Federico Balzaretti welcomed the introduction of an eight-team tournament in Lisbon for the return of this season's Champions League and called for the format to be an annual event on the football calendar.

There will be a condensed finish to the 2019-20 Champions League after the season was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Champions League will be completed in Portugal's capital city in August – the quarter-final and semi-final ties to be just one-off matches as opposed to the traditional two legs.

Quarter-final matches will take place across four nights from August 12-15, with last-four games contested on August 18-19, and the showpiece to be held at Benfica's Estadio da Luz on August 23.

"This kind of match of competition, new competition for Champions League, just one direct match. Great surprise because in one match you can beat or lose against everyone," former Juventus full-back and Italy international Balzaretti told Stats Perform News.

"Also Atalanta, they could win against anyone in a single match. I'm waiting for a big, big surprise in this kind of Champions League and I'm happy about that.

"I think it's great to have a final eight every year. In one city, it's like a mini European Championship every year.

"Why not [every year]? I'm very curious about it. I think it's good. There's less matches and you create Euros every year, with big surprise.

"It could be interesting. Also because FIFA would like to introduce a World Cup for clubs every two years. So, with one competition and more matches, this is a question of money, eh?"

The outstanding last-16 games will be completed on August 7-8, though a decision has not yet been taken on whether they will be played at the home stadiums without fans or in Portugal. The Estadio do Dragao in Porto and the Estadio Dom Afonso Henriques in Guimaraes will be added as venues if need be.

Juventus' last-16 clash with Lyon is one of the remaining ties after the Serie A champions lost 1-0 on the road in February prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

Since then, the Ligue 1 campaign was cancelled and Paris Saint-Germain were crowned champions, much to the anger of Lyon.

Meanwhile, Serie A leaders Juve – eyeing their first Champions League title since 1996 after finishing runners-up in 1997, 1998, 2003, 2015 and 2017 – are preparing to restart their season away to Bologna on Monday following Wednesday's Coppa Italia final defeat to Napoli.

"I think for Lyon it will be very hard because they didn't play for six months," Balzaretti, who spent two years at Juve, said. "So this is incredible. You play your most important match of the year and after six months you haven't played.

"And Juventus, they'll play 14 matches for this game. It is a big advantage for sure. I think [Lyon president Jean-Michel] Aulas is not happy about that. It will be very difficult.

"Everything is possible of course. But it's a big advantage."

Brescia sensation Sandro Tonali is ready to play for a "top, top club" amid strong links to Juventus and Inter, said former Italy international Federico Balzaretti.

Tonali is highly coveted following his exploits for Brescia – the Italian midfielder attracting interest from the likes of Serie A champions Juve, Inter, Manchester United, Manchester City and Barcelona.

The 20-year-old, compared to Italian great Andrea Pirlo, has been tipped to join either Inter or Juve at the end of the 2019-20 coronavirus-hit season.

Balzaretti hailed "special" three-time international Tonali in an interview with Stats Perform News.

"Tonali, the first time I watched him, his passing [stood out]," former Torino, Palermo, Juve, Fiorentina and Roma full-back Balzaretti said. "His idea, to pass and to play vertical. He is totally different to Andrea Pirlo but he could play together with Pirlo. It would be a great, great partnership because he is more physical maybe than Pirlo. What Andrea has is a light interior and a vision to map the field, to play under pressure and understand one or two times before other players. Tonali doesn't have that yet.

"But of course, Tonali is a great character. His defensive numbers are very high in the league. When you watch him after 10-15 minutes, you say okay he will be a national team player for the next 15 years. It's impressive. I watched him three years ago, he is very young. It's unbelievable. He is an incredible player. He is ready to play for a top, top club in Europe – if it's Juventus, Inter, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, I don't know, it doesn't matter. He is ready for the next step."

Tonali is set to shape the future of Italian football alongside fellow 20-year-old and Roma star Nicolo Zaniolo.

Zaniolo has flourished in the Italian capital since arriving from rivals Inter in 2018, establishing himself as a key player for Roma and Italy.

