Maurizio Sarri shifted the weight of Champions League expectation to the four English clubs involved as he urged Juventus to attack the competition with freedom.

Juve host Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen in their second Group D game on Tuesday after squandering a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at Atletico Madrid in the opening round of matches.

Failing to preserve three points was seen as a disappointment but former Chelsea boss Sarri wants his team to feel completely removed from pressure in their pursuit of a long-awaited success in Europe.

The Bianconeri last won the Champions League in 1996 and a failure to end that drought contributed to Massimiliano Allegri's departure as head coach following five otherwise excellent seasons – during which time he reached the 2015 and 2017 finals.

Premier League teams have lifted the trophy on five occasions since Juve's most recent triumph, including Liverpool in an all-English final last term.

"For managers and players, the Champions League is the top competition," Sarri said at Monday's pre-match news conference.

"We ought to be here to have fun too. You are here to play the best games in Europe. We must live it cheerfully and not with heaviness.

"Sometimes, instead, we feel a meaningless sense of pressure. Meaningless because at this time it is highly unlikely for an Italian club to be the favourite.

"We can be among the favourites but in this moment English clubs are the favourites for reasons we all know.

"I am trying to make this burden lighter because these games are played with a lot of pressure.

"We should play with a great determination and focus but also with pride and satisfaction."

Sarri's men enter the Leverkusen clash on a three-match Serie A winning run that has kept them within two points of leaders Inter, who are in action away to Barcelona on Wednesday.

The title rivals meet in a top-of-the-table encounter at San Siro on Sunday but Sarri insists his sole focus is on the task at hand.

"Thinking beyond this game would be a sensational mistake," he said of Leverkusen's visit.

"We still have a lot of room for improvement.

"Our objective is to go all the way in the Champions League, but it's a competition that is decided in fine moments. 

"I expect a good result. It's a difficult game and our first one at home in the Champions League this season."

Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri is reluctant to start Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain in a star-studded front line.

Higuain looked set to leave Juve in the close-season but, having worked under Sarri at both Napoli and Chelsea, the 31-year-old has been given a prime role in the squad so far this term.

The striker has featured in five of Juve's six Serie A games this season, making four starts, though he has only managed one goal – scoring in a 4-3 win over his and Sarri's former club Napoli in August.

Ronaldo and Dybala were preferred for Saturday's meeting with SPAL, with the latter teeing up his strike partner for a late goal in a routine 2-0 victory.

However, the duo had struggled to link up to much effect before Ronaldo's headed effort, Dybala having picked out his team-mate only once in the first half as Juve failed to make their dominance count for more than Miralem Pjanic's stunner.

Despite his side having displayed some wasteful finishing in recent weeks, Sarri has no plans to throw his three star forwards onto the pitch from the start of games just yet.

"Playing Cristiano, Dybala and Higuain all together from the start is an interesting suggestion," Sarri told a news conference ahead of Juve's Champions League match with Bayer Leverkusen.

"But we are not yet ready for the level of balance required. For now we could only try this solution for parts of the match.

"It's a fascinating hypothesis but you have to see everything. For those watching it is beautiful, [but] we must evaluate everything."

Complicating matters further for Sarri has been the introduction of Aaron Ramsey, who has recovered from the injury that saw him miss a chunk of his final season at Arsenal.

Having made his bow as a substitute in Juve's opening Champions League fixture against Atletico Madrid, Ramsey has started the last three Serie A games, marking his full debut with a goal in the 2-1 victory over Hellas Verona.

The speed at which Ramsey has overcome his injury problems has surprised Sarri, though Juve's boss sees plenty of potential for improvement from the Wales international.

"Ramsey has surprised me in his recovery from injury, and he was included very quickly in the team," Sarri added.

"I believe, however, he still has a lot of room to improve. I see a great level of application during training, which gives me hope.

"In the last two games, the ease of dribbling has increased. Now we need to speed it up and improve our scoring."

