Cristiano Ronaldo's behaviour on his days off is not Juventus's responsibility, according to Andrea Pirlo, after the five-time Ballon d'Or winner allegedly broke coronavirus travel restrictions.

Valle d'Aosta police are investigating whether Ronaldo failed to adhere to Italy's strict COVID-19 protocols by travelling to the area from Piedmont to go skiing with his girlfriend Georgina Rodriguez, as part of her birthday celebrations this week.

Both Valle d'Aosta and Piedmont are listed as "orange zone" regions, with travel between such locations prohibited.

Ronaldo, who tested positive for coronavirus last October, may face a fine if found guilty.

"Cristiano Ronaldo had a day off and on your days off you are free to do what you want," head coach Pirlo told a news conference ahead of Saturday's trip to Sampdoria.

"When they are here they are under my control, but outside of here they are free citizens and can take their own actions."

Weston McKennie has become one of Juve's key performers this season since joining from Schalke, scoring four times across all competitions from midfield since the start of December.

Pirlo believes the 22-year-old United States international has plenty of room for further improvement.

"He is so young he can improve everywhere," he said.

"We were the fastest to sign him in Germany and we are so happy to have him with us.

"He is humble and very keen to improve, especially from a technical point of view. I mean, he is a bit rough in ball control, in his body movements, but he can improve quickly.

"He is a healthy kid, he knows he is not done, he is just at the beginning and being aware of this is already a good starting point."

Pirlo has a clean bill of health, with the exception of forward Paulo Dybala, who is still nursing a knee injury.

Federico Chiesa completed the scoring in the 4-0 Coppa Italia win over SPAL and will start after shaking off an ankle problem.

Alvaro Morata put Juve in front from the penalty spot in midweek - his 13th goal of the campaign - and is ready to go again having been compromised by groin pain of late.

"He played last time and we managed to save him some minutes, so tomorrow he will be at the top of his game," Pirlo added.

"We know him well, he dwells so much on enthusiasm and that is what we need to give him back.

"But he has done well, he knows he is very important for Juventus, so I am more than convinced he will go on at his best."

Andrea Pirlo insisted Juventus had forgotten about their recent loss to Inter ahead of the Coppa Italia semi-final between the Serie A giants.

Juve booked their spot in the last four with a 4-0 thrashing of SPAL in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.

They will face Inter in a two-legged semi-final, having fallen to the Nerazzurri less than a fortnight ago in Serie A.

But Pirlo said Juve – who reached the Coppa semi-finals for the eighth time in 10 seasons – had moved on from that encounter.

"We forgot the game in Milan [against Inter] because it was in the league," the Juve head coach told a news conference.

"Next week we are going to play Coppa Italia semi-final so we will face them keen to qualify to the final. These two games are completely different.

"We have to cancel the game played last Sunday, but we have to prepare well for the semi-final."

Alvaro Morata, Gianluca Frabotta, Dejan Kulusevski and Federico Chiesa scored in Juve's resounding win over SPAL.

Morata joined Cristiano Ronaldo, Romelu Lukaku and Ciro Immobile as one of four Serie A players to have been involved in 20-plus goals in all competitions this season (13 goals and seven assists).

Meanwhile, Gianluigi Buffon started and kept a clean sheet, making one save, and Pirlo said he hoped there was more to come from the 43-year-old.

"It's a pleasure having Gigi in the team. It's a pleasure to see him training every day like a young player. This is the most important thing," he said.

"When you have that energy you can keep on [playing], otherwise you need to find something else to do. When we were playing together, I didn't expect he could have so long a career. He had serious injuries to his back and shoulder but he's been really focused to his body and he worked more than when he was young. That's why he has had this long career.

"He will play again this season because he showed he is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world. I hope we can enjoy him for more time."

Before the first leg of their semi-final against Inter on February 3, Inter will visit Sampdoria on Saturday.

Gianluca Frabotta scored his first senior goal as Juventus eased into a Coppa Italia semi-final tie against Inter with a comfortable 4-0 win over second-tier SPAL at Allianz Stadium.

Alvaro Morata scored his first penalty for Juve since February 2016 to put last season's runners up, without the rested Cristiano Ronaldo, ahead in the opening stages.

Frabotta's strike was the highlight, however – his wonderful finish handing Andrea Pirlo's team complete control.

Aaron Ramsey squandered two good chances to add to Juve's lead, though it was an error in the SPAL defence which enabled Dejan Kulusevski and Federico Chiesa to wrap things up.

Frabotta lashed a low effort across the face of goal as Juve hunted an early opener, and it duly came in the 16th minute.

Adrien Rabiot was booked for simulation after he went down under Francesco Vicari's challenge, yet the referee changed his decision after consulting VAR, and Morata sent Etrit Berisha the wrong way from 12 yards.

Morata turned provider eight minutes later, with Kulusevski stinging Berisha's palms, before Ramsey hit the side netting.

