Juve, beaten 3-1 by Barcelona in last season’s UEFA Champions League final, secured passage to the the knockout phase on Wednesday thanks to their second successive defeat of Manchester City in the group stages of the competition. The Turin giants travel to Palermo in Serie A on Sunday looking to continue their fightback following a disastrous start to the campaign that, only last month, left them four points above the drop zone.
Juventus have since closed the gap and, after claiming a third consecutive win for the first time this season last week, sit in sixth place at nine points behind leaders Inter Milan, who are away to second-placed Napoli on Monday. Although all eyes at the Renzo Barbera stadium on Sunday are likely to be on former Palermo striker Paulo Dybala, Allegri hinted the emerging Juve star could start on the bench ahead of what he hopes will be a focused and high-pressure performance.
“There’s going to be 30-40,000 Palermo fans there tomorrow so we have to be totally focussed for this trip and make sure we keep the pressure high,” Allegri told media in Turin. “We’re still trailing in the league and can’t let up before the Christmas break. We need consistency, otherwise we’ll be stuck in the limbo of fifth or sixth place. And that’s no good.”
Juve’s defeat of City in Turin came courtesy of Mario Mandzukic’s 18th minute strike, although Dybala was among several players who spurned chances to build on Juve’s lead. Despite being eased slowly into one of the two strikers’ roles at Juve, Dybala is beginning to show glimpses of the skill that propelled him into the spotlight at Palermo prior to his €32m move to the champions last summer.
Dybala rescued a muted Juve side with a superbly-struck winner in a 1-0 defeat of AC Milan last week, a week after hitting Juve’s third goal in a 3-0 win over Empoli. With objectives both at home and in Europe this season, Allegri said a “healthy competition for places is important”, but he remained coy as to which strikers would start on Sunday.
“Recently (Alvaro) Morata sat out two games, but it will happen to Dybala or Mandzukic as well and maybe Morata and (Simone) Zaza will play,” he said. “Alvaro has great abilities, but maybe Mandzukic, who is a different kind of player, offers us something that we need more of right now. Healthy competition for places is important, it keeps the players’ attention levels high.”
Palermo are not the same team without Dybala leading their attack and two weeks ago Davide Ballardini was re-appointed as the club’s coach following the sacking of Giuseppe Iachini. Although Ballardini admitted stopping the ‘Old Lady’ “won’t be easy”, he expressed his regret at not having had the chance to coach Dybala.
“It’s a shame I never got the chance. Dybala is one of these players who makes you fall in love with football, a great person on all fronts.”