Giorgio Chiellini is close to making his Juventus return, head coach Maurizio Sarri has confirmed.

The 35-year-old had surgery in September on a ruptured cruciate ligament and was ruled out for six months.

Sarri hopes to have Chiellini ready to return as soon as the experienced centre-back feels physically comfortable, with Juve entering a potentially decisive part of the season in which they play five games in 16 days.

The Bianconeri head to Hellas Verona in Serie A on Saturday before two games next week, including a Coppa Italia clash with Milan on February 13. The first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie against Lyon is on February 26.

"He's proceeding as scheduled. Giorgio is alternating between individual and team training," Sarri said to reporters.

"The progress that he is making is very important. The most important thing right now is to listen to what he says to us. Clinically, he is totally healed. All that matters now is how he feels."

Sarri has no concerns about the fitness of Cristiano Ronaldo, who turned 35 this week and struggled in the first part of the season with a knee problem.

"Cristiano was in excellent condition in today's training and has been ever since he got over his knee trouble," he said.

Sarri plans to give more playing time to Adrien Rabiot, who has started four Serie A games in 2020 after starting just five times in the league before the turn of the year.

However, he insists Blaise Matuidi will have an important role to play during the remainder of the season.

"Rabiot is improving a lot and is in a very good moment, so I've picked him rather than other midfielders, but we can't forget who Matuidi is and what strengths he has," said Sarri.

"In the long run, Matuidi is one of those players who is always useful. This is just one period; there are lots of games to play.

"But now, I honestly think we have to give this guy [Rabiot] some consistency. He's finding confidence and form. I think he can improve further. I think it's important now to let him play four or five games to find consistency."

Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri has urged midfielders Aaron Ramsey, Sami Khedira and Adrien Rabiot to offer more in attack ahead of their Serie A trip to Roma.

The Bianconeri remain second in the table after their 4-0 win over Cagliari on Monday, when Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick.

Of Juve's 35 Serie A goals this season, 23 have been scored by strikers Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain, while Miralem Pjanic, with three, is the only midfielder to have scored more than once.

With Higuain still struggling with a hamstring injury, Sarri wants to see those behind Ronaldo and Dybala carry a greater attacking threat.

"Given the quality of the players I have at my disposal, the rotations don't change the philosophy of the game much," he said at a news conference.

"We can be better at exploiting the spaces created by Ronaldo and Dybala; Ramsey, Khedira and Rabiot all have the characteristics to do it.

"Dybala starts his runs a little deeper and Ronaldo off centre. Higuain therefore resolves an issue of getting bodies in the box."

Roma lost at home to Juventus' neighbours Torino on Sunday, ending a seven-match unbeaten run in all competitions.

They drew at league leaders Inter during that sequence, and beat Milan and Napoli at home earlier in the season, with Sarri acutely aware of the threat posed by Paulo Fonseca's side.

"I expect Fonseca's team to make a good impression; he's working well, he's a great coach," Sarri added. 

"He has a lot of technical players and he knows how to snatch the game when Roma regain the ball, but they also know how to recapture the ball after lost possession. They can be very dangerous."

Defender Matthijs de Ligt was once again an unused substitute against Cagliari, though Sarri insisted he is close to returning to full fitness.

"De Ligt is starting to improve," Sarri said.

"He still has a shoulder injury, but we hope he will return as soon as possible."

Juventus are unlikely to allow either Adrien Rabiot or Emre Can to leave the club in the January transfer window, according to chief executive officer Fabio Paratici.

Both Rabiot - signed on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain in the close season - and Can have struggled to cement themselves as regular starters under Maurizio Sarri so far this season.

Rabiot has featured 10 times in total in Serie A, while Can, who was left out of Juve's Champions League squad, has played seven league matches so far, and the pair have both been linked with moves away from Turin.

However, Paratici is adamant neither player will leave this month, though confirmed there has been interest. 

"I can exclude Emre Can leaving, as he will certainly remain with us," Paratici told Sky Italia prior to Juve's encounter with Cagliari on Monday.

"On an international level, he is one of the most wanted players, but I think he can be important for our project.

