Football – Serie A: Ronaldo’s Juve Ready To Seal Title Before Ajax Decider
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus head to SPAL on Saturday needing just a point to wrap up an eighth consecutive Serie A title in record time before their crucial Champions League decider against Ajax in Turin next week.
Ronaldo returned from injury to score a precious away goal for Juventus in their 1-1 Champions League quarter-final, first leg draw in Amsterdam on Wednesday, and the 34-year-old can claim his first Italian league title to add to his two in Spain with Real Madrid and three with Manchester United.
It would be a 28th trophy in four countries for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, a haul which includes five Champions League, and the Euro 2016 title with Portugal.
Juventus have a 20-point advantage on second-placed Napoli and a draw would seal their 35th ‘Scudetto’ with six games to spare — the earliest any team has ever sealed Serie A — thanks to their superior head-to-head record over Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
SPAL, 16th and just four points above the drop zone, had eased their relegation fears with three consecutive wins that included victories over Champions League-chasing Lazio and Roma, but lost last weekend at Cagliari.
Leonardo Semplici dogged side also have history against them, as they have beaten Juventus just once in their history, way back in 1957.
Given the relative weakness of the weekend’s opposition, coach Massimiliano Allegri may not want to risk Ronaldo ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League decider and could rotate his side.
Forwards Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa came off the bench at Ajax ahead of highly-rated teenager Moise Kean, who had scored five goals in as many games for Juventus.
All three could start against SPAL.
Leonardo Bonucci looks set to work overtime with defenders Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Martin Caceres all out injured.
“Let’s close down the championship on Saturday,” urged Bonucci.
Second-placed Napoli travel to bottom club Chievo looking for a boost after their demoralising 2-0 Europa League quarter-final, first leg defeat at Arsenal.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side are without a win in three games and next week host Arsenal in their Stadio San Paulo hoping for a miracle.
Champions League hunt heats up
Inter Milan, seven points behind Napoli, can consolidate third place at second-from-bottom Frosinone after last weekend’s draw against fellow Europe-chasers Atalanta.
Inter are five points ahead of both Atalanta and fourth-placed city rivals AC Milan who occupy the final Champions League berth but have taken just one point from their last four games.
Gennaro Gattuso’s Milan also have Roma, Torino and Lazio within three points of them as they host Simone Inzaghi’s capital club at the San Siro days after UEFA ordered another probe into the club for Financial Fair Play (FFP) breaches.
Claudio Ranieri’s Roma play Udinese looking to build on last weekend’s gutsy win at Sampdoria.
“Obviously the Sampdoria game was a confidence boost for us all, but for now we need to keep doing what we’re doing,” said Ranieri.
“We need the fans to get behind us and realise that this is a key game for us.
“We’re in the hunt for the Champions League places –- that’s where we want to finish and the fans share that.”
Vincenzo Montella will begin his second stint as coach of mid-table Fiorentina at home against Bologna on Sunday.
His team’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Europa League have plummeted after a terrible run of form that has left them 12 points off the second-tier European competition.
The Tuscan side have just one win from their last 10 Serie A games.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
SPAL v Juventus (1300), Roma v Udinese (1600), AC Milan v Lazio (1830)
Torino v Cagliari (1030), Fiorentina v Bologna, Sampdoria v Genoa, Sassuolo v Parma (all 1300), Chievo v Napoli (1600), Frosinone v Inter Milan (1830)
Atalanta v Empoli (1830).
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