The attacking midfielder, who is continuing his recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), has been linked with a move away from Roma.

A possible return to Inter has been mentioned, while Juve have reportedly had an offer rejected amid reports Roma could be forced to sell prized asset Zaniolo due to their financial situation.

"It's very important to keep the best player, of course," Balzaretti, who spent three years playing for Roma before retiring in 2015, said. "But also, there is the financial part, which is sometimes more important because if you have a big debt, you have to sell, sometimes the management doesn't want to sell but they need to.

"When you need to sell, the offer comes for the best player you have. Clubs aren't stupid. They don't want to buy your worst player, they want your best player. Sometimes you need to. The problem is not to sell this kind of player, maybe it's a problem, but the first thing is to have a good balance financially. You have to be stable. You don't need to sell players, Zaniolo or someone else. This is the goal for this kind of club for me. Sometimes, you don't want but if you have less €100million, you need to sell because if not, FIFA will kill you.

"If you want to win the league, be stable in the Champions League, compete with the best clubs, you have to keep your best player. If they are young, like Zaniolo and [Lorenzo] Pellegrini, that can improve and be part of your future, of course it's not good. But if you ask everyone in Rome, the president and sport director, no one wants to sell their best player and sometimes you have to."

The 38-year-old added: "Zaniolo is a modern player physically. The power, amazing power. He is fast, he kicks well, he is a very modern player. He can play in midfield, wide, he can play number 10. A complete midfielder, an offensive midfielder.

"His impact in Serie A is so huge. You have to think that he played in Primavera, so under-19. His step was U19 direct to Serie A and not direct to Serie A to one 'normal club', with Roma and the pressure you have at Roma is amazing, so huge. His impact was more huge than the pressure he has. When you are special, you do something like that."

Dries Mertens has signed a new contract with Napoli to tie him to the club until 2022 and end transfer speculation.

The Belgium international was seemingly set to depart Stadio San Paolo with his previous deal set to expire at the end of the season.

His contractual situation led to reports of apparent discussions with Chelsea and Inter, the latter of whom were said to be offering a significantly better wage than the package put together by Napoli.

But the 33-year-old is claimed to have reached an agreement to remain at Napoli in May, with the club making the official announcement just four days after Mertens overtook Marek Hamsik as their all-time leading goalscorer.

A Napoli statement read: "Napoli is pleased to announce that it has agreed terms with Dries Mertens over a new contract with the club.

"Mertens has signed for a further two years with the option to extend for a third."

Club president Aurelio De Laurentiis added on his official Twitter account: "Pleased to be together for a long time to come – long live Dries!"

Mertens moved to Napoli in 2013 after an eye-catching two-year spell with PSV and has since scored 122 goals in all competitions, including 90 in Serie A.

His most prolific single league campaign was with Napoli in 2016-17, when the forward netted 28 times in Serie A.

Cristiano Ronaldo will "probably" play out the final years of his career in MLS, according to his former Manchester United and Portugal team-mate Nani.

Five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo has established himself as one of the sport's all-time greats, winning four of his five Champions League trophies during a nine-year spell with Real Madrid.

He left the Santiago Bernabeu as their all-time leading goalscorer and has surpassed 700 for club and country since moving to Juventus in 2018.

Although he is showing few signs of decline – as evidenced by his 21 goals in Serie A this term, equal to his tally in 2019-20 despite playing nine fewer matches – Ronaldo is now 35 years old.

Retirement does not appear to be imminent, however, with his Juve contract running for another two years, and he is seemingly planning on a spell in the United States before calling it a day.

"A couple of years ago, he told me that he will probably end up in America," Nani, who plays in MLS with Orlando City, told ESPN.

"It's not 100 per cent, but probably. There is a chance."

Nani is convinced by the quality of football in MLS, even if he does recognise there is still plenty of room for improvement.

"It is a great league," Nani said. "Obviously there are points where we must improve as a league, even in the quality of the players.

