Andrea Pirlo exudes composure and shows little emotion on the sidelines but that is only half the story according to Christian Vieri, who believes the "fun" first-year head coach can lead Juventus to a clean sweep of silverware in Turin.

Eyebrows were raised when nine-time reigning Serie A champions Juve turned to club great but unproven coach Pirlo following the dismissal of Maurizio Sarri at the end of the 2019-20 season.

Pirlo had only re-joined Juve as Under-23s head coach a week earlier before the Bianconeri gave the 41-year-old his first senior coaching role at the Italian powerhouse, where he won four Scudetto titles among other honours during an illustrious playing career.

While there have been teething issues and a stuttering start, World Cup winner Pirlo has already tasted success for the first time as a coach in the Supercoppa Italiana, while Juve are seven points off the pace in Serie A, through to the Champions League last 16 and preparing for Tuesday's mouth-watering Coppa Italia semi-final against Inter.

Vieri spent time with Pirlo at Inter and within the Italy national team and he talked up the playful side of his former team-mate – who remains in the hunt for a Serie A, Champions League and Coppa Italia treble in his maiden season at the helm.

"Listen, Juventus can win anything every year. They have a fantastic side," Vieri, who won the 1997 Scudetto with Juve before later joining Inter for a then-world record fee in 1999, told Stats Perform News. "When you have Cristiano Ronaldo with you, you always start 1-0.

"Pirlo is a fun guy. He is the opposite of what everyone sees. He is a fun dude, he takes the p*** out of you the whole day.

"Of course, everyone is different on TV, right? He is calmer. You never see him go crazy. He is the opposite of [Antonio] Conte. You see Conte, it's like he is playing.

"It's his first experience. He is having a good time. He won a trophy already. You win games and lose games, it's part of coaching. Maybe lose more games than win, some coaches do that. But he is happy coaching, that's what he wanted to do.

"He has an amazing team. He can everything this season. Let's see what happens. Nine years in a row winning the Scudetto, of course, sooner or later you will lose it because motivation-wise, you can't have that motivation every year."

Inter will host Juventus in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final at San Siro on Tuesday.

It will be a chance for Juve to avenge their previous Derby d'Italia loss to Inter, who outclassed Pirlo's men 2-0 in Serie A action on January 17.

Inter – boasting the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez, Achraf Hakimi and Nicolo Barella – are widely viewed as the favourites to put an end to Juve's domestic dominance, which dates back to 2011.

The Nerazzurri, where Vieri spent six successful years, are second and only two points behind leaders Milan through 20 Serie A matchdays.

But Italian great Vieri believes Juve remain the "strongest team in Italy" due to their depth.

"They have 23 fantastic players," the 47-year-old added. "They have a big, long bench. [Paulo] Dybala stays on the bench, [Juan] Cuadrado stays on the bench, Arthur stays on the bench… they're fantastic players.

"I don't think the other benches are as strong as Juve's. I think Juve are still the strongest. But motivation wise, you can't win forever.

"Inter have a fantastic team this season. Hakimi, [Arturo] Vidal, [Ashley] Young, [Alessandro] Bastoni, they're all good players. They're solid, more solid defensively than three-four months ago. Up front they're fantastic. Anyone can win.

"Against Juve, Inter played fantastically [in Serie A]. Technical wise, physically. Let's see what happens in the semi-final."

Andrea Pirlo cited the 2-0 loss to Inter in January as a turning point for in-form Juventus as they prepare to face Antonio Conte's side once again, this time in the Coppa Italia. 

Arturo Vidal and Nicolo Barella scored the goals as Inter deservedly triumphed at San Siro last month, the defeat inflicting further damage on the reigning champions in their bid for a 10th straight Serie A title. 

However, since that setback in Milan, Juve have won four games in a row without conceding. That run includes lifting the Supercoppa Italiana at the expense of Napoli, as well as a Coppa Italia quarter-final success over second-tier SPAL. 

Next up in the competition is a two-legged tie with Inter and, having been second best in the previous meeting, Pirlo is confident his side learned a valuable lesson from that game.

"I want to see a team aware of their strength," Pirlo - who confirmed Gianluigi Buffon will start in goal - told the club's television channel.

"It will be the first round, because it's a 180-minute game, so tomorrow it will be important to manage it well, because it won't be decisive.  

"The match against Inter in the league taught a lot, first of all, when we are not on the right track, we are not ourselves, but from there we started with great performances.” 

As for Conte, he is wary of a repeat of what happened to Inter in the competition in the 2019-20 season, when they lost 1-0 at home to Napoli in the first leg of the semi-final. A 1-1 draw was not enough in the return fixture, meaning they were knocked out by the eventual winners. 