Berisha was picking the ball out of his net again a minute later, though – Frabotta thumping in a brilliant first-time strike from the edge of the area.

SPAL veteran Sergio Floccari had an immediate chance to haul one back, but sliced wide of the left-hand upright.

Frabotta almost turned provider with a wicked cross early in the second half, though Ramsey failed to turn it home.

Ramsey found his route to goal blocked by Berisha prior to the hour, while Kulusevski – who had teed up Frabotta's goal at the end of an impressive run – continued to run SPAL ragged.

Kulusevski had the goal his performance deserved with 12 minutes remaining, the forward coolly slotting home after Morata had pounced on Nenad Tomovic's mistake.

And substitute Chiesa added further gloss in the final minute of stoppage time when he rounded Berisha to tuck in.

What does it mean? Derby d'Italia coming up

Juve failed to perform when Inter came to town on January 17, but now have a chance to bite back over two legs, which will take place next month.

Between them, Juve and Inter have won the Coppa Italia 20 times, albeit the Bianconeri have the majority share in that particular aspect, having triumphed on 13 occasions.

Frabotta fires one in

Left-back Frabotta has been a regular under Pirlo this term, with Wednesday's game his 14th appearance of the season in all competitions, and the 21-year-old took his first senior goal in supremely confident fashion.

It capped a fine individual display as he became the youngest Italian player to score for Juve since Moise Kean in April 2016.

Bernardeschi injury blow

Federico Bernardeschi is still awaiting his first goal of the campaign, with the Italy international having made just six starts in total.

However, his wait might be set to go on, with the former Fiorentina attacker succumbing to a knock and going off at half-time, having failed to register a single attempt or create a chance.

What's next?

An away trip to Sampdoria is Juve's next Serie A fixture, on Saturday, while SPAL host Monza in Serie B.

Andrea Pirlo warned his Juventus side they risk going the way of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich if they take SPAL lightly in Wednesday's Coppa Italia quarter-final tie.

SPAL knocked out Sassuolo in the last round and make the trip to the Allianz Stadium sitting fifth in Serie B as they seek a swift return to the top tier of Italian football.

Record 13-time Coppa winners Juve enter the game as strong favourites to progress to the semi-finals, where the winner of Tuesday's game between Inter and Milan would await.

However, in a month that has seen Madrid exit the Copa del Rey with defeat to third-tier Alcoyano and Bayern lose to second-tier Holstein Kiel in the DFB-Pokal, Pirlo is taking nothing for granted.

"There are a lot of possible risks because we are facing a Serie B team on paper. But if you look at the foreign cups, Bayern lost to a team from a lower division, as did Madrid," Pirlo told Juventus TV.

"We have to assume that it will be a difficult game. We need maximum concentration because we want to go through. They are a good team that are doing well in the league and cup.

"We of course have to be careful because the main objective is to pass through to the next round.

"They are a very good team that like to play football, play with three defenders and sometimes three forwards or half-strikers. It is a difficult team to face so we will have to be at our best to avoid losing."

Juve's Scudetto hopes took a major dent with defeat to Inter on January 17, but they have since responded with 2-0 wins over Napoli in the Supercoppa Italiana and Bologna in the league.

Pirlo now has near enough a fully-fit squad to choose from and believes that will be reflected on the results front.

"It means we can improve because we have great players back," he said. "I hope to finally have the whole squad available and we can then work on all the concepts, which we have not been able to do this season."

Rodrigo Bentancur will miss the cup tie but Matthijs de Ligt and Merih Demiral will return to the starting line-up after recovering from coronavirus and injury respectively.

"Bentancur will rest for sure because on Sunday he played the whole game with a hole in his foot," Pirlo said. "We had to put three stitches in - he made a big sacrifice and now he will need a few days of rest to absorb the bruise.

"Some players who played on Sunday will rest. De Ligt and Demiral will return and start from the beginning. Then for the rest we will have a competitive team.

Pirlo also confirmed Gianluigi Buffon will start against SPAL, with regular goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny being given a breather.

Szczesny has conceded 16 goals in 14 league matches this term for a save percentage of 68.63, which is below the 74.42 he managed last season and 75.61 in 2018-19.

He made three saves against both Napoli and Bologna to keep successive clean sheets, but Pirlo is after even more from the Poland international.

"He is giving us great confidence with his performances," the rookie head coach said. "We are more than satisfied with the displays he is putting in on the pitch.

"We know he can still improve because he's a world-class goalkeeper who plays for a great team. We are hoping that he can still do better."

Inter beat Juventus. Juventus beat Milan. Milan beat Inter. For once it has been tough to predict the title race in Serie A.

Winning the Scudetto was not enough for Maurizio Sarri to keep his job at Juve last season, meaning Andrea Pirlo is under significant pressure as the Bianconeri chase a 10th straight league crown.

However, they have struggled to convince under the former midfield metronome and sit seven points adrift of leaders Milan in fourth, although they hold a game in hand.