"[But] here you have fantastic clubs, well organised with fantastic conditions, great coaches, great players. You see every season improving.

"I think we all have the conditions in this league. We are in a great country, everything is around us. It is all about being better, not being afraid to improve."

Bologna head coach Sinisa Mihajlovic has signed a contract extension until June 2023.

Mihajlovic was diagnosed with leukaemia ahead of the 2019-20 season and underwent a bone marrow transplant in October. He was back in the dugout six weeks later.

The Serbian had two years left to run on his deal but agreed to an extension with Bologna 10th in Serie A, which will resume this weekend having been suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic, with 12 games remaining.

They sit five points adrift of Europa League qualification and two away from seventh, which will also provide a route into continental football next season if Juventus win the Coppa Italia, or if Napoli claim the trophy and finish in the top six.

Mihajlovic was present for Bologna's first game of the season in August despite spending the month prior in hospital undergoing treatment.

Bologna will play their first game in almost four months at home to reigning champions Juve on Monday.

Manchester United know what they will need to pay for Aston Villa star Jack Grealish, and they may look elsewhere.

Grealish has been linked with a move to Old Trafford after an impressive campaign with Villa.

However, United could opt for a cheaper alternative.

 

TOP STORY – VILLA WANT £80M FOR MAN UTD TARGET GREALISH

Aston Villa want at least £80million for Jack Grealish amid links to Manchester United, according to the Daily Mail.

The report says Villa also have hope of keeping the attacker if they can avoid Premier League relegation.

Grealish, 24, has scored seven goals and provided six assists in 26 Premier League games this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Could Manchester United look elsewhere? The Sun reports United are eyeing Bayer Leverkusen forward Leon Bailey as a cheaper alternative to Grealish and Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho.

- Staying at Old Trafford and France Football claims Manchester United have made contact with Willian, who is coming out of contract at Chelsea.

- Miralem Pjanic's Juventus future seems unclear. Sport reports the midfielder is moving away from the Serie A club amid links to Barcelona and Chelsea.

- Perhaps Juventus and Chelsea could be set for a swap deal. The Sun says Chelsea are set to be offered Adrien Rabiot and Federico Bernardeschi for Jorginho and Marcos Alonso.

- Another player who has been linked to Manchester United is Birmingham City teenager Jude Bellingham. However, BILD reports Borussia Dortmund have reached an agreement with the 16-year-old midfielder, but are having problems with the transfer fee.

- On loan at Borussia Dortmund since 2018, Achraf Hakimi is due to return to Real Madrid. However, AS reports Bayern Munich are eager to sign the full-back and are willing to offer a sizeable transfer fee and salary.

Maurizio Sarri has expressed frustration at the way his record in Italy can be perceived ahead of Juventus' Coppa Italia final clash against Napoli.

Serie A leaders Juve face Napoli in Rome on Wednesday after the two sides emerged triumphant from their semi-final ties against Milan and Inter respectively.

Juve were runners-up in the Supercoppa Italiana earlier in the season, so a Coppa triumph would be a first trophy with the club for head coach Sarri.

Prior to his year at Chelsea, when he won last season's Europa League, Sarri spent three successful campaigns with Napoli, though silverware eluded him.

That stint came after a long managerial run in Italy that included spells with Empoli, Perugia and Sorrento.

"I get a bit annoyed when I hear that I didn't win anything in Italy, because I won eight promotions," Sarri told reporters ahead of the final.

"That is perhaps a small thing compared to the Champions League and the Scudetto, but it is not easy.

"It's always an important incentive to win important trophies and there is a desire to lift the cup. I am happy that we are in the final."

The 61-year-old urged his players to seize the moment after the coronavirus crisis left them wondering if their hard work earlier in the season would come to nothing.

Sarri added: "We had seven months of play but then three months of lockdown before we could play these games.

"Now we have to bring out that little bit extra to take home as many trophies as possible.

"We have worked hard to get to this position to play games like this, so it is time to give everything we have.

"Winning is never a foregone conclusion, but it will be important to do it for the players, for the club and for the fans."