Could Massimiliano Allegri be the man to rescue AC Milan?

Marco Giampaolo is under increasing pressure at San Siro after Milan slumped to a fourth defeat in their first six games of the Serie A season.

Allegri led Milan to their last league title in 2010-11 and, now unemployed, he shapes as being a target for the club once more.

 

TOP STORY – MILAN EYE ALLEGRI

Allegri is one of the favourites and the choice of many of AC Milan's leaders to be their next head coach, according to Calciomercato.

The 52-year-old spent three and a half years at Milan before taking over at Juventus, where he won five Serie A titles.

Allegri could be set for a return to Milan, who are struggling in 16th in the table, just one point clear of the relegation zone.

ROUND-UP

Ansu Fati has made an impression with Barcelona early in the season and he could be set for bigger and better things. Cadena SER says the 16-year-old will be included in the pre-list for Spain's Euro 2020 qualifiers against Norway and Sweden in October.

- Staying in Spain, Real Madrid are considering a move for United States star Megan Rapinoe, according to AS. Set to have a women's team starting next year, Madrid are considering trying to sign the Reign FC attacker.

Inter coach Antonio Conte wants to sign Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic, reports Calciomercato. Matic – who is out of contract at the end of the season – has struggled to establish himself in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side this season amid links to Juventus.

- Tuttosport claims Juve will offer out-of-favour midfielder Emre Can to Paris Saint-Germain in exchange for full-back Thomas Meunier.

- With Genoa struggling in the relegation zone, Aurelio Andreazzoli is also under pressure. Sky Sport says the Serie A side made contact with former Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso after being thrashed 4-0 by Lazio.

- Arsenal still want to see Mesut Ozil make a move. The Sun reports the Premier League club want to send the playmaker out on loan and would even contribute to his wages to make a move happen.

- Desperately needing to add to their attack, United are weighing up a move for Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic in January, according to the Mirror. United were heavily linked with the Croatian during the close season.

Juan Cuadrado expects Antonio Conte's fast-starting Inter to pose a genuine Serie A title threat to Juventus this season.

Inter overcame Alexis Sanchez's red card to beat Sampdoria 3-1 on Saturday and extend their winning start to six matches.

Juve earlier saw off SPAL 2-0 in Turin but remain two points adrift of the leaders ahead of next Sunday's crucial top-of-the-table clash at San Siro.

Colombia international Cuadrado has seen enough from the Nerazzurri to know his team will not be allowed to cruise to another Scudetto.

"Inter are a great team," Cuadrado told Sky Sport Italia.

"They have everything [required] to be up there. We have to keep fighting to stay ahead. It will be a great battle next Sunday and we hope to be at 100 per cent."

Cuadrado, 31, completed 90 minutes at right-back against SPAL, plugging a defensive gap following injuries to Danilo and Mattia De Sciglio.

Though naturally a winger, he will likely have to continue at the back until after the international break.

Cuadrado believes the recently retired Andrea Barzagli's return to the club in a technical coaching role can help hone the defensive side of his game.

"I've always played on the wing but I'm at the coach's disposal to give everything I can," the former Fiorentina and Chelsea man said.

"Even more so in this moment of emergency, I will try to give my best and do the defensive phase well.

"I've already talked with Barzagli about it. His experience will surely help."

Before the Inter match, Juve must negotiate a Champions League meeting versus Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday.

Maurizio Sarri's men squandered a two-goal lead in drawing 2-2 at Atletico Madrid in their Group D opener.

If Manchester United want to keep Paul Pogba, it is going to cost them.

Pogba wanted to leave Old Trafford as Real Madrid and Juventus circled before the transfer window closed.

Now, Pogba has some personal demands for United.

 

TOP STORY – POGBA MAKES CONTRACT DEMAND

Manchester United star Paul Pogba wants to double his salary to £30million in order to stay at the club, reports Tuttosport.