There has seemingly never been a better chance for Inter, who are two points off top in second, and Milan to end Scudetto droughts that date back to 2009-10 and 2010-11 respectively.

Fans and pundits will continue to have their say on who will sit top come the end of the season, and the Stats Perform AI team have also crunched the numbers to predict the champions for the 2020-21 campaign.

With the majority of the 20 teams having reached the halfway stage of the league campaign, they have simulated how the rest of the season may play out.

 

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Without further ado, let's have a good look at the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table.

 

INTER END JUVE'S REIGN

Although they sit second at the halfway stage, our model predicts Inter will end Juve's dominance of Serie A.

Inter have a 35.7 per cent chance of topping the table for the first time since their treble-winning campaign of 2009-10 and it is projected they will do so by a two-point advantage.

Not only do Milan surrender top spot to the Nerazzurri, they slip behind Juve into third with the top three separated by just three points. It would still represent their best finish since 2012-13.

Juve's chance of retaining the title is deemed to be 23.1 per cent, marginally better than Milan's 21.6 per cent.

ATALANTA RETURN TO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Gian Piero Gasperini steered Atalanta to Champions League qualification for the first time in their history in 2018-19 and made it back-to-back top-three finishes last season.

They are predicted to return to Europe's premier club competition by finishing fourth, edging out Napoli – they even have a 6.8 per cent chance of pulling off an unlikely title win.

Gennaro Gattuso's side have a 17 per cent probability of snatching the final Champions League qualification berth, with Atalanta's prospects narrowly superior at 17.4 per cent.

Roma are predicted to fall from their current position of third down to sixth but that is still good enough for them to deny arch-rivals Lazio qualification to the inaugural Europa Conference League.

The top six may need to beware of Sassuolo, Hellas Verona and Sampdoria, however. Sassuolo have a 0.3 per cent likelihood of finishing inside the top four, while Verona (0.6 per cent) and Sampdoria (0.3 per cent) also have an outside chance of stealing European qualification, though our predictor suggests Lazio will finish 12 points clear of Sassuolo in seventh.

 

GENOA AND TORINO ESCAPE DROP

At the turn of the year Torino were rock bottom with one win from their opening 14 games and Genoa were in the relegation zone with them.

However, Torino and Genoa have both moved out of the bottom three by claiming six points and eight points respectively over their past five games.

The two sides are predicted to maintain strong enough form to stay out of the drop zone, with Crotone (20th), Parma (19th) and Cagliari (18th) projected to suffer relegation to Serie B.

It is by no means a guarantee, though. Genoa are only 0.2 per cent more likely to come 17th than they are to suffer relegation by finishing 18th, while Torino's differential between 15th – where they are predicted to place – and third-bottom is 2.7 per cent.

Frank Lampard's appointment as Chelsea head coach was widely heralded by the club's fanbase, who were desperate for a returning hero to succeed in the dugout.

Just 18 months later and Lampard – the club's record all-time leading goalscorer who won 11 major honours at Stamford Bridge – has been sacked.

The Blues have proven in the past there is little time for sentimentality or to dwell on past successes and not even a player with the stature Lampard holds at the club has been granted extra time.

Lampard's first season in charge brought a top-four finish and an FA Cup final but a run of just two wins in eight league matches saw Chelsea wield the axe with the team ninth and 11 points off top.

A huge close-season recruitment drive that saw the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Ben Chilwell arrive perhaps gave the Blues hierarchy itchy feet and brought about the end for Lampard.

With that in mind, we have looked at some hits and misses when players have returned to a club as boss.

HITS

Pep Guardiola

After leaving Barcelona as a player in 2001, Guardiola returned as the Barca B boss in 2007 before being promoted to head coach of the first team a year later. Over four years in charge at Camp Nou he led the Blaugrana to 14 trophies, including three LaLiga titles and two Champions League crowns. Success has continued to come Guardiola's way with Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

Zinedine Zidane

World Cup winner Zidane was part of Real Madrid's 'Galacticos' in the early 2000s and he finished his playing career at the Santiago Bernabeu. Like Guardiola, he returned to oversee the second team before stepping up to the top job after the departure of Rafael Benitez in January 2016. Zidane went on to win an unprecedented three successive Champions League titles with Madrid before stepping down in May 2018, only to return 10 months later. He has already won LaLiga and the Supercopa de Espana in his second stint, though a slump this term has left his long-term future shrouded in doubt.

Antonio Conte

In 13 seasons as a player for Juventus, Conte won almost everything there is to win – five league titles, the Coppa Italia, the Champions League and the UEFA Cup. He moved into management two years after retiring and worked his way back to Juve after spells with Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta and Siena. Juve won three straight Scudetti under Conte – the start of their ongoing dominance – before he accepted the Italy job in 2014. Conte is now battling to end the Bianconeri's domestic dominance as head coach of Inter.