Maurizio Sarri has praised his opposite number Gennaro Gattuso ahead of the Coppa Italia final while urging his Juventus players to turn their fine season into something "concrete".

Napoli and Juve saw off Inter and Milan respectively in the semi-finals at the weekend.

Juve boss Sarri will now battle it out against his former club for the trophy in Rome on Wednesday.

Sarri is under no illusions over the quality of Napoli, now led by Gattuso after he coached them between 2015 and 2018.

The Partenopei have only lost once in 10 matches and are bidding to win their first trophy since 2014, while Juve are top of Serie A and still in the Champions League as they target multiple trophies. 

"Napoli are a difficult team to face," Sarri said.

"They are solid when they close the spaces and dangerous on the counter. They won against us, against Inter and drew with Barcelona, they know how to play at a high level.

"Napoli are a team of dribblers, on Wednesday we must remain compact and not allow easy counter-attacking situations. 

"I like Gattuso a lot, he is straightforward and direct. I'm not surprised by what he's achieving."

Sarri believes his approach has changed during the lockdown enforced by the coronavirus crisis.

He added: "From a mental point of view it's been a difficult period for everyone but I've seen the guys at their best: open, smiling and ready to play. 

"Maybe I've also improved too, I'm more patient and less uncompromising. I am completely focused on the final and on our team, with the right concentration and conviction.

"We've played for seven months, and then have had a long break in order to play these remaining matches. 

"Therefore, we'll have to give everything that we have and give that little bit more to win as many trophies as possible. 

"Apart from a few games that haven't gone our way the results have been good so far. 

"We have an excellent points average so we can be pleased with that, but now we want to transform it into something concrete."

Milan winger Samu Castillejo has relived the terror he felt at being robbed at gunpoint.

Castillejo had a watch worth €80,000 stolen when he was ambushed in his car by two men on a motorbike in Milan.

The 25-year-old Spaniard was later reunited with the valuable timepiece after police arrested two men at a service station.

The incident happened at the Piazza Principessa Clotilde in Milan.

"Luckily they could find my robbers," Castillejo told Radio Marca.

"The scare remains, nobody likes to have a pistol put to his head. It all happened in 20 seconds, they approached on the motorcycle.

"They put the pistol to my head and asked for the watch again and again."

Milan will return to Serie A action against Lecce on June 22, with the Rossoneri seventh in the standings through 26 rounds.

Cristiano Ronaldo would have his ideal partner at Juventus if they signed Arkadiusz Milik, according to Marco Borriello.

Poland international Milik's contract with Napoli, who face Juve in the Coppa Italia final on Wednesday, is due to expire at the end of next season.

The 26-year-old has scored 26 goals in Serie A since the start of 2018-19, with his first two seasons at Napoli heavily disrupted by a pair of anterior cruciate ligament tears – one in either knee.

With speculation over Paulo Dybala's future at Juve ongoing, Borriello, who was part of the Bianconeri side that lost the 2012 Coppa final to Napoli, believes Milik could provide the perfect foil for Ronaldo in Turin.

Asked how he thought the pair would work together, Borriello told Tuttosport: "Very well. Milik is a complete number nine and, if he hadn't suffered those bad injuries, he would be one of the strongest with [Gonzalo] Higuain and [Edin] Dzeko.

"Arek is not just a penalty-box striker, he is one of those who scores more with shots from outside the area.

"For CR7, he could be a bit like what [Karim] Benzema was in his time at Real Madrid.

"But, trust me, these transfer rumours do not exist on the pitch. Now Milik is only thinking of Napoli."

Kai Havertz leaving the Bundesliga for the Premier League has emerged as a strong possibility.

Chelsea and Manchester United are reportedly vying for the Bayer Leverkusen attacker's signature.

However, Bayern Munich could keep the Germany international in his homeland.

 

TOP STORY – BAYERN IN POLE POSITION FOR HAVERTZ

Bayern Munich are favourites to sign Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz, according to the Telegraph.