"Rabiot arrived here after not playing for eight months. It's only natural on a physical level he should take time to adapt. He paid the price for that, but he has done well when used.

"We are confident, he is an important player and a guarantee for Juve, not a question mark or a doubt. We have an important squad, with a lot of competition for places, and that's how it should be at this level."

Juve have already secured their first signing for next season, agreeing a deal to bring in Atalanta midfielder Dejan Kulusevski, who is on loan at Parma this term, and at a reported €35million plus add ons, Paratici believes Juve have got a bargain.

"We would've liked to bring him to Juve straight away, but there was already a clear agreement from the start of the negotiations," Paratici told Sky Sport Italia.

"We are happy and knew full well he'd remain at Parma. He is an important player for the future of Juve and we are very happy with this deal."

With the January transfer window open across Europe, clubs will be checking their budgets to see if they can make additions for the second half of the campaign.

January is traditionally a tough time to do business with teams generally unwilling to allow stars to leave but Erling Haaland's switch from Salzburg to Borussia Dortmund shows major deals are possible.

Unsettled players around the continent may push for a chance at a new club as squads get shuffled, but who are some of the big-name stars who could be on the move this month?

We have picked out 10 players who have been strongly linked with switching teams during the January transfer window.


PAUL POGBA (Manchester United)

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's recent insistence that Pogba would not leave United this month has been undermined by the latest twist in the midfielder's ongoing saga. After he was surprisingly left out of the squad for a New Year's Day loss at Arsenal, Solskjaer indicated Pogba would be undergoing surgery in a bid to solve his injury issues. An operation could make it less likely Pogba leaves Old Trafford in January, but the links to Real Madrid will not go away. For what it is worth, Pogba's agent Mino Raiola has said his client is staying at United - for now at least.


EMRE CAN (Juventus) 

Pogba's continued absence has left a hole in United's midfield, especially with Scott McTominay also out of action. Can is among the players being linked with a switch to Old Trafford after failing to make an impact at Juventus. The Serie A champions, who are reportedly interested in bringing Pogba back, are also said to be ready to listen to offers for Adrien Rabiot and Daniele Rugani with both players not regular starters under Maurizio Sarri this season.


JADON SANCHO (Borussia Dortmund) 

The biggest move of the January transfer window could involve Sancho leaving Dortmund with the England international having struggled with off-the-field issues despite fine form on the pitch during the first half of the season. Premier League sides Manchester United and Chelsea, who signed Christian Pulisic from BVB last year, are reportedly leading the race for Sancho, but he would likely cost in excess of £100million. Dortmund, having beaten off competition from various top clubs to land Haaland, are said to be willing to listen to offers for Paco Alcacer too.


EDINSON CAVANI (Paris Saint-Germain)

Another elite forward potentially on the move this month is Cavani, with PSG's all-time leading goalscorer struggling to get into the team after the successful signing of Mauro Icardi on loan from Inter. At 32, Cavani likely has one more big deal left in him with Atletico Madrid said to be keen - a swap deal involving France winger Thomas Lemar has been mooted. PSG are also reportedly ready to cut their losses on Leandro Paredes, who has made little impact since joining from Zenit.


JAMES RODRIGUEZ (Real Madrid)

Colombia star James has been on the fringes at Madrid since returning from a loan spell with Bayern Munich, making only four starts in LaLiga this season. Arsenal, Inter and PSG have all been linked with James, who has also emerged as a shock target for Everton. New Toffees boss Carlo Ancelotti coached the 28-year-old playmaker at both Madrid and Bayern.


ARTURO VIDAL (Barcelona)

Another South American midfielder who could leave LaLiga this month is Vidal, who has complained about allegedly unpaid bonuses at Barca and hinted he might be open to a return to Serie A. League leaders Inter are said to be keen with Antonio Conte having worked with Vidal at Juve, where the Chile international previously won four successive Serie A titles.


