Manchester United's goalkeeper situation remains unclear beyond this season.

David de Gea has been linked with the Old Trafford exit door while Dean Henderson is yet to fully convince some observers he is a worthy number one.

Thus speculation is mounting about a Red Devils move for a new shot-stopper.

 

TOP STORY - UNITED CIRCLE FOR OBLAK

Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak is reportedly wanted by Manchester United who are said to have a long-standing interest in the Slovenian.

Oblak has spent almost seven years in the Spanish capital but is ready to move to England, according to 90min.

The report claims United have doubts about Henderson as number one and subsequently are exploring their options with 28-year-old Oblak.

ROUND-UP

- Juventus and Paulo Dybala will enter negotiations on a new deal in May, reports Tuttosport.

- 90min reports that Liverpool want to utilise their option to sign Ozan Kabak permanently, having acquired the defender on loan from Schalke in February.

- Calciomercato claims that Barcelona are plotting a move for Juventus defender Cristian Romero who is currently on loan at Atalanta.

- Galatasaray have offered Crystal Palace defender Patrick van Aanholt a three-year deal, according to Sky Sports.

- Tottenham are top in the race to sign West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, claims ESPN.

Radu Dragusin resolved to show he can be a future cornerstone of the Juventus defence after signing a new long-term contract.

The 19-year-old Romanian central defender had been linked with a host of clubs, including Borussia Dortmund and Newcastle United, but has committed to Juventus until the end of the 2024-25 season.

Dragusin, who is 6ft 3in tall, has been compared in his style of play to Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk and has previously highlighted the Dutchman as a player he admires.

Juventus acquired him from Romanian club Regal Sport in 2018, and this season saw Dragusin make his first-team debut in December against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League.

His new deal was announced on the Juventus website on Friday, with the club stating: "Dragusin's journey continues with Juve. Congratulations, Radu! See you on the pitch!"

The teenager, who has also made Serie A and Coppa Italia appearances this season, posted on Instagram: "I couldn't wait to sign the new contract with the team that have always believed in me.

"I want to thank first of all my family who have always been close to me and all the people who have helped me improve every day.

"Now is the time to demonstrate and put into play the trust that the club have given me. Come on Juve."

Gianluigi Buffon proved his worth to Juventus in their vital win at Napoli on Wednesday, but Andrea Pirlo will restore Wojciech Szczesny as his first-choice goalkeeper.

World Cup winner Buffon, now 43, is firmly behind Szczesny in the pecking order in Turin, yet he was given a rare opportunity for the huge midweek Serie A match.

The veteran, who returned to the club from Paris Saint-Germain in 2019, made three saves as strikes from team-mates Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala set the Bianconeri on their way to victory.

Only a 90th-minute Lorenzo Insigne penalty denied Buffon a clean sheet as Juve moved three points clear of their opponents, who sit in fifth - just outside the Champions League places.

But Buffon should not expect to reprise this starting role on a regular basis, despite Szczesny committing an error leading to a goal in the weekend draw with city rivals Torino.

"I had already spoken to the lad [Szczesny]," said Pirlo, who had suggested earlier in the week Szczesny would play.

"He was already tired when he was back from the national team because he had played three games in a row, so he needed some mental rest and to recover his energy.

"It was already in my mind to have Gigi play, but [Szczesny] remains the main goalkeeper of Juventus."

 

Even besides the mishap against Torino, Buffon's output since returning to Juve has been more than a match for the number one.

Among goalkeepers in Europe's 'top five' leagues to play 25 games or more in all competitions since the start of last season, Buffon's save rate of 80.2 per cent trails only Sevilla's Yassine Bounou.

None of these keepers have conceded fewer goals than Buffon (18), while again Bounou is the only man conceding fewer goals per game (0.7 for Buffon).

With 11 clean sheets in 26 outings, he ranks ninth for clean sheet percentage (42).

Meanwhile, discounting penalties and own goals, Buffon has conceded 14 times over the past two seasons despite having an expected goals on target (xGOT) conceded total of 17.1, meaning he has prevented 3.1 goals.