Pogba eyed an Old Trafford exit prior to the close of the transfer window, with LaLiga giants Real Madrid and former club Juventus interested.

A move did not materialise and now Pogba is looking to secure a new bumper contract in Manchester.

 

ROUND-UP

- According to the Daily Star, England manager Gareth Southgate is Tottenham's first choice to succeed Mauricio Pochettino. The pressure is on at Spurs, who are struggling for form as doubts grow over Pochettino's future in London. Despite Tottenham's dismal start to the season, though, The Sun claims Spurs chairman Daniel Levy is reluctant to part with Pochettino as he feels it would benefit rivals United and Madrid.

- The Express reports West Ham have slapped a £100million price tag on Manchester United and Manchester City target Declan Rice. The Red Devils were linked with the England international during the off-season, however, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side were unable to lure Rice to Old Trafford.

Bayern Munich are still interested in injured Manchester City winger Leroy Sane, according to The Sun. Bundesliga champions Bayern were hoping to sign Sane before the Germany international suffered a serious knee injury.

- The Mirror claims Champions League holders Liverpool fear losing manager Jurgen Klopp to Germany. The Premier League leaders believe they will not be able to convince the former Borussia Dortmund boss to stay at Anfield should he be presented with an opportunity to replace Joachim Low.

Madrid are ready to compete with LaLiga rivals Barcelona for the signing of Napoli's Spanish midfielder Fabian Ruiz according to reports from La Gazzetta dello Sport and Mundo Deportivo.

- Manchester United will demand £20million for Dean Henderson after re-signing star goalkeeper David De Gea, says The Sun. England Under-21 keeper Henderson is on loan at Premier League side Sheffield United but dropped a clanger in Saturday's defeat to Liverpool.

Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon revelled in his record-breaking appearance after eclipsing Paolo Maldini for most games at club level.

Buffon – back in Turin after a season with Paris Saint-Germain – made his 903rd appearance for Juventus in Saturday's 2-0 Serie A win over SPAL to break Maldini's appearance record.

The 41-year-old Buffon matched Maldini's record in last week's victory against Hellas Verona before returning to the bench for Tuesday's trip to Brescia, however, the Juve star was back on the field for the visit of SPAL.

After surpassing fellow Italian great Maldini, Buffon told reporters: "It's a great satisfaction, I wasn't aware I was so close to this record two games ago, I found out at the last game. I was told I had reached Paolo [Maldini].

"It makes me very happy and very proud, proud for what I did, but as I said to your colleagues, I am happy because I got here not dragging myself, but as a high-level player. That's what I think I can say without being presumptuous.

"Therefore I also added, earlier on, that I will always thank my parents and my wife, which has been benevolent with me, but I can also say that there's something of my own in all this."

Buffon returned to Juve during the close season after a one-year spell at Ligue 1 champions PSG, having also previously represented Parma.

Unlike Maldini, who spent his entire career with Serie A rivals AC Milan, Buffon's appearances have been spread across three clubs.

He played 220 matches for Parma at the start of his career, was used 25 times in a largely underwhelming campaign with PSG last time out and has now featured 658 times for Juventus.

Inter head coach Antonio Conte urged his players to take the intensity of their performances in Serie A into crunch games with Barcelona and Juventus.

Conte's side played virtually half of their 3-1 win over Sampdoria on Saturday with 10 men as they maintained their 100 per cent winning run.

Inter secured victory thanks to goals from Stefano Sensi, Alexis Sanchez and Roberto Gagliardini, while Jakub Jankto netted for Sampdoria.

Sanchez, on loan from Manchester United, had a particularly eventful game as he scored his first Inter goal and was then sent off a minute into the second half for a second bookable offence.

Inter are two points clear of Juventus at the top of Serie A after six straight victories and Conte wants to use that as a springboard as they head to Camp Nou before hosting the Italian champions at the weekend.

