Maurizio Sarri explained his decision to rest Cristiano Ronaldo for Juventus' 2-0 victory over Brescia, saying the 35-year-old forward "cannot play 75 games" a year.

Ronaldo was left out of the squad after scoring 10 goals in his previous six Serie A appearances to take his tally to 20 this season, but Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado found the net in his absence on Sunday.

Sarri was also without injured quartet Douglas Costa, Federico Bernardeschi, Sami Khedira, and Merih Demiral, but Giorgio Chiellini made his first appearance since August as a second-half substitute.

Juve boss Sarri felt Portugal star Ronaldo needed time to put his feet up given the workload he has for club and country.

Sarri said: "It is difficult; we have many strong players and some are out.

"They are all atypical players, without a specific role. We have many situations to fix.

"Ronaldo is a centre-forward who starts off-centre. Today Cristiano had to rest; he cannot play 75 games there a year between the national team and the club, so we decided to let him recover."

On Chiellini, he added: "He put himself in the team. He had said it since yesterday. He made six months of great sacrifices."

Sarri admitted his side's performance against Brescia left plenty of room for improvement after seeing the Serie A champions pick up only their second win in five matches.

Defeats to Napoli and Hellas Verona either side of a victory over Fiorentina preceded Juve's 1-1 Coppa Italia draw with Milan ahead of the win over Brescia on Sunday, and they face SPAL on Saturday with Ronaldo set to play his 1,000th career game.

"We can improve on everything," said Sarri.

"On a defensive level we have room for improvement. We also have room for improvement in attack.

"We have hit the post five times in the last two games, so a little more luck would help us. We must focus on ourselves, instead of looking to others."

After 37 minutes at the Allianz Stadium, Brescia could at least be grateful Maurizio Sarri had spared them the torment of trying to contain Cristiano Ronaldo.

Serie A's second-bottom side had just been reduced to 10 men, forward Florian Aye bounding untidily into Aaron Ramsey with the enthusiasm and poise of a Labrador puppy to earn a second booking in the space of three and a half minutes.

The visitors were already operating with their third-choice goalkeeper between the posts, an early head injury having accounted for Jesse Joronen's understudy Enrico Alfonso and thrusting Lorenzo Andrenacci into an unexpected top-flight debut.

It meant opportunity knocked for Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala, the Argentina duo who were leading the Juve attack as Ronaldo, who has scored in every appearance in 2020, enjoyed a well-earned rest.

Higuain and Dybala have had to tailor their games this term under Sarri, operating within a significantly different tactical setup and very much at Ronaldo's service.

Nevertheless, the gulf in Serie A goal returns from the trio heading into the weekend was stark: Ronaldo boasting a haul of 20 in 2019-20 set against five apiece for his two attacking colleagues.

As Juve resume their pursuit of that elusive Champions League crown and contend with Inter's unflinching challenge domestically, it would be preferable to see the burden shared more equitably – irrespective of Ronaldo's superpowers showing little sign of fading.

Higuain offered a demonstration of his underrated selflessness just after the half hour, stealing in front of Ales Mateju and cutting an inviting ball back across goal. It laid on the sort of chance Ronaldo has gleefully gobbled up time and again over recent weeks, but Dybala failed to adjust to the bounce and skewed woefully wide from eight yards.

Aye's indiscretion allowed him to make amends in style, lifting a delicate free-kick beyond Andrenacci.

Higuain and Dybala each went close with fine angled strikes before the break but, not for the first time over recent weeks, a presumed formality for Sarri's men became a bit of a slog.

Brescia's defending was often of the last-ditch variety – Stefano Sabelli showing great poise to clear off the line and deny Higuain before Birkir Bjarnason bravely denied Dybala at the end of a slaloming run – although their Iceland midfielder fired a presentable half-chance over from 20 yards in the 72nd minute.

It required the more unheralded member of Sarri's Ronaldo-less trident, Juan Cuadrado, to make the points safe. Cuadrado found a cute finish after a clever one-two with substitute Blaise Matuidi.

