Andrea Pirlo has unleashed the shackles and given Juventus' players a lot more freedom to attack opponents, according to veteran defender Leonardo Bonucci.

Juve replaced Maurizio Sarri with first-time coach Pirlo last month and the legendary midfielder kicked off his tenure with a 3-0 win over Sampdoria in Juve's 2020-21 Serie A opener on Sunday.

Reigning champions Juve registered 20 shots at Allianz Stadium and scored from three of them, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Bonucci and debutant Dejan Kulusevski finding the back of the net.

And after a largely disappointing campaign last time out under Sarri, Bonucci believes that Pirlo has already made big changes during his short time in the dugout.

"We saw some new ideas proposed by the coach and his staff, a new way of interpreting the game, a lot of enthusiasm both in possession and off the ball," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"The big difference is the way we are attacking the game and taking the initiative, trying to bring home the result. Seeing the work of the last few weeks and this game, I think it is better.

"There are different movements, as with Sarri we moved far more as a group in defence, whereas with Pirlo we are more one-on-one, giving us more freedom to be aggressive and win back the ball more often.

"We have four central midfielders with the right characteristics to play like this. They are aggressive and also good at passing the ball. That way, we have more quality in possession, which I see as a difference from last season."

Sarri was reportedly sacked by Juventus after failing to win over the dressing room with his style of play, which won him plenty of admirers at Serie A rivals Napoli.

However, Bonucci insisted rumours that the club's old guard forced Sarri out of the door are wide of the mark.

"We accepted any changes made by the club," he said. "This season, the new coach is Pirlo, who changed the way of understanding football that we had last year. 

"It's early to say if it is right or not, but it is different, with a very precise mentality of being aggressive and not wanting to concede goals.

"We had that same attitude last year, because you don't win nine Scudetti in a row without it.

"We're old enough to behave like real professionals. Pirlo is now our coach and we have the utmost respect for all our coaches, just as we try to help all our coaches from within the locker room.

"Fortunately, this is a squad full of great men who are accustomed to working with great champions. That makes it easier for everyone concerned."

Asked if Pirlo reminded him more of Sarri or Massimiliano Allegri – another of his former bosses in Turin – Bonucci said: "Much more similar to Allegri, that is obvious. 

"Pirlo has much the same impact he had as a player - you knew that you could give him the ball and trust he wouldn't lose it. Now it's the same as a coach. There is that same trust."

A debut goal from Dejan Kulusevski and strikes from Leonardo Bonucci and Cristiano Ronaldo earned Juventus a 3-0 win over Sampdoria in Andrea Pirlo's first game in charge. 

Legendary player Pirlo, appointed in August following the sacking of Maurizio Sarri, saw his reign get off to an impressive start at the Allianz Stadium on Sunday. 

Young midfielder Kulusevski found the net inside 13 minutes and Bonucci added a deserved second for Juve with 12 minutes to play, following up after Weston McKennie's shot was saved. 

Ronaldo, who had earlier hit the crossbar, rounded out the scoring late on after being teed up by Aaron Ramsey, helping the hosts make a bright start to their latest title defence in Serie A.

Miralem Pjanic acknowledged this season would go down as a disappointment for Juventus after they again failed to follow their Serie A title with Champions League success.

The Bianconeri won a ninth straight Scudetto in 2019-20 yet once more fell short in European competition.

Juve crashed out to Lyon at the last-16 stage after Cristiano Ronaldo's two goals in a 2-1 win in Turin on Friday could not rescue the tie, with the Ligue 1 side going through on away goals.

Captain Leonardo Bonucci was first in front of the Sky Italia cameras following full-time and he suggested the team could still reflect fondly on their domestic campaign.

"The main thing was always to win the Scudetto," he said. "We knew anything could happen in the Champions League with this format."

But Pjanic, who will now depart for Barcelona following a transfer that saw Arthur move the other way, disagreed with the defender.

"I heard Bonucci talking about the ninth straight title," Pjanic told Sky. "I don't want to belittle that, but this club must aspire to much more."

However, the midfielder was also keen to reflect on that title triumph, suggesting Juve - who stumbled across the finish line - had struggled to adapt to new coach Maurizio Sarri while maintaining their high standards.