JOAO CANCELO (Manchester City)

Right-back Cancelo only joined City last August but, after failing to usurp Kyle Walker as first choice in his position, the 25-year-old could be on the move again with former club Valencia and Bayern Munich both linked. Cancelo's departure would leave City even shorter of defensive options but if they can sell the Portugal international it could allow the defending Premier League champions to bring in another body elsewhere, though Pep Guardiola has ruled out signings.


CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN (Tottenham)

Denmark midfielder Eriksen is out of contract at the end of the season and has previously made it clear he is ready for a new challenge. Eriksen has found himself on the fringes under new boss Jose Mourinho and the club's notorious negotiator Daniel Levy may opt to cash in on the 27-year-old rather than watch him leave for nothing. Spurs, though, surprisingly persuaded Toby Alderweireld to commit to a new deal and it is not impossible Eriksen follows suit if the right club does not make an offer. Inter, PSG, Juve and United have all been linked and it has even been suggested Eriksen could be included in a deal to take Gareth Bale back to Spurs from Madrid.


DANI OLMO (Dinamo Zagreb)

One of Europe's most in-demand young players, Olmo will surely leave Dinamo sooner rather than later. The 21-year-old midfielder, who has already been capped by Spain, says he has an offer from Barca but the LaLiga champions face strong competition for his signature. Olmo is one of a raft of players being linked to Chelsea after their transfer ban was reduced on appeal, while Manchester United and Manchester City are among the other clubs reportedly interested.


WILFRIED ZAHA (Crystal Palace)

Another potential Chelsea target is Zaha, who was said to be close to leaving Palace during the last transfer window only for an £80million price tag to seemingly scare off suitors. Arsenal and Everton were reportedly interested in the Ivory Coast forward, with Roy Hodgson accepting Palace would have to consider "serious" offers for the 27-year-old this month. Blues boss Frank Lampard has denied Zaha is on his radar, however.

Maurizio Sarri has challenged his Juventus side to fight against the Champions League hangovers that threaten to derail their bid for a ninth consecutive Serie A title.

Juve have dropped points in four of their 15 league games this season, two of which came immediately after midweek Champions League fixtures.

They drew 1-1 with Lecce in October following a win over Lokomotiv Moscow and were held to a shock 2-2 home draw by Sassuolo this month after beating Atletico Madrid, before losing 3-1 to Lazio a week later.

Those results have left them trailing leaders Inter by two points and Sarri has demanded they do not suffer a similar fate against Udinese on Sunday after the 2-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen that concluded their Group D campaign in midweek.

"The risks of dropping the intensity levels and dropping points after Champions League games is visible in the statistics," he told a media conference. "You can't argue when it happens two or three times.

"We've got to find out why it keeps happening and fix it. There are differences playing in Serie A to the Champions League, but it's not true to say the European opponents are more open. Bayer Leverkusen focus mainly on possession, while Lokomotiv Moscow tend to clam up.

"Perhaps subconsciously our minds can drift to other targets after so many Scudetto titles in a row, but that is something we must absolutely fight against. If we are to be competitive in the Champions League, we need to be competitive in Italy, too."

Udinese are led by caretaker coach Luca Gotti, who was part of Sarri's staff at Chelsea last season.

They have failed to win any of their past four Serie A games, but Sarri is expecting a tough match at the Allianz Stadium.

"Gotti is very talented," he said. "Udinese can transform any long ball into a scoring opportunity, so we've got to be wary of that.

"They are a dangerous team that knows how to close down well and make the game tight. They have strikers who work well and can be dangerous in different circumstances."

Midfielders Adrien Rabiot and Emre Can have struggled for game time this season, with the pair starting only five times between them in Serie A, while Can was omitted from the Champions League squad for the group stage.

Sarri says both can expect to feature against Udinese and has suggested Rabiot – a free transfer following his departure from Paris Saint-Germain during the off-season – has not yet adjusted to life at the club.

"He has struggled to settle into our football, but that is normal," he explained. "He also came off an injury and struggled more in the first half in Germany [against Leverkusen], but he came out towards the end. He is also quite introverted, which doesn't help him to settle.

"Can was immensely disappointed [at being left out of the Champions League squad]. Either Can or Rabiot will certainly play and both of them may well be on the pitch for a portion of the game."