Like Dybala's, this was another goal wonderfully easy on the eye. The concern for Juventus and their coach is they are increasingly reliant on such moments of magic or Ronaldo's enduring brilliance. Sarrismo is yet to fully take hold in Turin, with the collective frequently underwhelming.

Higuain had a header ruled out for offside and Dybala crashed against the crossbar late on, meaning Inter's goal difference remains five better than Juve's ahead of Sunday's blockbuster clash with third-placed Lazio in Rome.

For the fine-margins battle ahead, it is hard to escape the feeling Juventus need more than the sporadic flashes of brilliance that are just about sustaining them at present.

Paulo Dybala scored his sixth Serie A goal of the season and Juan Cuadrado was also on target as Juventus earned a 2-0 victory over 10-man Brescia that moved the Bianconeri top of Serie A ahead of Inter's evening kick-off at Lazio.

With in-form Cristiano Ronaldo rested by head coach Maurizio Sarri, Argentina international Dybala provided the firepower the champions needed from a first-half free-kick after Brescia forward Florian Aye was sent off.

Sarri's men were guilty of wasteful finishing against their 19th-placed visitors, who might have ground out a point towards their battle against relegation had they kept 11 men on the field, but Cuadrado kept his cool to double their lead after 75 minutes.

It was far from a vintage performance, but two goals proved enough to earn Juve a first win in three matches and relieve some of the pressure mounting around Sarri's position.

Giorgio Chiellini's appearance as a second-half substitute following a long injury lay-off also boosted the home crowd.

An early clash with Gonzalo Higuain left Brescia goalkeeper Enrico Alfonso unable to continue and he was replaced by the club's third-choice stopper Lorenzo Andrenacci after nine minutes.

But Brescia's impressive first half fell apart 10 minutes before the interval.

Aye brought down Aaron Ramsey on the edge of the box and received his second yellow card in four minutes, before Dybala curled a sublime free-kick into the left corner of the net with Andrenacci rooted to the spot.

Andrenacci kept the deficit to one goal at the break with a superb one-handed save, turning a Daniele Rugani header onto the crossbar when the Juve defender looked certain to score.

Leonardo Bonucci was denied early in the second half, Andrenacci parrying the Italy international's powerful header away from danger.

Dybala danced through the Brescia box after 66 minutes only to have his shot from 12 yards blocked by Birkir Bjarnason.

Bjarnason blazed over the crossbar when the ball fell to him unmarked on the edge of the box moments before Cuadrado made sure of the victory, playing a neat one-two with Blaise Matuidi and applying a cool, dinked finish past Andrenacci from six yards out.

Higuain saw a header disallowed for offside late on and Dybala hit the bar right at the death, with Juventus comfortable in the end.

What does it mean? Sarri keeps Pep talk on hold

A run of two defeats in three Serie A games handed the title race initiative to Inter and led to speculation that Pep Guardiola could replace Sarri at the end of the season.

While unspectacular, this win steadied the ship and reassured Juve supporters that their side are not reliant on Ronaldo to keep them winning.

Dybala does the business

It was an all-action performance from Dybala, who linked up with Cuadrado and Higuain to great effect throughout, took his goal superbly and rattled the crossbar with his rising drive on the stroke of full-time.

Clumsy Aye costs Brescia

Just four minutes after being booked for a needless foul on Danilo, Aye got his legs tangled up with Ramsey in a dangerous position, got himself sent off and conceded the free-kick from which Dybala scored.

What's next?

Ronaldo is in line to play his 1,000th career match as Juventus travel to Ferrara to face SPAL on Saturday, with Brescia hosting Napoli on Friday.

Maurizio Sarri believes Jurgen Klopp is "shaking off the burden" of Liverpool attempting to win the Champions League for a second straight season by claiming Juventus are favourites to lift the trophy. 

As well as tipping them for glory in Europe, Klopp also revealed his surprised at Juve not being clear in the Serie A title race, with Sarri's side level on points with Antonio Conte's Inter at the summit.

However, Sarri suggested the German is only highlighting the Bianconeri's strengths to relieve the pressure on his own players, with Liverpool set to take on Atletico Madrid in the last 16.

