Milan (AFP) – A perfectly-orchestrated 2-0 win over depleted Porto has put Juventus on the cusp of the Champions League quarter-finals, and underlined Massimiliano Allegri’s credentials amid rumours of an eventual move England’s Premier League.
Croatia starlet Marko Pjaca and Dani Alves came off the bench to strike late and ease the beaten 2015 finalists to victory over the Portuguese, who had been reduced to 10 men following Alex Telles’ 27th minute expulsion.
While brushing off the plaudits for making the changes that produced late goals, Allegri has been credited with another masterstroke — excluding key defender Leonardo Bonucci in the days before the game over a disciplinary matter.
Despite being fully fit, Bonucci was forced to watch from the stands at the Estadio do Dragao as punishment for lashing out at Allegri during a 4-1 league win over Palermo last Friday.
The decision was even more controversial given the challenges Bonucci and his family have faced off the field in recent months.
The Italy defender almost quit the game after doctors discovered his two-year-old son Matteo was suffering from a serious medical condition after undergoing a hernia operation last summer.
Sidelining Bonucci was a tough call for Allegri to make but Allegri wouldn’t budge on the matter. “I’m sorry about what happened on Friday, but I had to make a decision and I made it. Leonardo has said sorry and the case is now closed,” said Allegri.
“In fact, we have to thank him for keeping the tension high at the club in the days leading up to the game.”
Allegri pledged his future to Juventus last week when he insisted: “I hope to take charge of another 300 or 400 games as Juventus coach.”
Yet Allegri’s ability to maintain discipline and balance in a squad that is still in contention for three trophies is not going unnoticed.
He is widely expected to follow Juventus predecessor Antonio Conte, now the manager of Premier League leaders Chelsea, by moving to England.
Juventus have won league and Cup doubles the past two seasons and, as they bid for a record sixth consecutive Serie A crown, the man who led AC Milan to their last scudetto, in 2011, is relentless in his pursuit of further glory.
“We’re at a crucial point of the season and we need to keep enthusiasm levels high because we want to go all the way in every competition,” said Allegri.
“Above all else, we have to start believing in our abilities.”
Porto were seeking a first win over Juventus in four meetings, but their quarter-final hopes were dented when Telles was red-carded for a foul on Stephan Lichtsteiner, his second bookable offence.
The hosts were a man down for over an hour, and despite a spirited performance that kept Sami Khedira, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain at bay Allegri had other plans.
Six minutes after replacing Cuadrado, the powerfully-built Pjaca burst into the area to pounce on a poorly controlled ball by Porto defender Marcano to fire past the former Spain and Real Madrid ‘keeper.
The 21-year-old’s maiden Juventus goal came only a week after Allegri asked for the Croat to improve and adapt better to the Italian game.
“I saw already last Saturday that his attitude was changing and that he understood what is really required to play football in Italy,” Allegri said afterwards.
Minutes after Lichtsteiner made way for Alves, the former Barcelona stalwart coolly controlled a weighted pass from Brazilian left-back Alex Sandro on his chest before firing off a shot that beat Casillas at his far post.
Juventus look to have one foot in the last eight, where they last appeared in 2015 before suffering a 3-1 defeat to Barcelona in Berlin.
But Allegri is making sure none of his players become complacent.
“We should be happy,” said Germany midfielder Sami Khedira. “We played 90 minutes of patient, controlled football.
“But in the return leg we will have to be careful because they will be angry. We all know football is crazy and that anything can happen.”
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