The transfer window may be shut, but Paul Pogba's future is still making headlines.

Pogba – who is set to miss the Premier League showdown against Liverpool due to injury – reportedly eyed a Manchester United exit and a move to Real Madrid.

A switch to the Santiago Bernabeu could be on the horizon after Pogba was snapped with Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane in the United Arab Emirates.

 

TOP STORY – POGBA MEETS ZIDANE IN DUBAI

Pogba has been linked with a fresh move to Madrid after the United star was pictured with Zidane, reports The Mirror.

Pogba wanted to leave United during the previous window, with LaLiga giants Madrid and former club Juventus the two favourites to sign the Frenchman, but a move did not materialise.

However, Pogba – recovering from a foot injury – was seen with Madrid head coach Zidane during his trip to Dubai, fuelling fresh speculation over his future at Old Trafford.

 

ROUND-UP

- According to 90min, United are monitoring Paris Saint-Germain forward Edinson Cavani. The 32-year-old Uruguay international is out of contract at this season's end and has been linked to Juve, Atletico Madrid and Inter Miami.

- Inter are chasing Brescia sensation Sandro Tonali and Atalanta's Dejan Kulusevski, says Calciomercato. Both players are 19 years of age and attracting interest in Serie A.

- Calciomercato also reports Tottenham are ready to send Christian Eriksen to Juventus in exchange for Adrien Rabiot. Eriksen's contract expires at the end of the season and has been linked to the likes of Madrid and United, while Rabiot only moved to Turin from PSG at the end of 2018-19.

- Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, United, Spurs and Inter have been credited with interest in Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Denis Zakaria, according to Bild.

- Manchester City have emerged as favourites to sign Hearts teenager Aaron Hickey, claims the Daily Star.

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."

Adrien Rabiot said Cristiano Ronaldo is helping him improve at the Serie A champions as he hailed the Juventus superstar.

Rabiot is preparing for Saturday's league debut with Juventus against Parma after joining from Ligue 1 holders Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.

Having settled in Turin, French midfielder Rabiot praised Juve team-mate and five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo.

"I played a lot this summer, because I needed to adapt to the team," Rabiot told Sky Sport 24.

"I'm managing to create an excellent affinity with Cristiano Ronaldo, because he also plays on the left. Training with him allows me to improve myself a lot and his presence is very good for the group."

"Turin is different from Paris. It's smaller, but it's a beautiful city," he added. "I am finding myself at ease and I managed to adapt well, which is very important for what I can then give on the field.

"Personally, I can't wait to start this adventure. I feel fit, we have worked a lot this summer, but we are ready for this appointment. With Parma it will be difficult, because we are the team to beat, and everyone will always give their best against us, but we are confident."

New head coach Maurizio Sarri will not be on the Juventus bench for their opening two Serie A games as he recovers from pneumonia.

Sarri, who arrived from Chelsea in the off-season, will miss Saturday's trip to Parma as well as the home match against former side Napoli on August 31.

"The coach made an excellent impression on me," said Rabiot. "He has a precise game philosophy and knows exactly how we must play, both in the offensive and defensive phases.

"We have already absorbed his concepts and we are working well with his staff."

Maurizio Sarri urged Juventus to show less naivety on the ball after Adrian Rabiot's late lapse led to a 3-2 loss to Tottenham in Singapore.

The Serie A champions succumbed to defeat in Sarri's first match in charge courtesy of Harry Kane's sublime lob over Wojciech Szczesny from inside the centre circle in the third minute of added time.

New signing Rabiot dallied on the ball and invited a tackle from Lucas Moura, from which the ball spilled into Kane's path.

Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo earlier scored to overturn Erik Lamela's first-half opener, before Lucas equalised in the 65th minute.

"It was a difficult game, there is a difference between us in our physical preparation," Sarri told reporters.

"Tottenham have players who have known each other for years and in the first half they seemed quicker, but it's normal.

"If we want to show our football we must defend further forward. In the first half we weren't high enough up the pitch, which made things difficult.

"In the second half we pressed better and we did some good things, even though we were naive with the lost balls.