"Jurgen also said that he doesn't watch much Italian football, so that explains his confusion!" Sarri told a news conference ahead of Juve's clash with Brescia.

"Jurgen is one of the smartest and funniest people I've ever known and what he's doing here is shaking off the burden of being the favourites for the Champions League.

"It was clear from the very start that this would be a different type of season. I think it's motivating to be in a title race to the very end, so I feel we have to feed off this situation.

"No single match is decisive. We just have to focus on ourselves and picking up as many points as possible."

Manchester City, meanwhile, were handed a two-season ban from European competition by UEFA on Friday for a breach of Financial Fair Play regulations.

While they are to appeal their suspension, already there is speculation over City's star players leaving the club, along with Pep Guardiola, but Sarri does not think the punishment will lead to a mass exodus from the Etihad Stadium.

"I went to Chelsea last season and they weren't in the Champions League. I was happy to do it," Sarri said.

"This is also the first stage of the process, there will be appeals and we'll see what the definitive verdict is, but there are situations where a coach can look beyond those limitations."

Maurizio Sarri said Juventus' "growth has stalled" but the under-fire head coach is not worried after the Serie A champions snatched a draw against Milan in the Coppa Italia.

Cristiano Ronaldo's controversial 90th-minute penalty saw Juve escape with a 1-1 draw away to 10-man Milan in the first leg of their semi-final showdown on Thursday.

Coming off a shock defeat at Hellas Verona, which allowed Inter to move top of the Serie A table last week, Juve were far from their best again as Milan impressed.

Ante Rebic's 61st-minute opener looked set to be enough for Milan to secure first-leg honours, until Davide Calabria was harshly penalised for a handball at the death – Ronaldo making no mistake from the spot.

Juve have only won one of their past four matches in all competitions but Sarri is not unconcerned as pressure mounts amid links to former coach Massimiliano Allegri.

"I am not worried, as the only real worries in life are your health. It seems a normal phase to be going through, it's unthinkable for a team to be in a continual ascent," Sarri told Rai Sport.

"This is a sport and so much depends on the physical and psychological conditions of so many players.

"Our growth has stalled a little in the last three weeks, we concede avoidable goals. Having said that, we've conceded only three more than the best defence in Serie A, so it's not that much of an issue."

Sarri added: "We did better in terms of our passing and playing out from the back but were lacking in the final third. It's a process and we are continuing.

"We have conceded some avoidable goals, for example today the cross was quite slow and - in my view - easy to defend. We were coming off a bad performance in Verona, but picked up a positive result, especially as it's the first leg."

Juve – 13-time Coppa Italia winners – will welcome Milan to Turin for the return leg on March 4.

The Italian Post Office delivered a stern rebuke to Maurizio Sarri after the Juventus head coach said he would have taken a job at the postal service if he wanted to avoid pressure.

Sarri has come under fire following Juve's shock defeat to Hellas Verona last week, which allowed Serie A rivals Inter to move top of the table on goal difference.

There have also been reports former boss Massimiliano Allegri could be brought back to Turin, where ex-Chelsea and Napoli coach Sarri is only in his first season at the helm.

Preparing for Thursday's Coppa Italia semi-final first leg at Milan, Sarri was asked about the pressure and he told reporters, "If I hadn't wanted to be under scrutiny, I would have applied to work at the post office."

Those comments angered the Italian Post Office, which furiously hit back on Wednesday.

The statement read: "With regards to the comment by Maurizio Sarri, 'If I had wanted to avoid tough tests I'd have worked at the Post Office', Poste Italiane invite Mr Sarri to dedicate a few minutes of his precious time to educate himself on the fact the Post Office is the biggest company in the country.

"It is chosen by young graduates as one of the most attractive companies to work for, that it is recognised among the top 500 companies in the world for quality of working life, that it has one of the best performances on the stock exchange in 2019 and is in third place, on the global scale, among Italian companies for image and reputation.

"The tests therefore – contrary to what Mr Sarri maintains – are certainly there for Post Office staff and the company answers to citizens, businesses and public administrations.