"The last few months have not gone as I thought," said Pjanic, who was left on the bench for matches against Atalanta, Lazio and Udinese in July.

"I don't know for what reasons. I was hoping and wanted to play more, but they are choices to be accepted.

"At Napoli, the coach showed something very good, the team was very involved. This year instead, though, we had difficulties - even the opponents knew that a lot passes [were made] through the director.

"Maybe we played a different kind of football, but we proved it [works] in various games. It takes time, even if winning is not easy.

"We made it look simple, but it was not; we must not belittle what has been done.

"In Europe, this club must do more, aim to win. To get to win, you also need to have everyone available - in recent years, this has not happened."

Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci conceded the club's 2019-20 Scudetto was the most difficult of the nine successive Serie A titles as they struggled to understand Maurizio Sarri's philosophy.

Juve maintained their stranglehold on Serie A by clinching yet another league title thanks to a 2-0 win over Sampdoria at Allianz Stadium on Sunday.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Federico Bernardeschi were on target for Juve, who extended their record Serie A run, which dates back to 2011-12, with two matches remaining.

Sarri became the oldest head coach to win Serie A as the 61-year-old claimed his maiden league trophy, but it has been far from smooth sailing for the former Chelsea and Napoli boss during his first campaign in Turin.

There have been question marks over Sarri's methods amid reports of a falling out with superstar Ronaldo, while Juve have stuttered towards the Scudetto following their failure to wrap up the trophy on Thursday following a 2-1 loss to Udinese.

Bonucci revelled in Juve's glory but highlighted the difficulties under Sarri, telling Sky Sport Italia: "It was the most beautiful title, because it was the most difficult.

"We started a new era, a new philosophy, ran into so many difficulties, but we continued to give our all throughout, even when there were so many slip-ups."

"It was so complicated outside the field too, the world changed in three months," added veteran Italy centre-back Bonucci, who discussed the impact of coronavirus after Serie A was postponed for three months before returning in June. "We had to get our minds back on it, but we did it. We wanted it, we suffered.

"I have no words. We gave everything to ensure that we would do this for us, for the club, for the fans who cheered us on from home, or from heaven. We wanted to celebrate with those who weren't able to be here with us. When you wear this jersey, you cannot hold back. It has been an intense year.

"We struggled at times to interpret the coach's philosophy, but we remained a team, we worked as great men more than great players. Now we'll try to rest over the next 10 days and then prepare for the next challenge."

Giorgio Chiellini's absence through injury and fitness issues has been one of the "great regrets" for Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri this season.

Chiellini, 35, ruptured a knee ligament in August, ruling him out of action until February, when he made a couple of Serie A appearances before the league was suspended due to coronavirus.

The centre-back still has not featured since the resumption last month because of fitness-related issues, though he was given a new one-year contract to keep him at the club until 2021.

Sarri confirmed Chiellini has been in full training over the past week and is still considered an important player.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday's trip to Sassuolo, Sarri said: "Chiellini's absence is one of the great regrets of this season.

"He is a player who knows how to be enthralling. He has been training with the team for five days. I see him growing, and, in the future, he will give a great contribution for us."

The centre of defence is causing Sarri regular headaches at the moment, with Merih Demiral still recovering from his cruciate ligament rupture, while Leonardo Bonucci is a doubt for Wednesday's match.

"Merih Demiral is fine, but he needs time to get back into physical form," he said, before adding: "Bonucci has a problem with his foot that we need to evaluate today [Tuesday]."

Despite dropping points in each of their past two league matches, Juve remain in charge at the Serie A summit with an eight-point lead over Inter and Lazio.

But Sarri is not expecting a straightforward contest at Sassuolo, who are making a late push for the European places after going unbeaten in six and winning each of their past four games.

"Sassuolo is a team that is on the same path as Atalanta," Sarri continued. "They are giving continuity to a project, they are organised, and with a smart coach.

"They are in excellent form and are a dangerous team. The team has scored 17 goals in six games, so they don't have a problem when it comes to scoring.

"[Roberto] De Zerbi always manages to make an impression on his teams. He is the most interesting of the young coaches.

