be the best of the humans.”

And while Dybala may feel blessed to have had the opportunity to play and work alongside both players, there has long been the argument his opportunities for Argentina have been hindered by the presence of five-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi.

The stats suggest that may well be the case. Dybala, who turned 25 last week, has won just 16 caps for his country since making his debut in 2015 and is yet to score an international goal.

Of those 16 caps, just four of them have come when starting a game alongside Messi, with two late substitute appearances the only other occasions in which Messi and Dybala have shared the field.

The same can’t be said for Dybala and Ronaldo, who have formed an excellent partnership for Juventus since the latter’s move to Turin in the summer.

Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo have impressed together at Juventus

Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo have impressed together at Juventus

Many wondered how Max Allegri would build his team around the former Real Madrid star, and whether Dybala would be one of those affected, but with just one defeat in all competitions so far this season, and a combined total of 15 goals scored between Ronaldo and Dybala, it’s fair to say the Juventus boss is getting the best out of both.

Speaking at the launch of adidas’ new COPA 19+ in Milan, Dybala told Sport360 about the impact Ronaldo has had at Juventus.

“Since Cristiano has arrived, we have always tried to work together and tried to be comfortable with one another,” he explained.

“I think we have been doing it well. We have scored really important goals for Juventus together, but I think the whole team is important and I think we all have to know each other well.

“Cristiano arrived only recently, but we all know the impact that he has on everyone and we knew his style from before. We know how he plays and how he works.”

Dybala wore a special edition version of the new COPA 19+ boots for the first time in Juventus’ only defeat of the season so far, a 2-1 defeat to Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League.

After Dybala scored the only goal of the game in the 1-0 win at Old Trafford two weeks previous, it was Ronaldo who stepped up on this occasion, netting his first-ever Champions League goal for Juventus against his former club.

Despite the defeat, the Serie A champions remain on course to finish top of Group H and secure progress to the knockout stages, and having reached two European finals in the last four seasons, Juventus are desperate to get their hands on a trophy they last won in 1996.

Can the arrival of Ronaldo – who has won the Champions League five times already in his remarkable career – aid the Old Lady’s hopes this time around?

“Of course with the arrival of Cristiano it is a test to everyone, because of what he signifies and everything that he has achieved,” said Dybala.

“I believe in previous years we have proven that we are capable of winning the Champions League, but we have had a bit of bad luck too, especially with what happened last year against [Real] Madrid.

Juventus were knocked out of the Champions League by a Ronaldo-inspired Real Madrid last season

Juventus were knocked out of the Champions League by a Ronaldo-inspired Real Madrid last season

“Also, we got to the quarter-finals in three of the previous years, but we haven’t had the luck of winning the competition. Hopefully we can do that this season.”

Should he win the Champions League alongside Ronaldo this season, we may just see Dybala move himself into the Team Cristiano camp.

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