Juventus, Inter play catch-up on AC Milan before big European games

Juventus, Inter play catch-up on AC Milan before big European games
Celtic’s Scottish forward Ryan Christie, front right, shoots a free kick during the UEFA Europa League Group H football match AC Milan vs Celtic in Milan. (AFP)
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Updated 05 December 2020

Juventus, Inter play catch-up on AC Milan before big European games

Juventus, Inter play catch-up on AC Milan before big European games
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Rossoneri are targeting their first Serie A title since 2011

MILAN, Italy: Juventus host city rivals Torino on Saturday looking to close the gap on high-flying Serie A leaders AC Milan before next week’s final Champions League group clash at Barcelona.

The Italian champions are fourth in the table, six points behind Milan, who head to Sampdoria on Sunday looking to extend their unbeaten run in the league.

Second-placed Inter Milan, five points adrift on their city rivals, host Bologna, days before their Champions League hopes will be decided in a must-win game against Shakhtar Donesk at the San Siro.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Milan are targeting their first Serie A title since 2011, when the Swede last played for the club.

Ibrahimovic has missed their last two games including their Europa League win over Celtic with a muscular injury and will be sidelined for the trip to 11th-placed Sampdoria.

But while Milan have shown they can win without their star striker, who leads the Serie A scoring charts with 10 goals, Juve are reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo.

BACKGROUND

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has missed their last two games including their Europa League win over Celtic with a muscular injury and will be sidelined for the trip to 11th-placed Sampdoria.

They have drawn five of nine games played this season including last weekend’s 1-1 against Benevento when Ronaldo was rested.

They have drawn five of nine games played this season including last weekend’s 1-1 against Benevento when Ronaldo was rested.

The Portugal forward will return for the derby along with Paulo Dybala, but Spain attacker Alvaro Morata sits out due to a two-match suspension.

Torino coach Marco Giampoalo has recovered from coronavirus as his 18th-placed side seek a first top-flight win at Juve since April 1995.

Milan head to Genoa looking to keep their unbeaten league run, and after qualifying for the Europa League knockout rounds.

“Ibra is an important player, even when he is not playing, he’s a leader,” said Pioli.

“But we have shown we have many solutions.”

Sassuolo are third, equal on points with Inter after suffering their first defeat of the season to Conte’s side last time out.

The side from Emilia-Romagna face a tough trip to sixth-placed Roma, whose seven-match unbeaten run ended in Napoli last weekend.

Napoli, in fifth, travel to promoted Crotone, as they push for a first league title since the days of Diego Maradona in 1990, to honour the memory of the Argentina legend.

Eighth-placed Atalanta go to Udinese before their Champions League trip to Ajax, with Lazio, just behind, playing at promoted Spezia before hosting Club Brugge.

Captain Andrea Belotti needs one more goal to reach his 100th Torino goal.

Belotti, 26, has accounted for seven of his struggling side’s 16 goals this season and they have six points from nine games.

The Italy forward joined the club in 2015, scoring a career-high 26 league goals the following campaign.


Manchester United face acid test of title credentials at Liverpool

Manchester United face acid test of title credentials at Liverpool
Updated 17 January 2021

Manchester United face acid test of title credentials at Liverpool

Manchester United face acid test of title credentials at Liverpool
  • Jurgen Klopp’s men could drop to fifth place on Sunday if results go against them

LONDON: Liverpool and Manchester United face off on Sunday as the Premier League’s top two teams for the first time since 1997 — with the rivalry between England’s most successful clubs rekindled by a fascinating title race.

United top the table after the New Year for the first time since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 thanks to an 11-match unbeaten run to take them past Jurgen Klopp’s men.

Liverpool have surrendered top spot after three league games without a win and could drop to fifth place on Sunday if results go against them.

The last time United and Liverpool locked horns in a title race was 12 years ago.

Back then United were hardened winners under Ferguson, who saw off Rafael Benitez’s challengers to win a third consecutive league title.

Now it is United who Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admits are the “hunters” chasing the champions.

Ferguson, who arrived at Old Trafford in 1986 with United firmly in Liverpool’s shadow, once famously said his goal was to knock them “off their perch” and he went on to win 13 league titles.

But United have been displaced as top dogs even in their own city by Manchester City.

And fans have been forced to watch Klopp spearhead another era of glory at Anfield, winning the Champions League in 2019 before ending the club’s 30-year wait for a league title last season — putting them just one behind United’s record tally of 20.

But, in a strange and at times soulless season in empty stadiums, the relentless consistency shown by Liverpool in recent
years has dropped off.

Hampered by a series of injuries, most notably to talismanic center-back Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool have already dropped more points in 17 games than they have in either of the past two seasons.

That has allowed United to overtake them despite a slow start to their own campaign.

Solskjaer’s men won just two of their opening six games, suffering a humiliating 6-1 reverse at the hands of Tottenham at Old Trafford.

But, on the road, United’s form has been remarkably consistent. Come Sunday, it will be almost a year to the day since they last lost an away game in domestic competition — on their last visit
to Anfield.

Since then Bruno Fernandes’ arrival has helped transform United’s fortunes. On Friday, the Portugal playmaker won his fourth Premier League player-of-the-month award in 2020 by picking up the prize for December.

“Unfortunately a good signing for United,” said Klopp.

“He is a very influential player for United obviously, involved in a lot of things.

“I know people talk mostly about the goal involvements, which is very important stuff, but he is a link-up in a lot of other situations as well.”

Without the silverware on his CV to rival Klopp or City boss Pep Guardiola, Solskjaer’s credentials for one of the biggest jobs in football are questioned every time he has a couple of bad results.

But the Norwegian has guided United into a position his more storied predecessors, Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal, could not manage.

“The last few years, there have been two teams running away with it already by the end of October,” said Solskjaer.

“Now, at least, we’re in it at half-way. We’re a much better side now than a year ago.”

Questions remain over whether United’s revival is for real or another false dawn, of which there have been several in the post-Ferguson era.

Liverpool’s three-decade drought without a league title stands as a warning of how far even giants can fall.

One of Klopp’s first iconic phrases when taking charge in 2015 was his ambition to change the fatalism around the club’s mentality from “doubter to believer.”

Should United become the first visiting side to win at Anfield in the league for nearly four years, it is they who will have the new-found confidence that a 21st league title in 2021 is possible.