"We will be at least equal on the level of enthusiasm and determination, because we are in a moment where we are playing for the Scudetto."

Leonardo Bonucci backed Juventus team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo following his unsuccessful penalty against Milan en route to the Coppa Italia final, insisting "even the greatest miss".

Ronaldo hit the post with a 16th-minute penalty as Juve drew 0-0 at home to 10-man Milan in Turin – the Serie A champions reaching the final on away goals after the 1-1 first-leg stalemate.

Juve's Ronaldo scored a penalty to salvage a draw away to Milan in February's opening leg prior to the coronavirus pandemic but he was unable to repeat the feat behind closed doors at Allianz Stadium.

Bonucci leapt to the defence of five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo – who has scored 25 goals in all competitions this season – post-match.

"Even the greatest miss," Juventus centre-back Bonucci told Rai Sport. "Cristiano is always important for us.

"He increases the pressure on opponents' defenders. "He was unfortunate today and [Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi] Donnarumma did well.

"We'll see a great Juventus and a great Ronaldo again."

Juve will face either Napoli or Inter in the Coppa Italia final in Rome on June 17, before Maurizio Sarri's men restart their Serie A campaign away to Bologna on June 22.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Serie A leaders Juve were a point clear of Lazio through 26 matches.

"The important thing was to qualify so we could play in Rome for our first objective of the season," said Bonucci, whose Juve played against 10 men after Milan's Ante Rebic was sent off in the 16th minute.

"It was strange and difficult at the start, an empty stadium after 90 days. We got a bit stretched out and Milan did very well with 10 men against 11. It was a draw, but we must look at the glass half-full, as our objective was to reach the final on Wednesday."

Bonucci added: "We've shaken off a dark moment for the whole world and hope being back will give a bit of hope and joy to the fans at home. We want to dedicate something more to them on Wednesday."

Leonardo Bonucci admits he "made a poor decision" when he joined Milan in 2017, though he would have liked to have played alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The experienced defender left Juventus for San Siro following a falling out with then-coach Massimiliano Allegri.

He concedes opting to leave the Serie A champions was an error and he was ultimately glad to return to Juve the following year.

Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport about the final campaign of his first spell with Juve, which ended with a 4-1 Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid, Bonucci said: "It was a difficult season for me, both personally and professionally.

"There were some disagreements and, especially after the defeat in the Champions League, I ultimately made a poor decision, but I have to say that the decision, which certainly influenced my career, improved me as a man.

"Those months at Milan let me do some soul-searching and made me realise that my calling was at Juventus, who are like my family.

"I met some beautiful people at Milan, first of all Rino [Gennaro] Gattuso. It was a difficult year, but that's not to say it was useless. At the end of it, I was very happy to go back home."

Ibrahimovic, who was at Juve from 2004 to 2006, has since made the switch back to Milan and he is someone Bonucci would have relished having as a team-mate.

"I'd have loved to play with Ibrahimovic," the 33-year-old said. "He's a leader, he has character and he's strong. It would've been nice to face him in training.

"He comes across as a tough guy, but he's a good person. On the field, the players who have character, who are always motivated by the desire to win give you unique stimuli.

"And that's what I'm always looking for, stimuli to improve."

Leonardo Bonucci believes the Serie A title should not be awarded if the season has to be halted again due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Football in Italy is due to return this month after being suspended since March following the outbreak of COVID-19.

Juventus were a point ahead of Lazio when the campaign was stopped as they pursued a ninth Scudetto in a row, with Inter a further eight points back with a game in hand.

A serious second wave of infections would likely see Serie A brought to a standstill again and Bonucci thinks it would be better for all concerned in that instance if 2019-20 was simply scrapped.

"I hope we get to the normal end of the championship," the Juve defender told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "If that didn't happen, a lot of stories, controversies, appeals would come out.

"I'm not in favour of other hypotheses. If it stops, it's better to finish things there and not assign anything.

"Hopefully, we'll get to August 2 and declare a winner. Hopefully, it's Juve."

Juve will resume the season with the second leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final against Milan on June 12, with the aggregate score 1-1.