"But I think this is also affected by the level of physical conditioning."

The International Champions Cup clash was the opening pre-season match for both clubs.

Debutant Rabiot said: "It was the first game, so there is still a lot of work to do. Physically I need to grow, but I felt good playing my first game.

"We are understanding each other very well within the team and with the coach."

Juve return to action against Serie A rivals Inter in China on Wednesday.

One of the more prolonged transfer sagas of the close-season is over after Juventus completed the purchase of highly rated Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt from Ajax.

The 19-year-old is regarded as one of the finest prospects in world football and will cost Juve a total of €85.5million, with the Serie A champions beating off competition from a host of major European clubs for his signature.

Manchester United, Manchester City, Barcelona and Liverpool were all strongly linked with the imposing centre-back, but he will instead bolster Juve's already impressive squad.

Juve have moved with impressive decisiveness in the transfer market in recent times and new coach Maurizio Sarri has a particularly strong array of defenders to choose from next term following confirmation of De Ligt's arrival.

Below, we examined what Sarri's squad looks like after De Ligt's signing, what further changes could be made and how the team might start the season...

GOALKEEPER AND DEFENCE – An end of an era?

There have been changes aplenty in this department at Juve recently. Wojciech Szczesny can expect to remain first choice between the posts, but the return of Gianluigi Buffon on a year-long contract will keep the Pole on his toes.

One of the most surprising things about Juve's close season is their apparent willingness to offload Joao Cancelo, a standout performer last term. He is being strongly linked with Manchester City, as Danilo seems likely to go the other way.

Nevertheless, Juve's defence has been suitably bolstered. With Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci getting on in years, the sought-after De Ligt, Cristian Romero and Merih Demiral provide long-term quality and youthfulness at centre-back (albeit Romero will remain at Genoa on loan next season], while 19-year-old Luca Pellegrini offers competition at left-back.

Sarri's biggest decision will revolve around his centre-back choices. Having worked with Daniele Rugani at Empoli, he might see more action and De Ligt can surely expect to feature regularly.

An end to the Chiellini-Bonucci dynasty might not be far away.

 

MIDFIELD – Big roles for Pjanic and Ramsey

Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot are the new midfield arrivals and both join with massive expectations – particularly the former, who many feel could be Juve's answer to the Marek Hamsik of Sarri's Napoli side.

Sarri's favoured 4-3-3 dictates one of the midfield trio will sit deeper. He likes that player to be very comfortable on the ball and a fine passer, meaning Miralem Pjanic looks set to fill the 'Jorginho role', as the Bosnian appears rather more suited than Sami Khedira and Emre Can.

Given Rabiot's lack of action over the past year at Paris Saint-Germain, he looks to have the most work to do to break into the starting XI, while Rodrigo Bentancur's fine development means he is likely to become essential.

However, should Juve pull off the signing of Paul Pogba from Manchester United, he would surely be an automatic pick on the left of the central trident.

 

ATTACK – Departures galore expected

Juve's options in attack are numerous, and several of them were being linked with moves away even before Sarri's appointment was confirmed.

Paulo Dybala, Juan Cuadrado, Douglas Costa and Mario Mandzukic are all reportedly for sale, while Gonzalo Higuain's situation is by no means clear.

The Argentinian excelled under Sarri at Napoli and joined him at Chelsea in January, but he underwhelmed in the Premier League. As such, it is difficult to see how he fits in at Juve, but he and the coach clearly have a rapport.

Federico Bernardeschi and Cristiano Ronaldo are untouchable, while Moise Kean showed plenty of promise towards the end of last season, but if all of Sarri's expendables leave, they will be left a little short on the flanks.

Few wingers have been linked with the Bianconeri, though they are said to hold an interest in Callum Hudson-Odoi, Federico Chiesa and Burnley youngster Dwight McNeil.

 

POSSIBLE JUVENTUS XI FOR 2019-20

Szczesny; De Sciglio, De Ligt, Rugani, Alex Sandro; Pjanic, Ramsey, Bentancur; Bernardeschi, Ronaldo, Mandzukic

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