"We need to recover our energy to make an intense match so we can make it difficult for Barca," said Conte. "I do not have to tell you the opposition teams we are playing.

"If you want to put Barcelona in difficulty, you have to play an intense game but at the same time you have to be good at limiting and not letting them play, otherwise it becomes a problem.

"You also have to be good at dribbling and building. This beginning in the league is the result of so much work and a lot of willingness on the part of the boys."

The victory saw Conte equal Roberto Mancini's best start to a season, although he still needs two more wins to overtake legendary Inter head coach Helenio Herrera's record of seven in the 1966-67 season.

 

Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri revealed he has yet to watch Inter in action this season ahead of next week's top-of-the-table showdown in Serie A.

Reigning Italian champions Juve moved above Inter into top spot with Saturday's 2-0 win over SPAL at the Allianz Stadium – Conte's side featuring away to Sampdoria shortly after.

Inter won their first five matches this season and will return to the summit with victory over Sampdoria in their game in hand.

Juve travel to San Siro in eight days but Sarri will not turn focus to that match until after the midweek clash with Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League.

"I haven't actually watched any Inter games this season as we've focused mainly on the teams we are facing next," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"We'll watch a couple of Bayer Leverkusen matches and then go to dinner.

"I hear that Inter are playing very well? I had no doubt they would considering the quality of the coach and their players. I always said this would be a far more balanced season."

Juve were frustrated by SPAL keeper Etrit Berisha for large parts of Saturday's contest, but an impressive hit from Miralem Pjanic and a late header from Cristiano Ronaldo made it three league wins in a row for the Turin giants.

Sarri acknowledged his side were a little off the pace in the first half, despite managing four attempts on target, but was pleased they got the job done on home soil.

"We had a few difficulties finding the right tempo in the opening stages, especially as SPAL were so clammed up," he said.

"It wasn't the tempo of the players. We moved the ball too slowly and there wasn't enough movement off the ball.

"It was better in the second half - we created many chances and conceded very few. I was pleased with the determination shown by the players who came off the bench."

Gonzalo Higuain was left on the bench as Sarri used Ronaldo alongside Paulo Dybala, the latter teeing up his strike partner with a fine delivery to settle the contest.

"Cristiano Ronaldo was lively and created four or five scoring opportunities, while Higuain has been doing well this season.

"It's good to have three forwards where any combination you choose - you can't really go wrong."

Miralem Pjanic's stunning effort and a late header from Cristiano Ronaldo saw Juventus move top of Serie A with a 2-0 victory over struggling SPAL.

Juve dominated throughout Saturday's encounter in Turin, but they found visiting goalkeeper Etrit Berisha in fine form.

It took a sublime strike from Pjanic to beat him - the playmaker breaking SPAL's resistance with a wonderful effort in the 45th minute.

Having been denied by Berisha once more just after the hour, Ronaldo finally had his goal with 12 minutes remaining, heading home from Paulo Dybala's pinpoint cross to cap off a dominant Juve performance.

On his return after missing the victory over Brescia, Ronaldo had Juve's first sight of goal, drawing a smart stop from Berisha.

Ronaldo did beat Berisha in the 19th minute, but his deflected effort crept wide of the right-hand upright.

Berisha soon came to SPAL's rescue twice more, tipping Dybala's strike wide before he brilliantly kept out Aaron Ramsey's close-range header.

But his work was undone on the stroke of half-time - Pjanic curling home an exceptional first-time finish from the edge of the area after SPAL's goalkeeper mistakenly elected to punch, rather than catch, a cross.

Berisha made another outstanding stop early in the second half - this time getting down to repel Sami Khedira's header.

Dybala and Ronaldo tested Berisha in quick succession as Juve looked to press home their dominance, though it was not until the duo combined that the hosts finally had their second.