The Bianconeri are pursuing a possible treble in Maurizio Sarri's first season in charge since he took over from Massimiliano Allegri.

Comparing the two coaches, Bonucci admits to being "pleasantly surprised" by Sarri's way of working.

When asked to name the differences between Allegri and Sarri, he said: "They're obvious. Allegri is really good at managing the dressing room, the most difficult moments of the season, to make the team understand how to manage the tempo of a match. In his five years, he was a master at this.

"Sarri is meticulous, passionate about tactics, someone who likes to make the team play well. He's also learned in these months with Juve what it means to be Bianconero.

"I've seen us grow significantly. He has a wealth of football knowledge, but he has been able to question himself. He had the humility to understand the dynamics of the collective. I was pleasantly surprised, really."

Manchester United, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich… take your pick.

Kai Havertz is not short of options following his stunning form for Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga.

As clubs queue up to sign Havertz, a Premier League giant is reportedly leading the race.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD FAVOURITES FOR HAVERTZ

Manchester United are favourites to sign in-demand Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz, according to The Sun.

Havertz has been linked to the likes of Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid after his exploits for Bundesliga outfit Leverkusen.

United are ready to swoop for Havertz, as well as Borussia Dortmund sensation Jadon Sancho.

 

ROUND-UP

- Le10Sport says Paul Pogba is open to swapping United for Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain. Linked to former club Juventus and LaLiga giants Madrid, PSG have emerged as a possible destination for the disgruntled Frenchman.

Manchester City are determined to sign Juve centre-back Leonardo Bonucci, but Calciomercato claims the Serie A holders are unwilling to sell the key defender.

- Mundo Deportivo reports Barcelona are positive about signing Lautaro Martinez from Inter following Mauro Icardi's move to PSG. Inter recouped at least €50million after Icardi's loan deal at PSG became permanent. While Barca are aware it will be difficult to prise Martinez to Camp Nou, the LaLiga champions view Icardi's transfer positively.

Chelsea are leading the race to sign Barca outcast Philippe Coutinho, according to the Daily Express. Coutinho has spent the 2019-20 season on loan at Bayern but the German giants opted not to exercise their transfer option. Now, Chelsea are prepared to bring the former Liverpool star back to the Premier League on loan. Tottenham have also been linked.

- Juve's Douglas Costa is wanted by Atletico Madrid. That is according to Calciomercato, which claims Atletico want to bring in the Brazilian attacker in exchange for either Thomas Partey or Stefan Savic. Douglas Costa has been linked to United, while Arsenal are eyeing Partey.

Milan will meet with potential new head coach Ralf Rangnick, claims Gianluca Di Marzio. The Rossoneri continue to be linked to Rangnick while Stefano Pioli remains in charge.

- La Repubblica claims Juve have entered the race for Hellas Verona defender Marash Kumbulla. The 20-year-old has been linked to the likes of Napoli, Lazio, Fiorentina, United, Tottenham, Chelsea, PSG and RB Leipzig.

Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini believes Leonardo Bonucci's decision to join Milan in 2017 was illogical.

Bonucci made a stunning switch from Juve to Milan in 2017, only to return to Turin the following year.

Chiellini, 35, felt his fellow defender's move made no sense, saying he would have understood if Bonucci had decided to join a club like Real Madrid.

"His year at Milan was different, a choice certainly wrong because he was not made at peace with himself, therefore not in a lucid way," he wrote in his autobiography, Io, Giorgio, via Corriere dello Sport.

"Leo was shaken for a thousand reasons. I was sorry because everything happens in the weeks when we didn't see each other.

"I'm sure if it had happened at another time I would have made him think about staying. Like [Antonio] Conte in that July 2014, they always leave when I'm not there."

Chiellini added: "With Leo I spoke that everything was already established … something without logic from start to finish.

"I could have understood if he had gone to Real Madrid, but to that Milan? Fortunately, fate wanted everything to come back in order."

Bonucci had played 34 games in all competitions for Juve this season, which has been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While the football world may be at a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, that's not stopping transfer rumours from swirling in their usual manner, with Sevilla's Diego Carlos a name persistently mentioned of late.