Roberto Di Matteo

Di Matteo accepted the top job at Chelsea in 2012, having previously been assistant to Andre Villas-Boas. Di Matteo – who won the FA Cup twice with the Blues as a player – went on to lift two trophies as Chelsea boss, including their first Champions League title with a penalty shoot-out win over Bayern, but he was discarded early in the following season.

MISSES

Alan Shearer

Record Premier League goalscorer, Newcastle United legend and lethal England striker – Shearer's playing career was full of success. When he retired in 2006, Shearer moved into television as a pundit, but when the Magpies came calling in 2009 he stepped in to try to save them from relegation. Sadly for Shearer he was unsuccessful, his eight-game reign ending in Newcastle slipping out of the top flight after a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa on the final day.

Filippo Inzaghi

Employing former players as head coaches had previously worked well for Milan – Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti proving particularly successful. When the Rossoneri turned to Inzaghi in 2014 after Clarence Seedorf's brief tenure, the move was therefore no surprise. However, the former striker – who won eight major trophies at the club in his playing days – flopped, winning just 14 of his 40 matches in charge as Milan finished 10th, their worst league position in 17 years.

Thierry Henry

Henry made his name at Monaco after breaking into the first team in 1994, the forward going on to become a world champion and a Premier League icon with Arsenal. After a period as youth coach with the Gunners, Henry was named as Belgium boss Roberto Martinez's assistant. Permanent roles with Bordeaux and Aston Villa were mooted, but in October 2018 Henry chose Monaco. He lasted just three months, losing 11 of his 20 matches in charge across all competitions before being replaced by Leonardo Jardim, the man he had succeeded.

Juan Jose Lopez

One of the most decorated players in River Plate history, having won seven league titles in an 11-year spell, Lopez was a popular appointment after making a strong impact in his second period as caretaker manager in 2010. However, he subsequently presided over a poor 2011 Clausura campaign, forcing River into a relegation play-off against Belgrano, who won 3-1 on aggregate. It was the first time River dropped out of the top tier, sparking riots which left many people injured.

JURY'S OUT

Mikel Arteta

Arteta served Arsenal with distinction as a player between 2011 and 2016, captaining the club and winning the FA Cup twice. Success in football's oldest cup competition followed last term, with Arteta having replaced Unai Emery in December 2019. After finishing eighth, Arsenal defeated Liverpool on penalties to win the Community Shield but eight defeats from 19 league games in this campaign have left Arsenal 11th and 13 points off top spot.

Andrea Pirlo

Lampard's opportunity at Chelsea arrived when Maurizio Sarri departed for Juventus, but his stint in charge at the Bianconeri lasted just one season despite winning the Serie A title. Pirlo won four Scudetti, the Supercoppa Italiana twice and the Coppa Italia during a four-year stint as a player in Turin and was appointed head coach just a week after being installed as Under-23 boss. So far it has been a mixed bag in Juve's hunt for a 10th straight title, with six draws and two defeats in 18 matches leaving them seven points back of league leaders Milan – albeit they do have a game in hand. Pirlo also collected a first trophy courtesy of victory over Napoli in the Supercoppa Italiana last week.

Matthijs de Ligt has been cleared to join up with his Juventus team-mates after recovering from COVID-19.

The centre-back tested positive on January 8 and went into isolation, meaning he missed the Serie A games against Sassuolo and Inter, as well as the Supercoppa Italiana clash with Napoli.

However, having returned two clear swab tests, De Ligt will be included in Andrea Pirlo's squad for Sunday's home fixture with Bologna.

"Matthijs de Ligt carried out, as per protocol, two controls of molecular test (swab) for Covid-19 with negative results," a statement from the club read. 

"Therefore, the player has recovered and is no longer subjected to the isolation regime.

"He will join the team at the J Hotel for the retreat this evening and will be included in the squad list for tomorrow's match."

De Ligt has started 12 games in all competitions so far in the 2020-21 season; Juve have only lost once when the defender has played in Serie A, a 3-0 home reverse to Fiorentina.

The Netherlands international missed the start of the campaign after undergoing shoulder surgery in August, returning to action in late November.

Juventus are chasing a 10th straight league title in Italy, though have found the going tough in Pirlo's first season in charge and go into the game with Bologna outside the top four in the table.

Andrea Pirlo is hopeful Juventus can use this week's Supercoppa Italiana success to get their Serie A title defence back on track.

Juve saw off Napoli 2-0 in Reggio Emilia on Wednesday through goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata as Pirlo claimed his first piece of silverware as a coach. 

The nine-in-a-row Scudetto champions have struggled in the league this term, however, and sit 10 points adrift of pace-setters Milan with a game in hand on the leaders.

After losing 2-0 away to Inter last time out in the top flight, Pirlo accepts that Juve must start showing more consistency if they are to retain their title.

"All matches are different but we need to continue entering the field with the attitude we had the other evening," he said at a news conference ahead of Sunday's home meeting with Bologna.  