"You always need to be very respectful of very strong teams, and we'll certainly need to put in an excellent performance,” the former Chelsea boss told the media.

"The upcoming 180 minutes will determine who progresses, and the first match will be important. Last year, we lost 1-0 to Napoli at home and didn't manage to turn things around at the San Paolo despite playing very well. We will need to perform and try to do our best."

The Nerazzurri will be without Romelu Lukaku on Tuesday due to suspension after he received a yellow card for his part in a confrontation with Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the previous round. 

Conte, though, is confident he has enough strength in depth at the position to cover for the absence of the influential Belgian. Lukaku scored twice at the weekend against Benevento in Serie A action, taking his tally for the campaign in the league to 14 goals in 16 appearances. 

"It's not the first time that Romelu has been missing," Conte said. "We will have Alexis and Lautaro, who I'm sure will do well.  

"Romelu is feeling good, he responded on the pitch and scored two goals against Benevento. Now, he's being forced to rest due to his suspension and will work hard to be in good shape when he returns in the league."

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) has opened an inquiry into the clash between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku in Inter's Coppa Italia win over Milan.  

The former Manchester United team-mates were involved in a heated exchange in which Ibrahimovic appeared to tell the Belgian forward: "Go do your voodoo s***, you little donkey".  

It was suggested Ibrahimovic was referring to comments made in 2018 by Everton majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri, who said Lukaku had declined a contract extension because a "voodoo message" told him to move to Chelsea - a transfer that never transpired.  

Some accused Ibrahimovic of racially abusing Lukaku, with the Swede responding by stating on Twitter: "In ZLATAN's world there is no place for RACISM." United midfielder Paul Pogba also tweeted to say his old team-mate was "the last person I'd think of as racist".  

Both players were booked following the incident before Ibrahimovic picked up a second caution for a foul in the second half of the game.

As part of the inquest, match referee Paolo Valeri has been summoned to explain his decision to book both players in the aftermath. 

A statement read: "This morning, FIGC attorney Giuseppe Chine opened an inquiry into the verbal dispute between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku in the Coppa Italia quarter-final between Inter and Milan on January 26. 

"As part of this inquest, Chine has decided to summon referee Paolo Valeri, who will, in the next few hours, be called upon to give his statement regarding the sanctions that were handed out to both players during the game." 

Lukaku had cancelled out Ibrahimovic's opener in the tie at San Siro before Christian Eriksen sealed Inter's progression to the semi-finals with a stoppage-time free-kick. 

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.

Paul Pogba has leapt to the defence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, saying his former team-mate is "the last person I'd think of as racist" after his clash with Romelu Lukaku.

Ibrahimovic and Lukaku traded insults in heated exchanges during Inter's 2-1 Coppa Italia quarter-final derby win over Milan on Tuesday.

Both players were booked following a confrontation late in the first half and they had to be separated as the furious row continued after the whistle for half-time was blown.

Ibrahimovic, who was sent off in the second half for a second bookable offence, appeared to tell Lukaku to "Go do your voodoo s***, you little donkey."

The Milan striker on Wednesday denied he was guilty of racially abusing Inter's leading scorer Lukaku, who equalised in the second half before Christian Eriksen scored a late winner.

He tweeted: "In ZLATAN's world there is no place for RACISM. We are all the same race – we are all equal!! We are all PLAYERS some better then [sic] others."

Pogba, who played alongside the prolific Swede and Lukaku at Manchester United, later stated there is no way Ibrahimovic would subject anybody to racial abuse.

"Zlatan... racist? He loves me too much so he's the last person I'd think of as racist! Come on, don't joke with that one!" the United and France midfielder posted on Twitter.

Juventus will take on SPAL in the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia on Wednesday without Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portuguese forward came off the bench in the previous round, helping Juve edge past Genoa after extra time, but has not been included in a 23-man squad named by Andrea Pirlo. Paulo Dybala and Rodrigo Bentancur have also been left out.

Ronaldo, who has managed 20 goals in all competitions this season, has been given a break ahead of Saturday's Serie A trip to Sampdoria.

With their leading scorer absent, Alvaro Morata looks set to lead the line. Alex Sandro could also feature for the hosts, the Brazilian defender available again after recovering from coronavirus.

The Bianconeri host their second-tier opponents looking to extend their unbeaten streak at home in the cup competition; they have not lost in their 12 previous ties at their own ground.

A victory for the hosts in Turin will set up a semi-final clash with Inter, who knocked out rivals Milan in a feisty derby at San Siro on Tuesday thanks to a stoppage-time winner from Christian Eriksen.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has denied using racist insults when he clashed with Romelu Lukaku during Milan's 2-1 derby defeat to Inter on Tuesday.

