Bonucci to miss Juve's Porto test

By Sports Desk February 16, 2021

Juventus will be without Leonardo Bonucci for Wednesday's Champions League last-16 match at Porto.

Centre-back Bonucci sustained a minor muscular problem during training and joins Juan Cuadrado (hamstring) and Paulo Dybala (knee) on the sidelines.

However, Juve head coach Andrea Pirlo is boosted by the return of Aaron Ramsey from a muscular complaint of his own - the Wales midfielder having been absent from the Serie A champions' four games so far across all competitions this month.

"Leo is not available, he had a little problem in training. We will evaluate but he is not available for tomorrow," Pirlo explained at his pre-match news conference.

"Ramsey can play while Dybala is not ready yet, but everyone wants to be with the team."

Porto followed their opening 3-1 defeat to Group C winners Manchester City with five consecutive clean sheets in this season's competition.

Pirlo knows Sergio Conceicao's men will prove a tough nut to crack and likened them to Diego Simeone's famously robust Atletico Madrid.

"I expect a very complicated match, they defend very well," he said.

"They are a team with a bit of the Atletico Madrid style: tight, compact lines.

"We must not force plays. The Champions League is a particular competition, different from the [Italian] championship.

"There are many teams fighting to win, everyone wants to do it and it depends a lot on [your form] when you face the teams. It is important to be mentally ready."

A 1-0 weekend defeat at Napoli due to Lorenzo Insigne's first-half penalty left Juve fourth in Serie A - eight points shy of leaders Inter, albeit with a game in hand.

It means the Bianconeri could relinquish possession of the Scudetto for the first time in a decade, but Pirlo insists his maiden season at the helm remains broadly on track.

"We won the Supercoppa Italiana, we are in the final of the Coppa Italia, we are in the running for the Champions League," he said.

"We are still well placed in the league. We are in the running on all goals and this is the most important thing."

Ending Juve's 25-year wait for a third success in Europe's premier competition would certainly represent a job well done. 

"The Champions League is a goal," Pirlo added. "The important thing is to believe in it, to know that we are a team that can reach the end. 

"This is the most important thing."

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    Koke insists Atletico Madrid's focus is not slipping in LaLiga after their lead was cut again this weekend as they drew with Real Madrid.

    Atleti are now just three points clear of second-placed Barcelona, albeit with a game in hand, as they failed to respond after Ronald Koeman's men won on Saturday.

    Luis Suarez opened the scoring in Sunday's Derbi, but Atleti's winless run against Madrid was extended to 10 league matches thanks to Karim Benzema's late leveller.

    It means Diego Simeone's side have won just nine points from six matches since the start of February, a period in which Barca have claimed 16 and Madrid 14.

    But Atleti will have the opportunity to increase their advantage again on Wednesday when they play their leftover fixture against Athletic Bilbao.

    And Koke says his team are ready to fight again, eager to improve on a run of one win in five in all competitions.

    "It is you who said the league was over and such and such," he told Movistar. "This goes until the season is over.

    "We have to focus on Wednesday's game, when we can earn points while our rivals cannot."

    As well as their long sequence without victory against Madrid in all league matches, Atleti are yet to beat their neighbours at the Wanda Metropolitano in four attempts in LaLiga.

    "We were superior, but they can score at any moment," Koke said. "Fresh people came on and the team tried to push forward, but we have had a great rival who have a lot of potential to score goals.

    "It is true that we have not been able to beat them here yet, but we have not been able to win [against Madrid] for a long time."

    Benzema's equaliser was the last of eight attempts from the former France striker, three of which drew outstanding stops from Jan Oblak, who ended with seven saves.

    "I was angry, because a few minutes earlier I was able to score but the goalkeeper made good saves," explained Benzema, whose 371st LaLiga appearance set a new Madrid record among non-Spanish players.

    "I think we played a good game. It was very difficult against a good team. I think the first half was for them and the second half for us. It was a good point."

    The point made Zinedine Zidane just the second Madrid coach to avoid defeat in his first four away games against Atleti in LaLiga history, following in the footsteps of Luis Molowny in 1986.

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    Luis Suarez scored a dazzling goal and was named man of the match, but on the day his former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard finally became a league champion, did Suarez have his own 'Gerrard's slip'?

    Championships are often decided on fine margins, and it is almost seven years since Liverpool's Premier League title hopes were brutally hit by Chelsea, when Gerrard's famous stumble let in Demba Ba to score. Manchester City snatched the silverware from the long-time favourites, and Liverpool had to wait another six years before landing the trophy.

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    How he has been revived this season under Diego Simeone, and what a moment it would be were he and Atletico to carry off the title in Spain this year.

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    Suarez walked off with an apologetic look at full-time, tracked to the tunnel by television cameras. He had the game in his hands, and he dropped it. Madrid are still in this title race, and five points behind feels an awful lot better than the prospect of eight adrift, which was looming as Suarez picked his pass to Saul.

    This was a result that would have been cheered in Barcelona, if they were paying attention in Catalonia and not all-consumed by the elections for a new club president.

    Maybe a Madrid win would have been an even better result for Barcelona's title prospects, but nobody among the Blaugranas would dare admit that.

    Barcelona sit second, just three points behind Atletico now, and Simeone's team must still visit Camp Nou. How Suarez must be relishing that, and how he must be relieved that Atletico remain in the box seat in this three-team battle.

    He was excellent for large parts of this game, hitting the target with four of his six shots and typically delighting in winding up the opposition.

    Benzema, by contrast, looked far from sharp until the final half hour, when the player who was returning from a three-week injury lay-off found something extra.

    Zidane had labelled Benzema "a joy for football" before this game, but by the break he had registered three attempts, none of which hit the target; a tame shot and two stray headers.

    This game seemed ripe for Atletico to end their nine-game winless run in LaLiga games against Madrid (D5 L4), with Marcos Llorente's skilful evasion of Nacho and Suarez's world-class finish from the pass that followed a real treat for the eyes. It was the Uruguayan's 10th goal in 13 LaLiga games against Madrid.

    It was Suarez's 17th goal from his 29th shot on target this season in LaLiga, and by early in the second half the expected goal (xG) rating for each side showed Atletico were leading by 1.2 to 0.4.

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    "We know how difficult this championship is," Simeone said in his pre-match news conference, pointing to how Madrid and Barcelona have been gradually reeling in Atletico in recent weeks.

    It may get a whole lot harder now.

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    The Brazilian was nearly bailed out by compatriot Ederson, yet the goalkeeper was only able to palm Fernandes' low effort from the spot into the net. 

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