"If we have this desire and concentration, positive results will come. Winning a trophy doesn't change my enthusiasm for the job. I have felt the same since day one.

"Winning a trophy does not change anything – I want to win others. I know we have to improve and continue growing as a team.

"We have had many ups and downs already, like many other teams. It's down to the number of games and not having the right preparation ahead of the season.

"It's hard to stay focused for the full 90 minutes every three days. It's something we are working on and know we have to improve on. It's our Achilles heel."

Juve's return of 33 points is their joint-lowest at this stage of a Serie A campaign in the last 10 seasons, equal to their tally after 17 games in 2015-16.

The Bianconeri have gone league games without a clean sheet, conceding eight goals during that run - including a 3-0 home reverse at the hands of Fiorentina.

Among Juventus coaches with at least 17 league games under their belt, only Alberto Zaccheroni (two) managed fewer shutouts than Pirlo after as many matches.

And Pirlo acknowledged the importance of tightening up at the back if his side are to climb up the standings.

"You always have to work on aspects," he said. "There are so many teams that want to play football and develop their game.

"Maybe teams tend to attack more and defend less, leading to more open games. But if you have the best defence, you often win championships."

Pirlo attempted to freshen up his attack against Napoli by using Federico Chiesa and Dejan Kulusevski either side of Ronaldo, with Weston McKennie providing further support.

The rookie coach is pleased with the tactical versatility of his players and reserved special praise for McKennie, who created more chances in the Supercoppa clash (three) than any other player on the field.

"McKennie is an important player for us," Pirlo said. "He has strength and dynamism, can play between the lines and gives us a lot in attack.

"Each of these players can exchange positions with Cristiano, as we saw the other night. Chiesa is another who can player on the left if he has to.

"As for Kulusevski, he can cover a number of positions. Perhaps in this period of his career, a second striker allows him to be freer so that is perhaps the best solution for him."

Juventus head coach Andrea Pirlo felt lifting his first silverware as a boss was "more beautiful" than his numerous playing successes.

Goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata either side of a missed Lorenzo Insigne penalty gave Juve a 2-0 win over Napoli in Reggio Emilia on Wednesday.

Pirlo won the Champions League and World Cup in a decorated playing career but said the feeling of leading a team to a trophy is something different.

"It's a great joy," Pirlo, who replaced Maurizio Sarri at the start of the season, told Rai Sport. "Lifting the first trophy as a coach is something different, more beautiful than as a player.

"I'm at the helm of an important team, of a historic club."

That burden looked to be weighing heavily last weekend after a 2-0 defeat at rivals Inter left Serie A champions Juventus 10 points off the pace in the Scudetto race.

"The important thing was to win after the other night's knockout," Pirlo said.

"We wanted to show that we weren't the ones from San Siro. We needed a game of sacrifice."

Pirlo shared a warm embrace with his great friend and Napoli coach Gennaro Gattuso before kick-off, remarking this was no time to reprise their infamous history of play fighting and practical jokes.

"Tonight just hugs because we were too focused," he added.

A goalless first-half in the Supercoppa Italiana started and finished with Cristiano Ronaldo thumping speculative efforts into the deserted stand behind the goal as he chased a record. Or was it a record?

The most notable Juventus contribution in between was Wojciech Szczesny's incredible point-blank save to stop Hirving Lozano giving Napoli the lead with a flying header.

It was far from the rousing response to Sunday's sound 2-0 defeat at Inter that Andrea Pirlo would have hoped for, even if the same scoreline eventually fell in his favour for the first silverware of a fledgling coaching career.

Gennaro Gattuso, manning the other technical area with his typical demeanour of an overworked nightclub bouncer (remember nightclubs?), is famously firm friends with Pirlo.

After falling short as the overmatched apprentice against a masterful Antonio Conte at the weekend, the hirsute Juve boss would probably have preferred to pit his wits against anyone but the man who arguably knows him better than anyone in football.

They were an irresistible combination of silk and steel in the midfield as Italy won the 2006 World Cup and Milan lifted major prizes at home and abroad, while Pirlo's often cerebral autobiography is peppered with stories of juvenile practical jokes played at the expense of an easily riled Gattuso.

The playmaker was infamously allowed to joined Juventus on a free transfer in 2011, launching a dynasty alongside Conte that he is now charged with preserving,

Pirlo's glorious autumn of his playing career led Gattuso to play down his own influence upon his mate's earlier success in inimitably forthright terms.

"Don’t talk nonsense," he baulked in a 2017 interview when asked if he helped to make Pirlo a better player. "Let’s not confuse Nutella with s***"

Wednesday's encounter in Reggio Emilia was frequently closer to the undesirable end of that Gattuso spectrum, although any goalkeeper would gladly smear Szczesny's intervention to deny Lozano all over their pancakes.