Ibrahimovic turned from hero to villain in the Coppa Italia quarter-final tie at San Siro, scoring the opening goal before he was sent off for a second bookable offence in the second half.

The Milan talisman had been shown a yellow card following a heated confrontation with his former Manchester United team-mate Lukaku late in the first half.

Ibrahimovic appeared to tell Belgium striker Lukaku to "Go do your voodoo s***, you little donkey" as the pair exchanged words and went head-to-head.

The strikers had to be separated as they continued to trade insults after the half-time whistle was blown, but Ibrahimovic on Wednesday stated he was not guilty of any racist abuse.

He posted on Twitter: "In ZLATAN's world there is no place for RACISM. We are all the same race - we are all equal!! We are all PLAYERS some better then [sic] others."

It is claimed Ibrahimovic's "voodoo" reference was in relation to Everton majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri claiming in 2018 that Lukaku refused to extend his contract at Goodison Park because a "voodoo message" told him to join Chelsea. He ended up moving to United.

Lukaku equalised from the penalty spot after Ibrahimovic was dismissed and Christian Eriksen dramatically put Inter through with a sublime free-kick deep into stoppage time.

Antonio Conte suggested Christian Eriksen would remain at Inter after his stunning derby winner against Milan, saying the midfielder was loved at the club.

Eriksen curled in a wonderful 25-yard free-kick in the 97th minute to lift Inter to a 2-1 victory in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals on Tuesday.

The Denmark international has been linked with a move after making just four Serie A starts this season, but Conte said Eriksen was needed at Inter.

"I am sure [the goal] has given energy to [Eriksen] and to us. I pushed him to take that set-piece because he is really good at that," the Inter head coach told a news conference.

"He is a good lad. Everybody loves him, we love him. He fitted well [in the team]. He is a bit shy.

"I hope this goal will give him more confidence because we need him. We need everybody considering the situation. I am happy for him and I am happy because we qualified."

Eriksen's free-kick settled an explosive derby, in which Zlatan Ibrahimovic opened the scoring before being sent off, having also been involved in an earlier confrontation with Romelu Lukaku.

Ibrahimovic was red-carded in a game played in Europe for the first time since March 2015 and Inter took advantage, Lukaku levelling from the penalty spot before Eriksen's winner.

Of players in Europe's top five leagues, only Lionel Messi, Hakan Calhanoglu, Miralem Pjanic and Cristiano Ronaldo have scored more direct free-kick goals than Eriksen's 13 since 2013-14.

Inter had 27 shots to Milan's five and 10 on target to their rivals' one, and Conte said his side needed to be more clinical.

"The squad was in full spirit and energy since the beginning of the game. I think it was not fair to be one goal down against Milan. We had many chances even 11 against 11," he said.

"If I have to find a negative thing, it will be the chances created without goals. We have to be more clinical, more pragmatic.

"Milan's goalkeeper [Ciprian Tatarusanu] has been the man of the match. He made incredible saves."

Inter, who are two points adrift of Milan in Serie A, host Benevento on Saturday.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic apologised for the red card that cost Milan dearly in their Coppa Italia exit to rivals Inter, coach Stefano Pioli has revealed.

Ibrahimovic, who had scored his 499th club career goal to give Milan the lead, was sent off for a second bookable offence as he felled Aleksandar Kolarov just before the hour-mark.

Romelu Lukaku equalised from the penalty spot soon after and Christian Eriksen's stoppage-time free-kick settled a controversial Derby della Madonnina encounter.

Ibrahimovic had earned his first yellow card in a confrontation with former Manchester United team-mate Lukaku.

The two forwards went head-to-head in a heated exchange that saw Ibrahimovic aim offensive language in the direction of his opponent.

It was a major misstep and Milan paid the price for Ibrahimovic's ill-discipline, but the 39-year-old was apologetic, according to his coach.

"Ibrahimovic apologised. He knows he created a problem for the team," Pioli said. "He apologised because he is a great man and champion.

"It's clear that the game was more difficult one man down in a game so balanced. It has been crucial. It wasn't supposed to happen but it happened unfortunately.

"We felt the fatigue in the last 30 minutes and we didn't achieve a positive result.

"We wanted it and we prepared for it. Now we go back to the league and to Bologna."

Milan remain top of Serie A, two points ahead of second-placed Inter, as they aim to end a 10-year wait for the Scudetto.

Antonio Conte professed to be happy at the sight of Romelu Lukaku getting angry with Zlatan Ibrahimovic during Inter's Coppa Italia win over Milan.

