Milan (AFP) – Reported Manchester United target Andrea Belotti could star when Torino host depleted city rivals Juventus who are looking to secure the spoils from a city derby attracting particular interest from Roma and AC Milan.
With 10 goals in 13 appearances in only his second season in Serie A, Belotti — who celebrates his goals by mimicking a rooster’s comb with an open hand to his forehead — has emerged as the most exciting home-grown striker in years.
So much so that Torino president Urban Cairo, amid reports of interest from United manager Jose Mourinho, added a 100m euros buyout clause when he tied the 22-year-old front man to a new deal until 2021 in midweek.
“I will repay the club’s faith in me by giving my everything in every training session and every game,” Belotti said as a way of thanks.
It should buy Torino coach Sinisa Mihajlovic time to ward off potential suitors although Belotti’s stock is sure to rise if he produces another trademark performance against a Juve side that has shown chinks in its armour of late.
Juventus make the short trip to the Stadio Olimpico with a four-point lead on both Roma and AC Milan although the cushion would have been more comfortable had the champions not suffered a stunning 3-1 defeat to Genoa a fortnight ago.
Massimiliano Allegri’s men have made amends, a 3-1 home win over Atalanta preceding a 2-0 Champions League win over Dinamo Zagreb in midweek that secured top spot in Group H and a place in the last 16.
But injuries and stuttering form continue to compound Juve’s chances of pulling away from the chasing pack before Christmas.
Remarkably, the Old Lady were without the three-man ‘BBC’ defence of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini on Wednesday.
While Barzagli and Bonucci are out till the New Year, Chiellini is expected to return for Sunday to marshall a makeshift defence that will be under the orders of captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Buffon, sporting a slick new moustache and goatee beard, was rested for the win over Zagreb but is expected to take the gloves back from Norbert Neto.
While Juve fans will be hoping for Paulo Dybala to start after he made his return from a six-week injury lay-off in the final 10 minutes on Wednesday, Allegri hinted the Argentine will start on the bench.
“He only has 15 minutes in his legs but he showed straight away that he’s on form,” said Allegri.
“But let’s see whether he’s fit enough to start against Torino.”
Thankfully for Allegri, fellow forward Gonzalo Higuain ended his six-week goal drought by hitting the opener on Wednesday, but the Argentine who hit a record 36 league goals for Napoli last season is not on top form.
Juventus won both fixtures last season, following their 2-1 win at home with a 4-1 romp at Torino, Belotti scoring the only goal for the hosts.
But Allegri will be mindful of the 2-1 defeat to Torino in April 2015 which ended the Granata’s 20-year wait to beat their richer, more powerful city rivals.
Serie A chiefs, meanwhile, couldn’t have planned a better bookend to this weekend’s action if they had tried.
Both Roma and AC Milan are four points behind Juve in second and third places and face each other at the Stadio Olimpico on Monday, owing to their respective action in the Europa League.
Elsewhere, Napoli, eight points in arrears, travel to Cagliari looking to make it three successive wins after following a 3-0 romp over Inter Milan with a 2-1 Champions League win over Benfica that secured top spot in Group B.
Crotone v Pescara (1700 GMT), Sampdoria v Lazio (1945 GMT)
Cagliari v Napoli (1130 GMT), Atalanta v Udinese (1400 GMT), Bologna v Empoli (1400 GMT), Palermo v Chievo (1400 GMT), Torino v Juventus (1400 GMT), Inter Milan v Genoa (1945 GMT)
Fiorentina v Sassuolo (1800 GMT), Roma v AC Milan (2000 GMT)
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