Treble-chasing Juventus face stern test from free-scoring Lazio in Coppa Italia final
At their first clear view of the treble, Juventus suffered a wobble. It is a rare event that the hermetic defence of the serial Italian champions is pierced three times in a match, and the loss, 3-1 at Roma on Sunday night, has already disrupted what had looked an impeccably planned parade taking in three trophies.
Juve might have confirmed their sixth successive Serie A title at Roma, but still remain a win short of sealing it, a win they hope to collect at the weekend, the penultimate assignment of the league calendar, against Crotone. That’s a home fixture, and the intention on Sunday is to present two prizes to fans at the Juventus arena.
The sequencing of their three-part quest may have been altered, but the treble is still on, with a Coppa Italia final against Lazio on Wednesday evening for which Massimiliano Allegri’s team promise full concentration.
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Defeat to Roma, said central defender Leonardo Bonucci, had been “an alarm call” against complacency. Lazio’s recent form means the alarm bell can hardly be switched into snooze mode.
Fifteen points separate the clubs in the league table, with Lazio, in fourth place, reconciled to playing Europa League, not Uefa Champions League football next season, but the key statistics ahead of this showdown between the holders, Juventus, and what is in some respects the hosts — the venue is Rome’s Stadio Olimpico — concern not league placings but goals.
Juventus, owners of the meanest defence in the Champions League — the prize they chase on June 3 in the Cardiff final against Real Madrid — and much the tightest in Italy, have conceded five goals in their last three matches, a figure Bonucci, fellow defender Giorgio Chiellini and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon regard as something akin to a haemorrhage by their high standards.
Buffon, excelling in this, his 40th year, looked to be at fault twice against Roma. The eyes of Keita Balde, Lazio’s in-form winger, may very well have lit up on seeing the way Roma’s Stephan El-Shaarawy, cutting in from the left, curled a fine shot across and around the Juve captain’s reach to put Roma in front on Sunday. Balde is quick and cunning at finding himself in those sorts of position.
And Balde, well aware of the imminent opening of the summer transfer window and that Sevilla currently lead a list of admirers, is on a spectacular run of form, with seven goals in Lazio’s last four outings, out of 18 his club have netted in that time.
The club’s season is ending far better than it began, which was chaotically, with the appointment and then resignation two days later of the maverick Argentine manager Marcelo Bielsa. He complained that none of the transfers he had requested from the board looked like arriving in Rome.
Simone Inzaghi, the club’s former striker, took up the job, stealthily picked up a league position in the slipstream of the top three — Juve, Roma and Napoli — and knocked out capital rivals Roma in the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia.
There is acknowledgement that Juventus begin the final as favourites, and the champions have beaten Lazio twice in Serie A this season, but the hope is that playing at the Olimpico will give Lazio an extra edge.
“Lazio are in very good form,” Bonucci said, “and that’s a good stimulation for us.” Sunday’s setback at the Olimpico against Roma had led to some soul-searching, Bonucci added. “We are experienced guys, and we have had a talk about needing to get our enthusiasm back. We know we have a chance to become legendary this season.”
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Updated: May 16, 2017 04:00 AM