Inter ultimately triumphed 2-1 thanks to a late Christian Eriksen free-kick, but that does not tell the full story of the match, which Milan initially led thanks to Ibrahimovic.

The Swede was involved in an altercation with Lukaku just before half-time as the former Manchester United colleagues squared up to each other and went head-to-head – it then continued after the referee ended the first half, with Inter players forced to hold their team-mate back.

Television footage and audio appeared to show Ibrahimovic yelling at Lukaku: "Go do your voodoo s***."

That may have been a reference by Ibrahimovic to claims made by Everton owner Farhad Moshiri in January 2018 that Lukaku, who left the Merseyside club six months earlier, strenuously denied.

After Tuesday's game, Lukaku did not immediately publicly address Ibrahimovic's on-pitch behaviour.

Inter and Lukaku ultimately had the last laugh, as Ibrahimovic was sent off in the second half and the Belgian equalised from the spot before Eriksen sealed their spot in the semi-finals with a lovely free-kick.

"If he gets angry every now and then, it just makes me happy," Conte told RAI Sport after the game.

"I've been a player. It is a derby, not a walk for your health. During the game, tempers are high and in some situations you get angry. The important thing is that everything remains in the right dimension.

"I was pleased to see Romelu so focused. He had a disagreement with someone [Ibrahimovic] who has the wickedness of a winner and a warrior, he does not want to lose. Romelu is growing from this point of view. For us it is important."

"You want to speak about my mother?"

Romelu Lukaku was seething. A yellow card and a stern talking to from referee Paolo Valeri having done nothing to lift the red mist.

Inter's diminutive playmaker Nicolo Barella attaching himself to Lukaku's torso in a bid to calm the powerhouse striker was one of the more memorable sights of an action-packed first 45 minutes in this Milan derby for a place in the Coppa Italia semi-finals.

Or the Derby della Madonnina, to give the game its full, grander title. A game that takes its name from a pristine golden statue of the Virgin Mary.

It seemed for all the world that Zlatan Ibrahimovic had not spoken about Lukaku's mother with such reverence.

Here was Milan's 39-year-old talisman, who suggested the youthful make-up of the Serie A leaders' XI was a factor in their 3-0 weekend defeat to Atalanta, deciding to display his own brand of leadership in the guise of juvenile schoolyard bully.

Ibrahimovic's crowing chuckle as mayhem unfurled around him (Arturo Vidal got involved - of course he did - for no apparent reason) was one of a player who had recently enjoyed a familiar feeling for the 499th time in his career.

Freed from shackles of their knife-edge Scudetto battle, both teams played with freedom and the intent to land a psychological blow. The fact each team had the same idea appeared to irritate all concerned, but it made for great entertainment.

It is doubtful Antonio Conte would consider such a cavalier selection in league combat as he rolled out on Inter's left flank here. Ivan Perisic was at wing-back, paying as much attention as you'd expect to the part of his position lurking after the hyphen.

That increased the defensive burden on Aleksandar Kolarov on, a defender who has worn 11 for the bulk of his career. Kolarov's shirt number is a statement of particular intent.

Ibrahimovic showed he recognised that point of weakness in the 13th minute, when he leapt athletically to meet a Rafael Leao cross, knocking Perisic and Kolarov to the ground in the process. Brahim Diaz was just unable to turn home.

Kolarov still seemed distracted when he backed off enough for the former Sweden international to fire though his legs and beyond Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.

The script seemed written, goal 500 was surely on the way to take Ibrahimovic closer to yet another piece of silverware. Why not have some fun and wind up the opposition's star man.

Ibrahimovic's language and his message seemed appalling, with ESPN footage showing him at one point appearing to yell: "Go do your voodoo s***, you little donkey."

A flaw in the plan to rile Lukaku was the yellow card that Ibrahimovic received for his part in the spat. Not a problem in itself, but in the 58th minute he clumsily and needlessly fouled Kolarov to collect a second booking.

Displaying none of his vast experience, Ibrahimovic had gone from hero to villain to idiot within half an hour of playing time.

And so, it was over to the youngsters and backup players who the star striker sometimes seems to consider walk-on extras in his one-man show.

First there was on-loan defender Fikayo Tomori, who was quickly disabused of the notion he had escaped chaos by leaving Chelsea this week. Thrust into a debut by Simon Kjaer's first-half injury, he made a brilliant last-ditch block to deny Lukaku.

Alessio Romagnoli and Theo Hernandez defended heroically down the Milan left but reduced numbers forced willing attacking players back to man unfamiliar barricades. Leao was pressed into action and brought down Barella. After consulting the pitchside monitor Valeri pointed to the spot.