Having raced clear down the left, Dybala picked out his strike partner with an exquisite delivery from which Ronaldo made no mistake, though there was still time for Berisha to make a final stop to prevent the Portugal forward doubling his tally in the final minute.

 

What does it mean? Juve back on top... for now

It does not look likely to be an easy ride for Maurizio Sarri's side in Serie A this season, though the champions moved into pole position with this win, temporarily at least.

Inter, however, would move back above the Bianconeri if they keep up their perfect start to the season against lowly Sampdoria.

Berisha blunts Juve's attack

Juve's dominant performance should have resulted in a far more convincing scoreline, and it would have done if not for Berisha. However, SPAL's star performer did make an error when he flapped at a cross prior to Pjanic's opener and he could also have done better with Ronaldo's goal.

Juve's wasteful attack a cause for concern

Sarri shoehorned both Dybala and Ronaldo in to his team, but while the individual quality of Juve's star attackers is not in doubt, as a partnership they failed to click until the Argentina international teed up the former Real Madrid star for the hosts' second.

Meanwhile, the supporting cast did not offer enough and, had SPAL been able to offer more of a threat up front, Juve may well have failed to take the points from a match they dominated from the off.

What's next?

Juve host Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League on Tuesday, while SPAL face Parma in their next Serie A outing.

Brescia have been hit with a partial stadium closure following racial abuse aimed at Juventus' Miralem Pjanic, although the punishment is suspended.

The midfielder hit the winning goal in a 2-1 victory for the Serie A champions on Tuesday but was reportedly subjected to chants of "zingaro", which in English translates as "gypsy".

Bosnia-Herzegovina international Pjanic subsequently condemned "demented racists" in a post on Instagram about the incident.

Serie A disciplinary chiefs stated in a bulletin on Friday that Brescia's 'Curva Nord' section of their stadium would be closed for one home game; however, it added that the punishment has been suspended for a period of 12 months.

Earlier this season, Cagliari avoided punishment from the league after Inter striker Romelu Lukaku was racially abused.

Lukaku was subjected to monkey chants, yet it was ruled by the sporting justice panel of the Italian FA that there was too much shouting and whistling to identify the "discriminatory" nature.

The recent Serie A game between Atalanta and Fiorentina was also suspended for a short period after racist insults were aimed at Viola defender Dalbert.

Roma this week banned a fan for life after sending Juan Jesus racist messages via social media.

"Are you really serious about tackling racism in Italian football, @SerieA? It's time for zero tolerance," Roma posted on Twitter on Friday.

The Lega Serie A account replied, suggesting Roma had been slow off the mark themselves in one respect, stating: "Dear @ASRomaEN, we're all on the same side. Together, we're building the Serie A TIM team against racism: we've been eagerly awaiting the name of your ambassador for three weeks!"

Cristiano Ronaldo is fit to face SPAL after an adductor injury and could be played in tandem with Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala, according to coach Maurizio Sarri.

Ronaldo missed Tuesday's slender 2-1 win at Brescia due to the injury, having scored the winner from the spot three days earlier against Hellas Verona.

Higuain and Dybala led the line in Ronaldo's absence, and Sarri could resist dropping one of them in order to fit last season's top-scorer back into the starting XI.

He sees no problem in playing all three together, with Juve yet to win by more than one goal across all competitions this term.

"Yes, Ronaldo can play and he can coexist with Higuain and Dybala," Sarri told reporters at his pre-match news conference.

"Higuain is a guy with great technical skill, Dybala is technically super fine and Ronaldo is a champion.

"I think they can therefore coexist in pairs and in certain phases of the game even in a three."

Adrien Rabiot made his first start for Juve in the win over Brescia and Sarri's post-match comments were interpreted as criticism by some, with the coach suggesting he expects more from the Frenchman.

But Sarri insists he was not being critical of the 24-year-old, rather realistic having not featured in a competitive match since December last year.

When asked if he was unsatisfied by Rabiot's display, Sarri hit back: "I didn't say that.