A Brazilian centre-back recruited from Nantes last year in a reported €15million deal, the 27-year-old is enjoying a fine debut campaign in LaLiga, quickly establishing himself as a fan favourite and key member of Julen Lopetegui's team, who are third in LaLiga.

An impressive physical specimen, athletic and comfortable with the ball at his feet, Diego Carlos has been most intensely linked with Liverpool – Jurgen Klopp is said to be a big fan and has apparently identified him as a potential partner for Virgil van Dijk.

But Barcelona and Real Madrid have also been mentioned as admirers, having been able to have a close-up look at him in LaLiga.

With a €75m release clause, Diego Carlos certainly won't come cheap – but we've examined Opta's data to compare him with 16 of Europe's best centre-backs…

THE HOLLYWOOD PASS

The Sevilla team Diego Carlos plays in is quite direct, as such it's no surprise to see he plays a large portion (229) of his passes long – of our select group, only Van Dijk (281), Leonardo Bonucci (249) and Mats Hummels (235) have attempted more.

That undoubtedly impacts his overall pass accuracy of 83 per cent, the worst of the 17 players examined. However, Sergio Ramos has attempted only 10 fewer long-range passes, yet his overall completion rate is significantly better at 91 per cent.

His accuracy is even more unimpressive in the opposition's half, as it comes down to 64 per cent, compared to Ramos and Clement Lenglet at 87 per cent. Nevertheless, Sevilla's vertical style of play is significantly different to the setups of Real Madrid and, in particular, Barcelona, while the data does not take into account how difficult each pass was.

Regular Sevilla watchers will tell you Diego Carlos has a penchant for an eye-catching cross-field pass, but the data doesn't lie – many don't reach their target.

Only 48 per cent of his long-range passes find a team-mate, which again is the worst of the players analysed. It poses the question as to whether such a direct system is suited to Diego Carlos' attributes.

He is less prone to giving the ball away when distributing short – as you would expect most players to be – as he finds a Sevilla player with 90 per cent of those passes, but only Harry Maguire (89 per cent) has a lower record in this scenario, the highest being Presnel Kimpembe (96 per cent).

MUSCLE FOR A TUSSLE

Don't let his clean-cut, well-coiffed exterior fool you - one thing Diego Carlos certainly cannot be accused of is shying away from collision. He has been involved in 196 duels this season, with only Maguire (287), Van Dijk (247), Ramos (213) and Mats Hummels (205) from our select group recording more.

The Brazilian's success rate of 56 per cent in those duels is middling, though. Van Dijk leads the way here, coming out on top 75 per cent of the time in such situations.

But Diego Carlos does come off fairly well with respect to tackling, having attempted 30 and been successful 19 times. That gives him a success rate of 63 per cent, better than 10 others in this select group, including Van Dijk (55 per cent) and Ramos (62 per cent).

Diego Carlos isn't dribbled past very often either, with only eight occurrences of that this term. Six of the chosen group have better records, though three of them are on seven and only one – Leonardo Bonucci (two) – has been beaten fewer than six times.

GET RID!

The clearances metric is where Diego Carlos performs best. He has found himself in the right position to clear danger 128 times in 2019-20, the third best among defenders in LaLiga.

Only Van Dijk (135) and Maguire (132) have a better record in this area from our group, though it's worth bearing in mind the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and others do not find themselves in defensive situations as often as Sevilla.

He also leads the way in terms of headed clearances in LaLiga with 71, just shy of Maguire's 80, while Diego Carlos' 25 interceptions is a solid effort as well, though it is some way behind the Manchester United captain's 53.

While it's fair to say Diego Carlos still has areas of his game that can be improved, it's worth stressing that some data points reflect – or are influenced heavily by – the team's setup.

Although the accuracy of Diego Carlos' long passes – a feature of Sevilla's direct system – leaves a mark against his name here, as an out-and-out defender, he is not disgraced when compared to a group of centre-backs most would consider the elite, an applaudable feat given this is only his fourth season in one of Europe's top-five leagues.