Lukaku has been known to roll his penalties home. On this occasion, he tested the structural integrity of the crossbar and the ball ricocheted into the turf and home. Then there was a shouting match with a team-mate (Yes, Vidal; nope, no idea).

Enough mayhem? Nonsense. Valeri had to limp out of the action injured. Fourth official Daniele Chiffi looked like he was putting on the microphone and headset for the first time in his life and 10 minutes of stoppage time were required.

In the seventh of those, wantaway midfielder Christian Eriksen curled home a sumptuous free-kick, leaving Ciprian Tatarusanu no chance to add to his fine catalogue of eight saves.

Last act for Eriksen? Maybe. Definitely last laugh for Lukaku.

Ibrahimovic likes to call himself a lion but Tatarusanu and the Milan players he left behind were the lions here, roaring defiantly at wave after wave of Inter attacks before buckling at the last. Nine of Inter's 27 shots were blocked.

After fatefully dwelling too long in self-parody at the end of the first half, Ibrahimovic owes them an apology, and surely Lukaku is also due one. Perhaps they shouldn't hold their breath.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic went from hero to villain in Tuesday's Coppa Italia quarter-final defeat to rivals Inter as he was involved in an ugly incident with Romelu Lukaku and later sent off in a 2-1 reverse sealed at the death by Christian Eriksen.

Swedish striker Ibrahimovic went into the match just two short of a 500th career club goal and few would have bet against him reaching the milestone in the derby after putting Milan in front, but he was unable to see out a controversial encounter.

Having earned a first yellow card in an earlier altercation with Lukaku, who was clearly incensed by the 39-year-old's behaviour, Ibrahimovic was perhaps unfortunate to earn a second booking for what referee Paolo Valeri deemed a foul on Aleksandar Kolarov.

If Lukaku's mood was not already improved by Ibrahimovic's dismissal, he was definitely smiling after converting a 71st-minute penalty, and Eriksen's gorgeous late free-kick sealed Inter a spot in the semi-finals.

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."

Ever the man for the big occasion, Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be eyeing a looming landmark heading into Tuesday's Coppa Italia Derby della Madonnina.

Ibrahimovic enters the latest crunch clash between Inter and his Milan just two goals shy of 500 in club football.

The former Sweden striker drew a blank against Atalanta on Saturday, ending a run of scoring in nine consecutive Serie A starts, but will be determined to bounce back in this mammoth fixture.

"We have to redeem ourselves after this defeat," Ibrahimovic said after the 3-0 loss to Atalanta. "We have the chance to do it in a few days against Inter. That will be a good match."

A MILAN MAN

Enjoying a fine second spell with Milan now at the age of 39, Ibrahimovic's goals have fired Stefano Pioli's side back into title contention - despite the Atalanta setback.

The Rossoneri have not won the Scudetto since 2011 - in Ibrahimovic's first stint at the club - and are without any silverware since the 2016 Supercoppa Italiana.

Inter's own trophy drought spans back to 2011, making this season - with the Milan clubs first and second in the table - and this quarter-final encounter huge.

Ibrahimovic has 13 goals in all competitions this term, including 12 in the league, swelling his Milan total to 80.

That far surpasses the 66 he scored in his time with Inter, while his total number of appearances for the Rossoneri has also nudged past his Nerazzurri tally, 119 to 117 after the Atalanta reverse.

Ibrahimovic will hope to be able to celebrate a 69th victory in Milan colours when they face their neighbours.

DERBY DELIGHTS

Derbies tend to be enjoyable occasions for Ibrahimovic, who has scored seven times for Milan against Inter - including a strike in his only prior such match outside of Serie A, inspiring a turnaround in the 2011 Supercoppa.

A goal and an assist in the first meeting with Inter following his return to Milan last year were in vain as the Nerazzurri won 4-2, but his brace this season secured a 2-1 win for the Serie A leaders.

Only once, in a 1-0 defeat in 2012, has Ibrahimovic failed to score for Milan against Inter, while he also netted twice in four matches for Juventus in the Derby d'Italia.

Yet the striker's Milan derby history goes back to before his arrival at the Rossoneri due to his previous allegiance to Inter.

He scored in his first two Inter appearances against Milan, meaning he has nine strikes in this famous rivalry - trailing only Andriy Shevchenko (14), Giuseppe Meazza (13), Gunnar Nordahl, Istvan Nyers (both 11) and Enrico Candiani (10).

Ibrahimovic has won six and lost four of his 10 Serie A derbies, also triumphing in that Supercoppa clash.

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