Too often, Pirlo's Juve look like they're wading through a giant tube of chocolate and hazelnut spread. The are stodgy and lack flow - the notion that this team is more attractive than Massimilano Allegri's all-conquering side is fairly laughable.

But after half-time, they rolled up their sleeves in a manner in which Gattuso would have grudgingly approved.

Federico Bernardeschi, on for the ineffective Federico Chiesa, nearly scrambled home untidily shortly after the restart.

Kostas Manolas almost put through his own goal in the 64th minute and, from the resulting corner, Napoli played a crueller prank on their coach than anything Pirlo ever subjected him to. They failed to mark Ronaldo in the six-yard box.

Of course, the master marksman made no mistake and rammed home left footed for the 760th goal of his career. That puts him ahead of the great Josef Bican in some all-time rankings, although FIFA say the Austria and Czechoslovakia great has an "estimated" 805 to his name.

By most observers' best estimates, Lorenzo Insigne was surely going to send the game into extra time by converting an 80th-minute penalty after Weston McKennie's clumsy bundle into substitute Dries Mertens.

Insigne was one of the bright sparks in a drab a game and faced up to his own landmark of 100 Napoli goals. But, in another act worthy of the Pirlo-Gattuso slapstick scrapbook, he scuffed a woeful spot kick wide.

Further Szczesny heroics were required before Juan Cuadrado streaked clear to tee up Alvaro Morata to make it 2-0 win the final kick of the game.

Juventus are not playing beautiful football in their coach's image, far from it. But they celebrated with gusto at full-time having banished the end-of-empire stench that accompanied their efforts against Inter.

Have they turned the corner? Will this spark them into a convincing title defence in Sere A? Much like whether or not Ronaldo has broken another record, plenty of questions remain.

Andrea Pirlo is not about to call time on Juventus' Serie A defence despite fuming at the way they ceded control to Inter in a damaging defeat on Sunday.

Juve are now seven points behind leaders Milan and Inter, and could fall 10 points off the pace if the Rossoneri win on Monday.

The Bianconeri lost 2-0 at Inter, who led through Arturo Vidal's header – one of 11 first-half efforts to Juve's three – and netted again seven minutes after the break as Nicolo Barella ran clear.

The midfield duo were outstanding, with ex-Juve man Vidal gaining possession nine times as well as having four shots, while Barella created the opener for his team-mate and had three key passes, playing a team-high 41 passes in the opposition half.

The Inter pair set a tempo that Juve, coach Pirlo acknowledged, simply did not match.

"We got the attitude wrong from the beginning," Pirlo told Sky Sport.

"When you don't have the anger and determination to try to win duels in these matches, it becomes difficult. We were too passive.

"It's a bad defeat; we didn't expect it. We couldn't have had a worse match than this one, but now we have to raise our heads because we will play a final on Wednesday [the Supercoppa Italiana against Napoli]."

The broadcaster suggested this was the angriest rookie coach Pirlo had been since his appointment, to which he replied: "Yes, because in these matches, you have to have the same desire and the same anger as the opposition in order to be on the same level.

"Then the qualities of the individuals can make the difference."

Despite his frustration at his players in Juve's first Serie A defeat to Inter in eight matches, Pirlo also accepted responsibility.

"The coach is always wrong first of all because it is he who gives the directions," he said.

"So I take my responsibility, because if the team did not do what we wanted, it means that they did not understand what we had to do."

Pirlo was a Juve substitute when Vidal's previous Serie A goal in 2015 clinched the Bianconeri's fourth straight title.

A further five consecutive championships have followed, but a 10th in a row looks tough now, even if Pirlo is not willing to give up hope.

"Our ambitions remain the same," he insisted. "It's a misstep against an important team, but in a long journey there happen to be these missteps."

If Juventus are "a benchmark" and "a reference point", as Antonio Conte suggested pre-match, the Inter head coach can now feel much more positive about his side's Scudetto hopes after a superb 2-0 win.

Conte, formerly the main man in Turin, had good reason to be pessimistic even as the Nerazzurri entered the Derby d'Italia four points ahead of the champions.

Juve were the only Serie A opponents against whom Conte possessed an 100 per cent losing record, beaten in each of his prior three matches against his former club.

And Inter's misery in this fixture extended beyond the start of Conte's reign, going seven without a win as Juve used meetings with the Nerazzurri to consolidate their domestic dominance.

Indeed, there was little reason heading into this match to doubt Juve's credentials, with Andrea Pirlo's side seemingly building up a head of steam in his rookie season.

The Bianconeri had followed up a shock December defeat at home to Fiorentina with four straight successes in all competitions, scoring 13 times in the process.

Among those victories was a deserved triumph at league leaders Milan. Juve had not won at both Milan and Inter in the first half of a Serie A season in 80 years; they now had the opportunity to do so in consecutive away games.

But preparations were not ideal. Cristiano Ronaldo, like opposite number Romelu Lukaku, had not been able to enjoy the week of rest he had set aside, instead called from the bench in a midweek Coppa Italia tie and forced to see out extra time.