"We invite him to view our daily work in person at one of our 15,000 operative offices."

 

Maurizio Sarri has vowed the pressure on his work at Juventus is "normal" and said he always fully expected president Andrea Agnelli to scrutinise his results.

The head coach had dinner at the weekend with Agnelli and sporting director Fabio Paratici, in the wake of Saturday's 2-1 defeat to Hellas Verona.

Juventus also suffered a rare loss at Napoli in late January.

There have been claims that Juventus could look to bring back Massimiliano Allegri, who has not moved on to a new job since leaving the Turin giants at the end of last season.

Allegri delivered five successive Serie A titles, but the club's run of eight in a row is coming under threat from Inter, who head Juventus on goal difference after 23 games.

Sarri stressed the dinner meeting had been long planned, and was initially due to take place on February 2 after the Fiorentina game.

In a news conference, he quipped: "If I hadn't wanted to be under scrutiny I would have applied to work at the post office."

Sarri added: "I see the president often, and every now and then we go out for dinner. It was something that was already planned. Andrea says he wants to introduce me to the best restaurants in Turin, but we never talk about a single game, rather about everything.

"It is normal that my work is always under scrutiny. We are in February and we are fighting for every competition, which is in line with the initial goals. It is clear that we come from a bad game, but with external rather than internal repercussions."

While the meeting at restaurant Il Bastimento triggered speculation in Italy, Sarri, in his first season at the club, is determined to prove he can meet the demands of his job.

Juventus are entering a crunch stage of their season, beginning with Thursday's Coppa Italia semi-final first leg at Milan.

They face Lyon in the Champions League last 16, with the first leg in France on February 26, before a March 1 date with Inter that could be pivotal in the Serie A title race.

Maurizio Sarri warned Juventus they cannot afford to throw away points as they did in Saturday's 2-1 Serie A defeat to Hellas Verona after becoming "accustomed to winning" over the past few years.

Juve appeared set to open up a six-point gap at the top of the table when Cristiano Ronaldo scored for a club-record 10th successive league match in the 65th minute.

But Fabio Borini levelled with a clever finish 14 minutes from time and Giampaolo Pazzini completed the unlikely turnaround late on, converting a penalty after Leonardo Bonucci had deflected Marash Kumbulla's header onto the crossbar with his arm.

If Inter and Lazio win on Sunday, a solitary point will separate the top three in Serie A, and Sarri had forceful words at full-time.

"This team has been accustomed to winning comfortably over recent years and we need to get it into our heads that we cannot afford to waste points," Sarri told DAZN.

"Hopefully we'll learn the lesson, because we have been talking about it for quite a while. It's difficult, because the team trains well but then can't rise to its full potential during matches. We have to find a resolution to this.

"The mind is most important. If that's not engaged then you aren't going to be on the mark tactically. Similarly, if your mind is also not 100 per cent engaged, then the physical stuff won't follow either.

"We need to realise that winning cannot to be taken for granted. We must work harder, get dirty when we need to and not relax.

"Verona deserve immense credit for the first 30 minutes, but we deserve the blame for the final half-hour. They showed great intensity – we didn't, it's that simple."

The defeat was Juve's second in three games and third in their previous five away league matches. 

Giorgio Chiellini is close to making his Juventus return, head coach Maurizio Sarri has confirmed.

The 35-year-old had surgery in September on a ruptured cruciate ligament and was ruled out for six months.

Sarri hopes to have Chiellini ready to return as soon as the experienced centre-back feels physically comfortable, with Juve entering a potentially decisive part of the season in which they play five games in 16 days.

The Bianconeri head to Hellas Verona in Serie A on Saturday before two games next week, including a Coppa Italia clash with Milan on February 13. The first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie against Lyon is on February 26.

"He's proceeding as scheduled. Giorgio is alternating between individual and team training," Sarri said to reporters.

"The progress that he is making is very important. The most important thing right now is to listen to what he says to us. Clinically, he is totally healed. All that matters now is how he feels."

