Massimiliano Allegri says Sunday’s Serie A game against struggling Chievo will be anything but a formality for his league leaders, who approach the encounter as firm favourites to continue their strong form following back-to-back demolition jobs on Hellas Verona.
In spite of their stuttering campaign and lowly position of 17th, Allegri believes that a Chievo side under the tutelage of former Gialloblu player Rolando Maran, whose return as manager has sparked an upturn in fortunes on the road, will represent a decent test of his team’s mettle tomorrow afternoon.
Previewing the encounter in Vinovo, the Juventus boss began: “It’s certainly not the easy game everybody is saying. Against Fiorentina, they created a couple of good chances at 1-1 and are in good shape. Maran is a very good coach who sets his teams up well. They are very dangerous on the counter-attack. We'll have to play at a high tempo and with a lot of technical quality.”
Five points now stand between the Bianconeri and nearest chasers Roma after last week’s results, but Allegri is adamant his men will not be carried away by the added breathing space at the top.
Instead, he is advocating a level-headed approach, focusing first on tomorrow’s encounter and then Wednesday’s Coppa Italia quarter-final against Parma at the Ennio Tardini.
“We have the game against Parma coming up next and matches will be coming thick and fast from now until the end of the season. We're going to take things one game at a time and keep level-headed. We don't want to start calculating points too much, because when you start doing that it brings out the worst in you.”
The last two games have seen Alvaro Morata given the nod ahead of Fernando Llorente, prompting speculation that the young Spaniard had overtaken his elder counterpart in the race for a first-team shirt.
And whilst praising the recent contribution of the Bianconeri’s summer arrival from Real Madrid, Allegri was quick to dismiss such talk, insisting he has been fair with the game time afforded to his five strikers throughout the campaign.
“The pecking order doesn't change in a couple of games. Morata has played well on his last two outings. He's a different style of player to Llorente.
“Looking at all the players' statistics, I think appearances have been evenly distributed throughout the players in our squad. That's very important as we have a lot of games to play in the second half of the season. It's important the whole team is in good physical and mental shape.”
After enjoying a positive week on the training ground, Andrea Barzagli looks set to take a giant step forward to putting his six-month injury nightmare behind him by claiming a place in the matchday squad for tomorrow’s game.
Allegri, however, was quick to point out that Sunday’s game will come too early for him but remains upbeat on his chances of regaining peak condition in the coming weeks.
“Barzagli has got a lot better and has been improving by the week. I think he'll be in the squad tomorrow so he can start readjusting to the atmosphere of a game. He's not quite ready to play yet, but I have a lot of faith. Andrea is much improved physically and psychologically. It's unfortunate that he's spent six months on the sidelines.”
A potential returnee from the treatment table could be Andrea Pirlo, who trained separately in the gym yesterday after spending Thursday laid low with flu-like symptoms.
But with plenty of games coming up and midfield duo Claudio Marchisio and Paul Pogba each one yellow card shy of an automatic one-match ban, Allegri says he will give careful consideration before naming his starting line-up for Sunday afternoon.
“Pirlo started training again yesterday. We will see how he is today. If he's in good condition, he will play. Otherwise, we have Wednesday's game coming up and another next Sunday as well. We also have two midfielders, Marchisio and Pogba, who are one booking away from suspension. So we'll assess the situation and come up with the best solution for tomorrow.”