Ronaldo played on the fringes at San Siro, his most notable involvement an 11th-minute tap-in ruled out for offside, with the clash between two of Serie A's foremost scorers not panning out as many would have imagined.

Lukaku was as influential as ever in the Inter attack, running Giorgio Chiellini ragged as he contested 15 duels, winning nine, earned three fouls and conceded two, and created three chances.

There was no goal for the forward, though, as the game was decided in the midfield, where Inter were even more impressive, setting the tone right from the outset.

Marcelo Brozovic anchored the side, Nicolo Barella buzzed all over the pitch, and Arturo Vidal - the subject of a clip on social media that appeared to show him kissing the badge of former club Juve pre-match - made clear where his loyalties now lie.

Conte had failed to offer an explanation for some slow starts so far this season but certainly had no need to worry about that issue on this occasion. By half-time, Inter's only concern could have been their failure to add to a lead secured by Vidal.

The midfielder, whose previous Serie A goal back in 2015 had won Juve the title, spread the ball wide to Barella moments after Ronaldo's disallowed goal and then ran onto the subsequent cross, towering over Danilo to nod beyond Wojciech Szczesny and offer a muted celebration.

That was one of 11 first-half Inter efforts, their joint-high this season. Juve mustered just three before the break, a joint-low for them.

But this unpredictable Inter side had led 4-1 and trailed 2-0 respectively on the previous two occasions they had attempted 11 shots in the opening 45 minutes this term.

Juan Sebastian Veron, a former Inter star, told Stats Perform News prior to this game the Nerazzurri would "need to be decisive". Despite the opener, they were anything but.

Vidal's wait for his next Serie A strike should have lasted only three minutes, but he blazed over. Then so too did Lautaro Martinez after Szczesny saved from Lukaku.

Martinez shot wide and Szczesny again denied Lukaku, before scrambling to retrieve Barella's deflected drive. A one-goal first-half deficit felt like an escape for Juve.

But if the Bianconeri were going to make their hosts pay, a swifter start to the second period would have to follow.

Instead, Inter scored with their very first shot after the break and finally the game was beyond Juve. A slipping Alessandro Bastoni's low, long pass somehow tore a gaping hole through the visiting defence and Barella, a deserving scorer, held off Chiellini and Gianluca Frabotta to finish high into the net.

Rather than call on Weston McKennie and Dejan Kulusevski to build on an advantage, as against Milan, Pirlo turned to the pair in a desperate, failed rescue bid.

Juve still had 32 minutes to forge a response after reinforcements arrived, but one strong Samir Handanovic save from Federico Chiesa was all they had to show for a period of pressure.

Inter could have added further goals on the counter yet will worry not. Indecisive, perhaps, Conte's side ended the weekend level on points with Milan. It is now for Pirlo and Juve, seven points back, to rise to this benchmark.

Andrea Pirlo says Antonio Conte is the person who inspired him to move into coaching and is fully aware of the mind games being used by the Inter boss ahead of Sunday's Derby d'Italia.

Midfield great Pirlo worked under Conte for Juventus and Italy during his illustrious playing career before retiring in 2017 and taking up his first managerial role with Juve last August.

Pirlo has made an inconsistent start to life in the Allianz Stadium dugout, but his side have won their last three league games to move to within four points of second-place Inter with a game in hand.

Despite being a further three points behind leaders Milan, Conte suggested ahead of Juve's trip to San Siro that the reigning champions remain the Scudetto favourites given they have won it nine years in a row.

The first of those title wins came with Conte in charge and Pirlo a regular in midfield, and the latter is not reading too much into the comments of his former head coach, who he still admires greatly.

"He likes to do this, I know him well," Pirlo said at Saturday's pre-match news conference. "He tries to take the pressure off his team and put it on us. 

"We have no problems, we are Juventus, we have been winning for nine years and it is normal that we have more pressure. 

"But they too have been built to win, and they are no less than us. It will be a great match between two teams that have the same ambition."

Pirlo previously described Conte as "the best coach he has ever worked with" and has opened up on the part the 51-year-old has played in his career.

He said: "Antonio was the first one who made me think about studying as a coach. I am grateful to him because he taught me so much as a player and from there I thought about a future as a manager. 

"He is making a career of the highest level and has a great human depth but tomorrow we will be opponents. We have two different characters and maybe that's why we get along.

"There is still great esteem and great affection. He gave me a lot and made history at Juventus."

Juve are the only team against which Conte has always lost as manager in Serie A (three out of three), with the Bianconeri unbeaten in nine of their last 10 away league meetings in this fixture.

However, Inter have won five in a row on home soil in the league - the last time they won six on the spin was in December 2018 - and Pirlo is anticipating a tough match against an expensively-assembled side.

