Milan (AFP) – Juventus defender Daniele Rugani insists the champions are “fully charged” up for a successful 2017 and ready to put their Italian Super Cup defeat behind them with a win at home to Bologna on Sunday.
Despite boasting a lead of four and seven points respectively on nearest challengers Roma and Napoli, 2016 ended in disappointment for the Turin giants.
Juve lost the Super Cup as AC Milan ‘keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma proved the hero when the final, staged in Doha, went to penalties just before Christmas.
But despite a few bumps on the road, Massimiliano Allegri’s men remain the team to beat this season. And Rugani, who has gained extra top-flight experience lately due to a rash of injuries in defence, said the champions are determined to start 2017 off in positive fashion.
“We’ve always bounced straight back after defeat and I hope after our defeat to Milan in the Super Cup, which hurt a lot, we’ll return to the fray fully charged up,” Rugani said.
“It will be tough against Bologna on Sunday. In the second half of last season it was Bologna who managed to snatch a draw with us and end our lengthy winning streak.
“We want to start off well, but the season is still long. We still have two games to play from the first half of the season as well as the entire second half.”
Excused from league duties in the final round of games in 2016, Juventus will play their postponed fixture against strugglers Crotone on February 8.
By that time, Allegri will be hoping Roma and Napoli have slipped further behind in the chase for the title. On February 22 Juve face Porto away in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Roma and Napoli have struggled to match the consistency of a Juventus side that is still recovering from an injury crisis in defence.
Roma coach Luciano Spalletti, for one, has plenty of reason to be worried ahead of Saturday’s trip to Genoa.
Spalletti will be without influential Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah due to Africa Cup of Nations commitments and he is also sweating on the availability of defenders Kostas Manolas (thigh) and Thomas Vermaelen (calf).
A trip to the Luigi Ferraris stadium, where both Napoli and Juventus have slipped up this season, is probably the last one Spalletti would want for the first game of 2017.
Napoli were held to a scoreless draw by Genoa in September and a practically unrecognisable Juventus suffered a 3-1 defeat there in November.
Napoli have the chance to pull level on points with Roma with a home win over Sampdoria on Saturday, when Belgian international forward Dries Mertens will be expected to return to striking duties for the southerners.
Mertens has performed brilliantly in the absence of Poland striker Arkadiusz Milik, who is recovering from a cruciate knee ligament injury.
In December he became the first player since the 1994/95 season to hit hat-tricks in successive Serie A games, taking his goals tally to 11, only three behind league leader Mauro Icardi of Inter Milan (14).
Lazio, eight points behind Juventus in fourth, will be expected to account for Crotone on Sunday while Milan, a point further behind in fifth, host Cagliari at the San Siro.
Fixtures (times GMT)
Empoli v Palermo (1700), Napoli v Sampdoria (1945)
Udinese v Inter Milan (1130), Chievo v Atalanta, Genoa v Roma, Lazio v Crotone, Pescara v Fiorentina, Sassuolo v Torino (all 1400), AC Milan v Cagliari (1700), Juventus v Bologna (1945)
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