The race is heating up for Havertz, who has been heavily linked to Premier League trio Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool.

Real Madrid are also reportedly interested but Bundesliga champions Bayern are in pole position to bring the Germany international to Bavaria as they also look to sign Manchester City's Leroy Sane.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato says Milan are determined to lure Madrid forward Luka Jovic to San Siro. The Serbia international has struggled since swapping Eintracht Frankfurt for Madrid at the start of the season. Madrid want between €45 and €50million for Jovic and the report claims Milan could look to sell Rade Krunic, Lucas Paqueta, Andre Silva, Suso and Mateo Musacchio to raise funds.

- The front page of Tuesday's Diario AS claims Bayern will offer Achraf Hakimi a "galactic" salary to prise the Morocco international from Madrid. The full-back has spent the past two seasons on loan at Borussia Dortmund.

United are leading the chase for Watford defender Pervis Estupinan amid interest from Tottenham, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, according to the Express. The Ecuadorian is on loan from Osasuna.

Juventus and Barcelona have entered the chase for Lazio star Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, reports Corriere dello Sport. Milinkovic-Savic has been heavily linked to Paris Saint-Germain, as well as United.

- Sport says Pedro's proposed move from Chelsea to Roma has collapsed amid an internal fallout in the Italian capital. The veteran forward has now been offered to Valencia.

Chelsea will finalise a deal to sign RB Leipzig and Germany forward Timo Werner this week, the Evening Standard claims. Liverpool and United were also eyeing Werner.

- Sport Bild journalist Christian Falk reports PSG are interested in signing Bayern's Lucas Hernandez to replace departing defender Thiago Silva. PSG will not renew Silva's contract in the French capital.

- Falk also says Dortmund have not received any official offers for star Jadon Sancho, who has been linked to United, City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Madrid and Barca.

Massimo Carrera believes Atalanta can win the Serie A title next season with two or three "quality signings" as he hailed Gian Piero Gasperini's team.

Atalanta have become the great entertainers of Italian and European football under head coach Gasperini, scoring a Serie A-high 70 goals through 25 matches before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

No Serie A team scored more goals last season as Atalanta finished third to qualify for the Champions League for the first time – the Bergamo-based side reached the quarter-finals in Europe prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

Led by Papu Gomez and Josip Ilicic, Atalanta are fourth in the standings and occupy the final Champions League spot as they prepare to resume their 2019-20 Serie A season against Sassuolo on Sunday.

Asked if Atalanta can challenge for the Scudetto next season, former defender Carrera – who captained the club before leaving for Napoli in 2003 – told Stats Perform News: "Why not, I think that Atalanta might win the Scudetto with two or three more quality purchases."

"I played for Atalanta for seven years and still today I live in Bergamo," the AEK Athens head coach added.

"Atalanta are a serious and competent club that has built a great team year after year, enhancing young talents from their youth sector. 

"Gasperini is doing a great job, they play a good football made of intensity and quality in all departments.  It is no longer a surprise but a reality."

Carrera joined Atalanta from Juventus in 1996, after winning Serie A, Champions League, UEFA Cup, Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana titles in Turin.

The 56-year-old also had his first taste of coaching, albeit briefly, at Juve in 2012 after head coach Antonio Conte was handed a 10-month ban – later reduced to four months – for failing to report match-fixing.

Carrera, who played alongside Conte in Turin before reuniting with his former team-mate as technical director in 2011, stepped into the caretaker role and claimed the Supercoppa Italiana against Napoli.

Fast forward to 2020 and Juve – a point clear of Lazio atop the table – are preparing for Wednesday's Coppa Italia final against Napoli in Rome, before travelling to Bologna on June 22.

Juve also lost 1-0 to Lyon in the opening leg of their Champions League last-16 tie prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

Cristiano Ronaldo has played a key role for Juve since arriving from Real Madrid in 2018, scoring 53 goals in 76 games for the Serie A champions.