Sarri has no concerns about the fitness of Cristiano Ronaldo, who turned 35 this week and struggled in the first part of the season with a knee problem.

"Cristiano was in excellent condition in today's training and has been ever since he got over his knee trouble," he said.

Sarri plans to give more playing time to Adrien Rabiot, who has started four Serie A games in 2020 after starting just five times in the league before the turn of the year.

However, he insists Blaise Matuidi will have an important role to play during the remainder of the season.

"Rabiot is improving a lot and is in a very good moment, so I've picked him rather than other midfielders, but we can't forget who Matuidi is and what strengths he has," said Sarri.

"In the long run, Matuidi is one of those players who is always useful. This is just one period; there are lots of games to play.

"But now, I honestly think we have to give this guy [Rabiot] some consistency. He's finding confidence and form. I think he can improve further. I think it's important now to let him play four or five games to find consistency."

Jorginho's agent has suggested his client could leave Chelsea at the end of the season, claiming a reunion with Maurizio Sarri at Juventus is a possibility.

Italy international Jorginho joined Chelsea in 2018, following Sarri to Stamford Bridge from Napoli.

He was a key figure under the Italian coach, starting in 37 Premier League games during his debut campaign in England.

The midfielder has also been a regular under Frank Lampard this season, scoring four goals in 23 league outings so far.

However, his representative – Joao Santos – is expecting offers for the player during the next transfer window, despite still having another three years to run on his contract.

"Why not?" Santos told Tuttomercatoweb when asked if Jorginho could leave Chelsea.

"I am sure that some important proposals will come, which we would obviously evaluate together with Chelsea."

However, Santos made clear Jorginho's main priority once he has completed domestic duties with Chelsea is representing Italy at Euro 2020.

"His goal is the European Championships with the national team," Santos said.

"There are many expectations around [Roberto] Mancini's team. The European Championship is also a good showcase.

"Even personally, he is doing very well at Chelsea, and I am sure that some important proposals will come because in his role there are not many high-level players like him around."

Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri ruled out fielding a front four as he warned it would mean having to rein in Cristiano Ronaldo.

Sarri was speaking after his team beat Fiorentina 3-0 with a pair of Ronaldo penalties to firm up top spot in Serie A.

Matthijs de Ligt headed the third goal in the final moments, on a day when Juventus began with Paulo Dybala as a substitute, Sarri preferring a front three of Douglas Costa with Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain.

Sarri earlier this season played down talk of regularly fielding an attacking three but has since often done so; however, talk of playing four forwards together was dismissed by the former Chelsea boss.

"We have many attacking players at an extraordinary level," Sarri said. "There are many solutions but they are not simple to put together."

Speaking of Costa, Sarri said: "I preferred to go with him to give us more width. When you leave out someone like Dybala you have bitterness, it's a blasphemy. But I have to deal with balance."

Asked about playing all four attackers together, Sarri added, according to Gazzetta dello Sport: "You'd have to sacrifice the characteristics of these players, starting with Ronaldo who would really have to stay out wide. It would be a waste."

Juventus bounced back well from the defeat at Napoli in their previous game, with Ronaldo reaching 50 goals for the club.

De Ligt said on the Juventus website: "It was the answer that we had to give. In the first half, we had some difficulties against a compact team, then we stepped it up."

Maurizio Sarri said he was happy for Napoli after his former side inflicted a second Serie A loss of the season on Juventus, who missed the chance to move six points clear of Inter.

Although Cristiano Ronaldo scored for the eighth game in a row, it was too little and too late for the champions after goals from Piotr Zielinski and Lorenzo Insigne put Napoli 2-0 ahead on Sunday.

There were anti-Sarri chants and banners on his return to the Stadio San Paolo, but the coach was glad to see Napoli arrest their slump, even against his current club.

"I am happy for the lads, as I will always be fond of them," he told Sky Sport Italia after Juve's five-game winning streak in Serie A ended.

"If you have to lose, I guess I'd rather it be here to help Napoli get out of their current problems. I'd rather they started winning next week, of course.