Defenders included in the select group: Virgil van Dijk, Harry Maguire, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Raphael Varane, Presnel Kimpembe, Marquinhos, Dayot Upamecano, Benjamin Pavard, Mats Hummels, Manuel Akanji, Matthijs de Ligt, Leonardo Bonucci, Milan Skriniar, Kalidou Koulibaly

 

There could be a number of goalkeeping changes around Europe.

With Kepa Arrizabalaga's future uncertain at Chelsea, Manuel Neuer is reportedly an option for Frank Lampard's side.

Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen has also been linked with a move away from Camp Nou.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA TARGET NEUER

Chelsea are interested in signing Bayern Munich captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, according to Sport Bild.

Lampard's Chelsea are reportedly looking to move on from Kepa – the world's most expensive goalkeeper after leaving Athletic Bilbao in 2018.

Neuer is on Chelsea's radar, with the Germany star yet to agree a new deal at Bayern, who have been linked to fellow German and Barcelona keeper Ter Stegen.

ROUND-UP

Leonardo Bonucci to Manchester City? Calciomercato claims Pep Guardiola is "obsessed" with Bonucci and wants to bring the Juventus defender to the Etihad Stadium at the end of the season. Juve, however, are unwilling to sell the Italy international.

- The Mirror claims Barcelona are tracking Tottenham midfielder Tanguy Ndombele. The Frenchman became Tottenham's club-record signing ahead of the 2019-20 campaign, but he has struggled in London amid criticism from head coach Jose Mourinho. Spurs have been linked to RB Leipzig's Marcel Sabitzer.

- Bayern star David Alaba is likely to leave the Bundesliga champions at the end of the season, reports Sky Sport Germany. It comes as reports link the Austria international to Barca and Real Madrid. Meanwhile, The Sun claims City are set to be offered Alaba and cash for Leroy Sane.

Inter are considering a move to sign Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen as a free agent at season's end, says Calciomercato. The Nerazzurri are also unwilling to keep Alexis Sanchez, who is on loan from Manchester United.

Mauro Icardi has turned down a transfer to LaLiga in order to push for a move to Juventus, according to Elgoldigital. Icardi is on loan at Paris Saint-Germain from Inter.

- Calciomercato says United and Tottenham have made offers for Inter centre-back Diego Godin. The reports adds United are looking to sign both Godin and Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly.

Leonardo Bonucci has bemoaned Juventus' lack of aggression as they slipped to a 1-0 defeat to Lyon in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash.

Maurizio Sarri's side were desperately poor at the Groupama Stadium, failing to register a single shot on target.

Lucas Tousart scored the only goal of the game after 31 minutes and Bonucci has slammed Juve's approach in the opening period. 

"We got the first half wrong," he told Sky Sport Italia. "We were second to every ball. In some games, you pay for the tiniest error. We were too stretched out, not aggressive enough and that is an issue of mentality. We should've woken up earlier.

"I could tell something wasn't switched on with the 11 starters. We've got to sort this out as these are the things that make the difference.

"Now we have to get our heads focused on what awaits us on Sunday [a Serie A clash against Inter], then we absolutely must qualify in the second leg."

Full-back Danilo was in agreement with his captain and says they will need to replicate their second-half display if they are to qualify for the last eight.

"We cannot just gift the first half to the opposition in such an important tournament," he said. "We are aware that we did that and need to work harder.

"We must always play with the aggression that we showed in the second half when we kept the ball practically the entire time and showed more courage, more initiative.

"Playing in front of our fans in the second leg, it is our obligation to press, push, score, win and qualify for the next stage of the competition."

Maurizio Sarri says Juventus fans have "every right" to travel to France for the Champions League clash against Lyon on Wednesday amid the coronavirus fears in Italy.

The outbreak of the virus, officially named COVID-19 which originated in China, forced four Serie A matches to be postponed on Sunday, including the clash between Inter and Sampdoria.

The move came as part of preventative measures taken in Italy after two people died in the country.

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte has said all this week's top-flight fixtures could yet be cancelled too, while reports suggest Juve will host title rivals Inter behind closed doors in Turin on Sunday.

Sarri, though, has refuted suggestions his club's fans should have stayed at home instead of travelling to France for the first leg of their last-16 tie.