"Ronaldo with his qualities is one of Juventus' weapons thanks to his determination, professionalism and desire to win," Carrera, who coached Spartak Moscow to the 2016-17 Russian Premier League title, said. "And I'm sure that he could help Juventus to become champions again."

Juventus and Inter target Sandro Tonali wants to remain in Serie A, according to Brescia owner Massimo Cellino.

Tonali is highly coveted following his exploits for Brescia – the Italian star linked to the likes of Juventus, Inter, Manchester United, Manchester City and Barcelona.

Cellino provided an update on Tonali's future, while ruling out a swap deal for the 20-year-old Italy international midfielder.

"So far there's only been a few phone calls, without anything beyond that," Cellino told Gr Parlamento.

"It's difficult to talk about [the transfer market] after everything that's happened, but I hope the lad keeps having fun on the pitch like he did before.

"I wouldn't like all these rumours to lead to another problem, which hurts our chances of staying up.

"Inter and Juve have both asked me about him, as have other teams. What's for certain is that the player wants to stay in Italy and we'll accommodate him.

"I don't like swap deals. We're not that desperate."

Tonali, who played a key role in Brescia's promotion from Serie B last season, has been compared to Italian great Andrea Pirlo.

The in-demand star had scored one goal and supplied five assists before the 2019-20 Serie A campaign was postponed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Brescia are nine points adrift of safety through 26 rounds as they prepare to resume their fight for survival against Fiorentina on June 22.

Former Juventus defender Massimo Carrera, who is now head coach of Greek giants AEK Athens, hailed Tonali ahead of a possible move to Turin.

"I think that Tonali can become a great player, he has talent and personality but is really difficult for me to compare him with Pirlo," Carrera – who won the Serie A and Champions League among other titles during his playing career with Juve before stepping in for Antonio Conte and claiming the 2012 Supercoppa Italiana as caretaker coach – told Stats Perform News.

Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis says an offer of €100million could tempt him to sell Fabian Ruiz or Kalidou Koulibaly.

Centre-back Koulibaly has been heavily linked with Manchester United, while Manchester City have also been credited with an interest.

Midfielder Fabian has also been tipped to move to one of Europe's elite clubs, including Real Madrid, City and Paris Saint-Germain.

De Laurentiis is not prepared to sell any of Napoli's top assets on the cheap, but he will not stand in their way if a suitable offer is made.

"If City, or United, or PSG showed up with 100million euros, I would think about it and it is probable they would leave, assuming their desire was to leave," he told Corriere dello Sport.

"I don't even consider an offer of 60 [million]. If I'd wanted to win the title at any cost, today I would find myself three, four hundred million in debt."

De Laurentiis also confirmed Napoli have extended the contract of forward Dries Mertens, whose deal was close to expiring.

The 71-year-old admits he has made something of an exception to offer a player of Mertens' age renewed terms.

He said of the Belgium international, who broke Napoli's goalscoring record with his 122nd for the club against Inter in the Coppa Italia: "He's a rascal.

"We met for breakfast six months ago. It was a revelation. I met a special man, intelligent, mentally quick, a badass.

"Renewing the contract of a 33-year-old footballer is not a habit of ours, [but] with Mertens it was simple, natural.

"I'll say more: when he has stopped playing, I'd like to find him a role to continue our collaboration."

Jose Callejon's contract also runs out soon, but De Laurentiis appears uncertain whether the forward will agree to a new deal or leave on a free transfer.

"In September, or maybe October, I don't remember well, we talked to each other and clarified our intentions," he added. "I must have changed up the contract by 100,000, 200,000 euros. His manager never let us know anything. That's that. He knows the conditions."

"The idea of becoming a coach came to me during my last years as a player."

Massimo Carrera enjoyed a successful career as a defender, winning Serie A, Champions League, UEFA Cup, Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana titles with Juventus in the 1990s.

Carrera, who earned a move to Juventus from Bari in 1991 before leaving Turin five years later, also went on to captain Atalanta before eventually retiring in 2008.

The 56-year-old now finds himself in charge of Greek giants AEK Athens.

