Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus dust themselves down and head for lowly Cagliari on Sunday, focussed on salvaging their bid for a 10th consecutive league title with their Champions League ambitions buried for another season.
Juventus crashed out in the last 16 for the second consecutive year, losing on away goals to FC Porto in Turin, and now also risk finishing the season without the Serie A trophy.
Andrea Pirlo’s side are third — 10 points off leaders Inter Milan who travel to relegation-threatened Torino—but having played a game less.
Second-placed AC Milan, four points ahead of Juventus, host Napoli, in sixth, where a slip-up by Stefano Pioli’s side could let the champions close the gap.
“We’ll have time to improve now and work on the things we didn’t have the chance to do before with all the back-to-back games,” said Pirlo, looking for positives after their European shortcomings.
“We need to dive into the championship because we are only in March and still have many games.”
Serie A top scorer Ronaldo could console himself with a goal in the Sardegna Arena, the only top flight Italian stadium where the Portuguese striker has never found the net.
“I still believe we can win the Scudetto,” said 23-year-old forward Federico Chiesa who outshone veteran Ronaldo with three goals over two legs against Porto.
“We must bounce back with a big performance against Cagliari.”
The Sardinians, two points above the relegation zone, are unbeaten in their last three games since Leonardo Semplici took over to snap a 16-match winless run.
In Turin, leaders Inter take on coronavirus-hit Torino with coach Antonio Conte sitting out a touchline ban.
Big-scoring Inter boosted their ambitions of a first ‘Scudetto’ since 2010 with a win over Atalanta last weekend.
Torino, in 19th, have lost their last three Serie A matches against Inter, conceding at least three goals in each game.
Napoli take their push for Champions League football to the San Siro against Milan before next week’s clash with third-placed Roma who travel to Parma who are on a 17-match winless run.
Forward Hirving Lozano has returned to training providing a boost for Napoli coach Gennaro Gattuso.
Italy’s two remaining Champions League hopefuls this season Lazio and Atalanta kick off the weekend on Friday against Crotone and Spezia respectively.
Atalanta are one point off fourth-placed Roma, and next travel to Real Madrid in the Champions League after losing the first leg of their last 16 tie 1-0.
Lazio are seventh after losing to Juventus last weekend and next week play European champions Bayern Munich who thrashed the Romans 4-1 in the first leg.
One to watch: Fikayo Tomori
AC Milan’s English defender Tomori has impressed since moving from Chelsea on loan in January, with after five league appearances sporting director Paolo Maldini indicating a permanent deal could be on the cards.
“It’s amazing to feel wanted here, especially by a legend like Maldini, one of the greatest defenders of all time, if not the very best,” said Tomori, 23, before Thursday’s Europa League trip to Manchester United.
“This gives me a lot of confidence.”