"Clearly, the game takes over and you have to detach yourself from everything around that. Napoli represented a special moment in my life and it's always pleasing and emotional to be back here.

"We should have felt more motivated to break away [from Inter] rather than less, otherwise this will mean we are weak. I would hope not.

"If that situation weighed on us, even unconsciously, it means we are not ready yet."

Napoli's first home league win since October followed a midweek Coppa Italia victory over Lazio, but head coach Gennaro Gattuso is not getting carried away with his side's improvement.

"I go home tonight and will still keep thinking about the [2-0] defeat to Fiorentina, because that was just shocking," Gattuso told Sky Sport Italia.

"We beat two good teams now, fine, but we are still in trouble, still a long way back and need to keep pushing.

"I congratulate the lads for the work they've done over the last seven days, but we have to keep going like this now, do not let up, focus on Napoli 24 hours a day.

"We didn't do that well in possession today, but did far better when covering, blocking off the passes and the overlapping runs were timed properly.

"I was angry at the Ronaldo goal, because we can't let anything slip at the moment."

Juventus suffered a 2-1 loss at Napoli on Sunday, ending the Serie A champions' run of five straight wins in the league.

Piotr Zielinski scored the opening goal of the game midway through the second half, finishing on the rebound after Wojciech Szczesny pushed Lorenzo Insigne's shot back into the danger zone.

Napoli had lost four home league games in a row but climb to 10th in the table after Insigne volleyed in a second, Maurizio Sarri's return to Stadio San Paolo ending in Juve's second league defeat of the season. 

Cristiano Ronaldo hit a late reply but Juve missed the chance to move further ahead of nearest title rivals Inter and remain three points clear in top spot.

August's reverse fixture was a seven-goal thriller, Juve 2-0 ahead inside 20 minutes though needing Kalidou Koulibaly's late own goal to seal a 4-3 win, but this time half-time arrived with a single shot on target.

Arkadiusz Milik's tame header was comfortably saved by Szczesny with Napoli having had the edge in a strangely low-key opening 45 minutes.

Juve lost Miralem Pjanic to injury shortly after the break, the midfielder having been hurt in a tackle from Diego Demme before the break with Adrien Rabiot introduced in his place.

A late offside flag denied Ronaldo a 53rd-minute opener, the Portuguese then tricking his way past Elseid Hysaj to set up Gonzalo Higuain, whose low drive was stopped by Alex Meret.

Juve appeared in control but Napoli broke the deadlock on the counter in the 63rd minute when Szczesny parried Insigne's 25-yard drive and Zielinski was on hand to convert the rebound.

Napoli had penalty appeals rejected when Juan Cuadrado appeared to handle inside the box but the points were sealed by Insigne's strike that deflected in off Matthijs de Ligt in the closing stages.

Ronaldo gave Juve hope, extending his scoring streak to eight games, but when Higuain's overhead kick flew straight at Meret in the 94th minute, Napoli had secured a famous win.


What does it mean? Hope for Inter in title race

Juve - who started with Ronaldo, Higuain and Paulo Dybala all in attack - would have been six points clear had they won, with yet another title surely within their grasp. 

This result will be welcomed by Inter, who earlier in the day were held to a third straight league draw, while Lazio moved five points behind Juve after they drew with rivals Roma.

As for Napoli, a first home league win since October may prove a turning point in their season with results having failed to improve since Gennaro Gattuso was appointed as Carlo Ancelotti's successor.


Di Lorenzo stars as Koulibaly's deputy

Giovanni Di Lorenzo was excellent in the heart of the Napoli defence, showing a calmness in possession and helping to keep Ronaldo and ex-Napoli striker Higuain quiet.


Szczesny error proves costly

With Gianluigi Buffon back on the bench after starting the midweek win over Roma, his replacement Szczesny made a bad mistake to hand Napoli the opening goal. Insigne's strike was not easy to deal with but Szczesny made a mess of his save, presenting Zielinski with a tap-in.


What's next?

Juve will aim to bounce back when they return to action at home to Fiorentina next Sunday, with Napoli away to Sampdoria a day later.