He had his first taste of coaching, albeit briefly, at Juventus in 2012 after head coach Antonio Conte was handed a 10-month ban – later reduced to four months – for failing to report match-fixing.

Carrera, who played alongside Conte in Turin before reuniting with his former team-mate as technical director in 2011, stepped into the caretaker role and claimed the Supercoppa Italiana against Napoli.

"Being part of Juventus' staff and then even stepping in during that period was an unexpected and extraordinary experience for me," Carrera told Stats Perform News.

"I remember the first Supercoppa match against Napoli which we won [4-2 after extra time in Beijing]. I was very tense during the week leading up to the final but at the beginning of the match it was as if I had been training for years."

Despite being six years Conte's senior, Carrera soaked up the Italian's methods and formed a strong bond, which led to the pair teaming up again – this time with Italy.

Carrera was part of Conte's Azzurri staff as an assistant for Euro 2016. After Italy lost to Germany in the quarter-finals, Conte joined Premier League powerhouse Chelsea. All of his assistants followed to London, except one – trusted lieutenant Carrera joined Spartak Moscow as Dmitri Alenichev's assistant coach.

Having arrived in July, Carrera quickly went from assistant to caretaker manager and then permanent coach on a two-year deal the following month after Alenichev resigned.

"After Conte's return I resumed my role as assistant and during the European Championship, there was the opportunity to go to Spartak Moscow as Alenichev wanted me as assistant," Carrera said. "Driven by the fact that Conte, who was about to move to Chelsea, could not take all the staff with him, I accepted and I left for Moscow."

Carrera's decision to swap Italy for Moscow proved to be a wise one for coach and club after ending Spartak's 16-year wait for Russian Premier League glory.

No other Spartak coach managed a better start – Carrera's men collecting 28 of 36 points from the first 12 matches under the Italian – as they claimed their first league crown since 2001 ahead of rivals CSKA Moscow.

"It was an extraordinary experience for me. I remember when I became Spartak Moscow head coach, the situation was not easy and there was a lot of pressure," he continued. "The team hadn't won a league in 16 years and fans were upset.  We worked hard to do our best and it was a triumph because we were at the top of the standings from the first day of the championship."

The situation, though, turned sour as he was sacked by Spartak in October 2018 after finishing third the previous season, despite being a popular figure among fans.

"I was really sad about that [leaving Spartak] because I hadn't be able to complete my job despite being one point behind the runner-up team," Carrera added.

Fast forward to 2020 and Carrera is coaching one of Greece's biggest teams – 12-time Super League champions AEK.

AEK appointed Carrera in December last year following a sabbatical, replacing Nikolaos Kostenoglou in Athens.

The coronavirus pandemic halted Carrera's work in March but AEK have made an unbeaten start since returning earlier this month – drawing at home to rivals Panathinaikos and defeating OFI 2-0 on Sunday to stay second in the table, 17 points behind leaders Olympiacos and two clear of PAOK in the race for Champions League qualification in the play-off round.

"Now I'm here at AEK Athens, another great club. We started the play-offs and we are in the cup semi-final [against Aris on June 24]," Carrera said. "Our goal is to secure second place and win the Greek Cup.  AEK fans are very passionate, warm and close to the team."

AEK last won the league title in 2017-18 as Olympiacos and Panathinaikos continue to dominate, and Carrera added: "This gap can be eliminated by working hard and trying to add technical quality. It was not easy but having the technology on our side we managed to work by monitoring and watching the players."

Since Carrera moved to Athens Olympic Stadium, he has only overseen one defeat in 20 matches, with AEK in the midst of a 15-game unbeaten streak across all competitions. In total, Carrera has only lost 21 of his 119 games in charge of AEK, Spartak and Juve.

"I think I transmitted all the passion and emotion that I feel about football to the team," Carrera said.

As Carrera utilises his experiences under the likes of Giovanni Trapattoni and Marcello Lippi to make his mark in Europe, the one-time Italy international is dreaming of a fairytale return.

"Definitely go back to Juventus," Carrera said. "This is my dream!"

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