This season alone, among goalkeepers to play 10 times or more, Buffon again ranks second for save percentage, his 81.8 this time trailing Sergio Rico.

 

Across the past two campaigns, Szczesny has saved 72.7 per cent of shots he has faced, but has conceded on average 1.1 goals per game and collected a clean sheet in just 31 per cent of his appearances.

He has prevented 7.7 goals - with a 66.7 xGOT conceded versus 59 non-penalty goals - albeit having played 68 matches, 42 more than Buffon.

In 2020-21, Szczesny has conceded a goal per game and kept out 71.3 per cent of shots on his goal.

With Buffon set to again lose his place despite remaining at the forefront of the European game, it would support Gianluca Pagliuca's suggestion the Juve great should have retired rather than return to Turin to sit on the bench.

Pagliuca told Stats Perform News: "If I was him, I have already retired. I would have retired after PSG. It was a good idea to go to Paris because it's a big club and he was playing regularly.

"Buffon on the bench? Happy to play only in Coppa Italia? It's not great.

"Someone with his career, it's better to retire when you are 41 and you are still playing than having a couple of years on the bench. He is still a really good goalkeeper.

"The best thing was to retire after PSG, considering his career. Maybe he still wants to compete. However, we have to think he's been the best goalkeeper in the football history."

What does the future hold for Lorenzo Insigne?

The Napoli captain is no certainty to remain at his boyhood club as his contract runs down.

A switch to Milan could be on the cards…

 

TOP STORY – MILAN TARGETING INSIGNE

Milan met with Lorenzo Insigne's agent as they eye a move for the Napoli captain, according to Gianluigi Di Marzio.

Insigne – previously linked with Liverpool – has one year remaining on his current contract and the Italy international is yet to re-sign with his boyhood club.

Serie A rivals Milan are monitoring the situation and ready to pounce.

 

ROUND-UP

- A move for Insigne depends on the future of Milan midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu. The 27-year-old is set to become a free agent and Arsenal and Chelsea are eyeing the Turkey international, reports Sky Italy. Manchester United have also been linked.

- The front page of Thursday's Gazzetta dello Sport says Inter and neighbours Milan are going head-to-head to sign Fiorentina defender Nikola Milenkovic. The Serbia international is also reportedly wanted by United, Juventus and Tottenham.

Chelsea, Barcelona and Manchester City are vying to sign Inter star Romelu Lukaku this off-season, claims Calciomercato. Lukaku has emerged as a target for all three clubs, who are also eyeing Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling HaalandReal Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, United and Liverpool have also been linked with Haaland.

- According to Corriere dello Sport, Roma and Milan both want to sign Torino captain Andrea Belotti. With Torino struggling, the Italy forward could be ready to jump at the chance for European football.

Tottenham are stepping up their pursuit of Southampton defender Jannik Vestergaard, says the Express. Spurs have long been linked with Inter star Milan Skriniar, but Vestergaard appears to be an easier option.

Paris Saint-Germain sporting director Leonardo hopes to have happy news soon regarding contract extensions for star duo Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.

PSG have been in negotiations with both Mbappe and Neymar – who are contracted to the Ligue 1 champions until 2022 – amid reported interest from LaLiga.

Mbappe has long been tipped to join Real Madrid, while speculation continues to link Neymar with a return to Barcelona, where he left for PSG in 2017.

Asked about the pair after Mbappe's brace guided PSG to a 3-2 win at holders Bayern Munich in the opening leg of the Champions League quarter-final tie, Leonardo told Sky Italy on Wednesday: "I think we'll have some news that will make us all happy soon.

"We will soon get to a more concrete situation for Mbappe and Neymar contracts."

Mbappe has scored eight Champions League goals this season – the joint-most in a single campaign in the competition by a Frenchman, along with Wissam Ben Yedder in 2017-18 and David Trezeguet in 2001-02.