"It's a European and global problem, not an Italian one," he told a media conference. "In Italy, we made 3,500 tests for coronavirus and therefore had many more positive tests.

"In France you had about 300 tests and so obviously the average who are positive is much lower. If you did as many tests as we did, you'd probably have as many positives too. Therefore, our fans have every right to be here."

Juve have not won European club football's biggest prize since 1996, but Sarri does not believe his future is dependent on ending that drought this season.

"I don't know what my future depends on, but the president pointed out that this is a three-year project," he added. "I have great faith in what my president says, as he tends to be pretty clear.

"It's very difficult for any Italian club to chase this dream because we were the leaders 20 years ago, but we have been overtaken due to various reasons in the last couple of decades.

"A dream is not to be underestimated. If you chase a dream and achieve it, that is ecstasy, whereas if you don't achieve it, it was still a wonderful journey."

Giorgio Chiellini could make his first European appearance of the season after a serious knee injury ruled him out for five months.

The centre-back has featured in Juve's last two Serie A games and has subsequently been named in the squad for the trip to France, much to the delight of his defensive partner Leonardo Bonucci.

"We both like to not only play football, but also talk during the game, communicate with our team-mates and help the younger players to make the right movements," Bonucci said. "If there are two of us doing that, it's easier.

"There is also a language issue, because with Matthijs de Ligt we are trying to communicate in English while he learns Italian. It's not quite the same, but we're getting there and improving our communication. With Giorgio there, we can speed the process up."

Cristiano Ronaldo was on target as Juventus breezed into the Coppa Italia semi-finals with a comprehensive 3-1 victory over Roma on Wednesday.

Portugal forward Ronaldo opened the scoring at Allianz Stadium with his seventh goal in four matches for Juve in 2020.

Rodrigo Bentancur and Leonardo Bonucci then found the net to give the Bianconeri a three-goal advantage at half-time.

Roma pulled one back when Cengiz Under's effort from the edge of the box hit the crossbar and rebounded into the net off veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, but Juve comfortably advanced and will face Milan or Torino – who meet on January 28 – in the last four.

Juventus head coach Maurizio Sarri picked a strong starting line-up for the quarter-final clash and after a low-key start his side increased the tempo to seize control.

The 13-time Coppa Italia winners took the lead in the 26th minute with a goal that owed much to Ronaldo's ability to finish from a tight angle.

Ronaldo escaped his marker on the left before cutting inside and guiding a low shot across goal past Roma keeper Pau Lopez.

Juventus added a second on the counter attack 12 minutes later when Bentancur, surrounded by six Roma players, squeezed an effort into the bottom-left corner from 12 yards.

Roma's defence were culpable for Juve's third on the stroke of half-time as the unmarked Bonucci calmly headed in at the back post after being picked out by Douglas Costa's cross.

Gonzalo Higuain hit the woodwork in the 48th minute and Paulo Fonseca's side reduced the deficit two minutes later. Under's shot from just outside the box struck the underside of the bar and went in off Buffon's hand.

However, Juventus stood firm in the closing stages to pick up a fifth straight victory in all competitions.

 

What does it mean? Juve continue treble challenge 

Juve's streak of four consecutive Coppa Italia titles was ended in a 3-0 loss at the quarter-final stage last season by eventual runners-up Atalanta.

Against Roma there was a clear determination to secure a semi-final spot this time around and ensure their treble dreams remain on course.

With a two-legged last-16 Champions League tie against Lyon and the Serie A title to defend, the season is very much alive and kicking for Sarri's side.

Ronaldo remains relentless

A cup tie on a chilly Wednesday in Turin - you could forgive Ronaldo for taking it easy. Not a bit of it. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner turns 35 in February but remains as hungry as ever. His celebration after scoring was raw and passionate as he played the full 90 minutes.

One to forget for sloppy Smalling

It was not a game to remember for the on-loan Manchester United centre-back. Smalling failed to marshal a slipshod Roma defence and his positioning was poor in goals scored by Bentancur and Bonucci.

What's next?

Juventus return to Serie A action on Sunday in a clash with Napoli, while Roma face city rivals Lazio earlier in the day in the Derby della Capitale.

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