Maurizio Sarri has indicated he could retire from football at the end of his Juventus reign.

The former Chelsea boss is in his 30th year as a coach and has arguably reached the highest point of his career by taking charge of the Italian champions.

As he prepares Juventus to tackle his former team Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo on Sunday, Sarri revealed he may not look for another job in the future.

Asked whether he could see himself ever returning to Napoli, the 61-year-old told reporters: "After this experience I could even quit: it depends on what energy I have left and if I think I can do well again. These aren't things I'm thinking about at this moment."

But when asked again if he would not stay in coaching until the age of 70, Sarri, who signed a three-year deal with Juventus in June 2019, said it would depend on whether he still felt challenged by the game.

"Pressure is a false myth: external pressure must not influence you, but if your motivation is lost then it is better to stop," Sarri said.

"I don't know if at the end of my contract with Juventus I will be the same Sarri: if yes, I will continue. Otherwise, no."

Sarri's Juventus lead the way in Serie A, possessing a four-point cushion over second-placed Inter heading into the weekend.

He twice led Napoli to second-placed finishes and is puzzled by the Naples side's struggles this season.

Sitting 11th in the table before the 21st round of fixtures, the dismissal of Carlo Ancelotti and appointment of Gennaro Gattuso as head coach in December has yet to bring about a significant turnaround in fortunes.

A Coppa Italia victory over Lazio in midweek may mark a turning point or prove a blip in a difficult campaign.

Sarri, though, thinks Napoli are a better unit than their results suggest.

He said: "Napoli are a strong team that even in difficult moments can be dangerous in a one-off game. They have a position that doesn't reflect their performance. And they will have great motivation.

"Napoli have changed from Ancelotti to Gattuso. They are working to improve their solidity because they remain ever dangerous in the attacking phase."

He added: "For me, it's clearly a special game, but you shouldn't spend your energy on a personal point of view when the collective goal is what matters: to bring home the three points in a difficult match.

"It is true that Napoli's position is strange, because they are first in terms of ball possession and have other excellent statistics, but they haven't obtained the points that reflect what they have done so far."

Title rivals Inter are looking to bring in Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen from Tottenham, but Sarri appears unflustered by the prospect of the Nerazzurri strengthening with such an acquisition.

"Certainly he is a player of great stature," said Sarri. "But from here to think that he can change the balance of a championship, that is a next step.

"And we don't care: we have to focus only on ourselves, knowing we are competitive."

Maurizio Sarri is delighted with Juventus' form but acknowledges the team must be better than in seasons past if they are to again retain their Serie A title.

The Bianconeri defeated Roma 3-1 in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals on Wednesday, scoring through Cristiano Ronaldo, Rodrigo Bentancur and Leonardo Bonucci before half-time.

It was a fifth win in a row in all competitions for Juve, in which time they have built a four-point lead over Inter at the top of the league table.

Sarri saw evidence of this winning mentality against Roma but acknowledged improvement was required in a three-way title tussle with the Nerazzurri and Lazio.

"Winning is becoming normal," Sarri explained at a post-match news conference. "I'm happy for the team.

"But we don't have to look at the numbers because it will be more difficult this year. We will certainly have to do better than previous years if we want to be competitive in the league."

Ronaldo took his 2020 tally to seven goals in four games, and Sarri lauded his "extraordinary" talisman while again repeating a desire to help the Portuguese secure individual honours.

"Ronaldo is in extraordinary physical and mental condition," the head coach said. "He is continuing at an impressive pace and has extraordinary skills.

"He is very well physically. In terms of explosiveness, he is good. He takes great care of the details.

"Ronaldo is a champion, we want to help him win the sixth Ballon d'Or, it would make us all happy."

Juve's next league task takes them to Sarri's former club Napoli, who are struggling in the bottom half of the table.

"It will be a difficult game. We must not look at their position in the table," Sarri added. "They have a strong team. They are going through a difficult time but have good players. 

"From one point of view, there are three points at stake. From my point of view, from a personal point of view, it will be particularly special because I am very close to Napoli."

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