"Surely he can do much more. In 2019, Rabiot has never played, so we need to be patient without expecting everything right away.

"He has good qualities, even in physical terms. He has good strength and is technically strong. He must be supported and must get used to our football."

Gonzalo Higuain said star Juventus team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo has matured since the pair's time together at Real Madrid.

Juve striker Higuain and Ronaldo have reunited in Turin after the duo won three titles with LaLiga giants Madrid before the former departed for Napoli in 2013.

Higuain eventually joined Juventus in 2016, while Ronaldo arrived in 2018-19, prompting his ex-Madrid team-mate to move to Serie A rivals AC Milan on loan and then Chelsea last term.

Higuain and Ronaldo – who won the Scudetto in his first season – are now together again under Juventus head coach Maurizio Sarri, and the former Argentina international hailed the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

"We had already played together with Real," Higuain, who has impressed for the Serie A champions this season, told Fox Sports.

"Many years have passed, and I have found another player, a more mature person, with a family.

"I enjoyed playing alongside him before and I am glad that we are back together."

Higuain is contracted to Juve until 2021 and he did not rule out a return to Argentine giants River Plate.

The 31-year-old made a name for himself at River, emerging from the youth team in 2005 and scoring 15 goals in total before being lured to the Santiago Bernabeu by Madrid in 2007.

"I have this year and next year left [at Juventus]," Higuain added. "I never close the door to anything.

"[At River] there is a great coach and several team-mates of mine who I have a great affection for.

"The people of River were always spectacular with me. But hey, right now I'm trying to think in the present and enjoy my time here in Italian football."

Cristiano Ronaldo is available to face SPAL on Saturday, Juventus have confirmed.

Juventus said on Thursday that Ronaldo was back training with the group after missing the midweek trip to Brescia due to "slight fatigue in the adductor" following three games in the space of eight days.

In his absence, Juve fell behind early but came back to win 2-1 thanks to a Jhon Chancellor own goal and Miralem Pjanic's 20-yard volley.

Left-back Alex Sandro was an absentee from Thursday's training session due to family reasons.

Ronaldo has scored twice in four league appearances this season, with Serie A champions Juve two points behind early pace-setters Inter.

This week he finished third in the voting for The Best FIFA Men's Player award, behind Virgil van Dijk and winner Lionel Messi.

Former defender Andrea Barzagli has returned to Juventus in a role that will see him work closely with the first team.

Barzagli, 38, retired from playing at the end of last season after helping Juve claim an eighth successive Serie A title - all of which he was involved in.

The 2006 World Cup winner, capped 73 times by Italy, is now making a return to the Bianconeri as part of Maurizio Sarri's backroom staff.

Juventus described him as a 'technical collaborator of the first team' when announcing the appointment, and said Barzagli would be present at training on Thursday.

Barzagli was signed from Wolfsburg in 2011 and went on to make over 250 appearances for the current Serie A champions, who play SPAL on Saturday.

Sarri's team remain unbeaten after coming from behind to beat Brescia 2-1 on Tuesday evening.

Juventus have been left with a shortage of options at right-back after Danilo was ruled out for at least three matches due to a thigh injury.

The defender was forced off in the 19th minute of Tuesday's 2-1 win at Brescia and will not return until after the international break in October.

He is set to miss Serie A games against SPAL and Inter, in addition to a Champions League meeting with Bayer Leverkusen, but could return for the home clash with Bologna on October 19.

Mattia De Sciglio, Juve's other recognised right-back in the first-team squad, is to remain sidelined for the same period after suffering an identical problem at the start of September.

Juan Cuadrado replaced Danilo at Stadio Mario Rigamonti and could be asked to fill the void on a temporary basis.

Maurizio Sarri's men moved top of Serie A with their triumph at Brescia but will drop down to second if Inter avoid defeat at home to Lazio on Wednesday.

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