"Initially I expect an aggressive Inter who will want to give rhythm to the match," he said. "We have prepared ourselves for this must not be afraid, even in such an important match. It will be a tactical match but we must also be free of our heads. 

"A victory can give us an important boost because it is Inter-Juventus. It is a game that goes beyond three points. It is not only important for the championship standings but for everything else. 

"There is great attention and great concentration because we compete against a great team with great champions. They have strengthened during the summer, while we have made a journey towards the future.

"They have put players in the team for the present. We are two teams that will fight until the end for the victory of the championship."

Matthijs de Ligt, Alex Sandro and Juan Cuadrado will play no part after recently testing positive for coronavirus but Aaron Ramsey, Giorgio Chiellini and Weston McKennie are all in contention to start.

Juve have yet to lose a league game in which De Ligt has not started this term, drawing four and winning three, and Pirlo is happy with the options available to him at the back.

"De Ligt is important but let's remember that we also have other champions behind us," he said. "We will field players of great depth who have been at this level for many years. 

"This is certainly an absence that we would have done less willingly but we feel even stronger with the return of Chiellini and with [Leonardo] Bonucci."

Andrea Pirlo felt Juventus' youngsters proved they were "up to it" but said they must be more ruthless after needing extra time to beat Genoa 3-2 in the Coppa Italia.

Juve dominated Serie A strugglers Genoa in the first half at Allianz Stadium on Wednesday, the lively Dejan Kulusevski opening the scoring inside two minutes before laying on a second goal for Alvaro Morata.

Lennart Czyborra halved the deficit with a header against the run of play midway through the first half and Filippo Melegoni forced extra time with a great finish from 25 yards out.

Cristiano Ronaldo was introduced as a substitute late in normal time, but it was 21-year-old debutant Hamza Rafia who settled it late in the first period of extra time.

Radu Dragusin and Manolo Portanova were among the other young players given an opportunity by Pirlo on a night which saw a much-changed Juve side have 24 shots, 13 of which were on target, as they made hard work of setting up a quarter-final tie against Sassuolo or SPAL.

Pirlo was impressed by the Juve youngsters, but was frustrated the Serie A champions were taken to extra time ahead of a clash with Inter on Sunday.

He said: "They played a great match, I'm happy for them because they proved to be up to it. Too bad the game was complicated, we had to close it in the first half."

Pirlo added: "It happens that every now and then when we think the race is over we lose focus, thinking it's all easy, but if you don't have your head right they become complicated games. 

"As happened today when we went to extra time, we lost energy and had to finish it in the first half."

Kulusevski staked his claim for a regular starting berth, hitting the target with four of his five shots and making four key passes as he tormented Genoa in a classy performance.

Pirlo was not surprised to see the Sweden midfielder and striker Morata, starting for the first time since recovering from a thigh injury, link up so effectively.

The former Italy playmaker said: "They had a great understanding, especially in the first half when they played very close and played for each other. 

"They have been training together since the beginning of the season and they know what their characteristics are and how to look for each other and tonight they proved it."

Andrea Pirlo claimed his players showed they possess the "Juventus DNA" to keep fighting until the end of games this season.

Juve were far from their best in a scrappy Serie A clash with Sassuolo on Sunday and with nine minutes remaining were drawing 1-1 after Gregoire Defrel cancelled out Danilo's opener.

But late goals from Aaron Ramsey and Cristiano Ronaldo sealed the win for the defending champions against a Sassuolo side who played the entire second half with 10 men.

Ramsey has been involved in three goals in his past five Serie A appearances (one goal, two assists) while Ronaldo's strike ensured he has reached at least 15 league goals in his past 15 seasons.

The win helped the Bianconeri notch three consecutive victories in Serie A for the first time since July 2020 as they moved to within seven points of leaders Milan with a game in hand.

"We can improve our quality, we can play better or worse, but the determination is an element that must never be lacking," Pirlo told a post-match media conference.

"It has to be in the Juventus DNA, the determination and desire to push until the last minute.

"It was important for us to give a sense of consistency by winning this evening, otherwise the win at Milan on Wednesday wouldn't mean anything.

"We were a little sluggish at times this evening, but we became a little less organised and more determined, so we showed the hunger required to win the game.

"We are Juventus and therefore have the pressure on us to win every game. We have to face every match as if it's a final, then we'll see where we are closer to the end of the season.

"These games are fascinating to play for everyone, they inevitably raise the concentration levels and the tension too.

"If we don't play every game with the right concentration and determination, we will struggle."

Juve head coach Pirlo also said the club will assess injuries sustained by Paulo Dybala and Weston McKennie.

The pair both limped out in the first half against Sassuolo and are doubts for Juve's midweek Coppa Italia clash with Genoa.

He added: "Dybala had a knock to the collateral ligament on the inside of his knee. We'll evaluate it over the next few days and hope it's nothing serious.

"McKennie already had a slight muscular problem yesterday and he felt it again after the back-heel flick, so he stopped."

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