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Injury-plagued Juve pack defence for ambitious Atalanta

Milan (AFP) – Embattled Juventus could look to repel the threat of a shock upset to Atalanta on Saturday by deploying a makeshift, four-man defence as injuries continue to pile up for the Turin giants.

Still considered favourites to secure a record sixth consecutive scudetto, according to ex-boss Marcello Lippi in midweek, chinks are starting to appear.

Juve missed the chance to pull seven points clear of Roma and AC Milan last week when a side devoid of injured stars Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and defensive stalwarts Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini lost 3-1 at Genoa.

With Leonardo Bonucci and Dani Alves sidelined for up to two months after suffering injury in Genoa, Juve have been decimated less than a week before hosting Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League looking to secure top spot in their group.

As capital derby fever rises ahead of Lazio against Roma on Sunday, on-form Atalanta — in fifth at only five points off the pace — could steal the limelight.

Defeat to the Bergamo side could leave Juventus with just a one-point cushion on Roma and AC Milan, if they win their respective fixtures against Lazio and Crotone.

Coach Massimiliano Allegri is set to deploy rarely-used Daniele Rugani as part of the back four he hopes will stop Atalanta forwards Franck Kessie, Jasmin Kurtic and Alejandro Gomez, who combined have scored 12 goals in 14 games.

Rugani told Jtv: “Atalanta are on top form, it’s not a surprise to anyone they’re doing well. But that doesn’t interest us.

“We have to go out and claim all three points, get a win under our belts and send a strong signal to the rest of the league.

“It was a shock to lose to Genoa, but it has done us a favour.”

Atalanta coach Gianpiero Gasperini has spent the past weeks trying in vain to calm supporters’ growing belief they can end this season by claiming a place in Europe.

But given Atalanta have already beaten Torino, Inter Milan, Napoli and Roma, he can’t deny expectations are high.

“There are a lot of expectations on us for this game, it seems we’re even on a level playing field with Juventus, but that’s not the case,” said Gasperini. 

“We’ll be going there with conviction but we know who we’re facing. We’re delighted with what we’ve achieved recently so in Turin we won’t have any pressure or fear. 

“Hopefully we’ll create some problems for Juventus, but we’re not overestimating their problems.”

Juve’s third reverse of the campaign was also a boon for Roma, whose recent purple patch is purring along thanks to the 12 goals of Edin Dzeko.

The Bosnian striker has hit 12 in 14 games to sit level with Argentine Mauro Icardi, whose Inter Milan side, eighth at 12 points adrift, face the formidable challenge of Napoli at the San Paolo stadium on Friday.

Roma goalkeer Wojciech Szczesny, who is on-loan from Arsenal, was unequivocal when asked if Roma, four points behind Juventus and one ahead of Lazio, are better than their city rivals.

“Yes,” he told the club’s website, “Lazio are having a great season and we’ve failed to take a couple of chances. There’s only one point in it, but it should be more.

“I have no doubt as to who is the better side, but we have to prove that on the pitch. I hope that by Sunday night the gap has opened up to four points.” 



Napoli v Inter Milan (1945 GMT)


Juventus v Atalanta (1945 GMT)


AC Milan v Crotone (1130 GMT), Lazio v Roma (1400 GMT), Pescara v Cagliari (1400 GMT), Sampdoria v Torino (1400 GMT), Sassuolo v Empoli (1400 GMT), Fiorentina v Palermo (1945 GMT)


Chievo v Genoa (1700 GMT), Udinese v Bologna (1945 GMT)

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