Since making his Champions League debut in the 2013-14 campaign, Neymar has assisted 26 goals, the most of any player in this time. The Brazilian has now been directly involved in 67 goals (41 goals and 26 assists) in 66 appearances in the competition.

Mbappe and Neymar have combined for 10 Champions League goals since their first season together in 2017-18, at least three more than any other duo over this period.

Leonardo, meanwhile, was also quizzed on Milan and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, whose contract is set to expire at season's end.

Donnarumma – who worked with Leonardo before the Brazilian returned to PSG in 2019 – has been linked with PSG, Manchester United and Chelsea previously.

"I don't talk about transfers now, [Keylor] Navas is great," said Leonardo.

Inter showed just how much they have grown this season with their 2-1 win over Sassuolo on Wednesday, according to head coach Antonio Conte.

The Nerazzurri moved 11 points clear at the top of Serie A with the victory, sealed through goals from Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez in each half – their only two on-target attempts of the contest.

Hamed Junior Traore deservedly pulled one back for Sassuolo with a late strike, but the league leaders held on to become the second side in Serie A history – after Milan in 1989-90 – to win their first 10 games in the second half of a campaign.

Inter recorded their lowest possession rate (30 per cent) in a Serie A match since Opta records began in 2004-05 and were outdone on shots by Sassuolo 15 to seven.

But Conte was happy with the manner of the victory, insisting that points are more important than the performance, as Inter learned the hard way when exiting the Champions League in the group stage.

"I congratulate Sassuolo as they came here to play their game and this performance shows how much we've grown," he told Sky Sport Italia. "With this attitude, we'd still be in the Champions League.

"Sassuolo make possession their main strength, so we chose to close the gaps in the centre more than anything else. We knew that we'd have to cede possession.

"Aesthetics are fine, but the Scudetto is too important. We played beautiful football in the Champions League and all anyone said was that we were eliminated, so we have to focus on the results now.

"We are trying to press high, without running too many risks, so we can make the most of players like Lukaku, Lautaro and [Achraf] Hakimi who can hurt teams when running into space."

Lukaku's 10th-minute opener came from his only attempt and he added to that with the assist for Martinez's goal midway through the second half.

The Belgium international has now scored in five successive outings for club and country, with this his first headed goal in Serie A since July 2020.

"You can see the work Romelu has done and I don't forget when people said he was overrated. I immediately said that with his potential, he could do extraordinary things here," Conte said.

"The great thing about our strikers is that they are all willing to do the dirty work, too. Christian Eriksen has also grown. We knew it would be difficult for him to adapt to a very tactical league like Serie A. He can do much more, but we are counting on him.

"It's a pity we conceded that late goal, but we are more balanced and mature as a team now. If you want to win league titles, solidity is important."

Despite boasting a healthy lead over closest challengers Milan, and a 12-point advantage on champions Juventus, Conte does not feel there is much difference between the clubs in terms of quality.

"I'm amazed by that," he said of the points gap. "To regain so many points over the past two seasons against the team that has dominated for the past nine years was difficult even in the best of dreams.

"But it doesn't mean we are better than Juventus. They have a strong team and they demonstrated that by beating Napoli."

Inter have won 11 home league games in a row and host relegation-threatened Cagliari on Sunday, but Conte is not ready to celebrate a first Scudetto for Inter since 2009-10 just yet.

"There are still many games to go and each victory is worth six points," he said. "By winning we have put on more pressure and can see the satisfaction in everyone's eyes.

"We want to do something wonderful for a club that hasn't won for 10 years. It's be wonderful if we were the ones to remove from the pedestal those who won for nine years non-stop.

"But there will be tension from here on – it'll feel like the ball weighs more at our feet, perhaps more than for those teams who no longer have the same objectives."

Andrea Pirlo is hopeful Paulo Dybala will stay at Juventus after the forward came off the bench to secure a Serie A win over Napoli.

Dybala scored as a substitute in a league game on Wednesday for the first time since March 2020, steering a fine finish past Alex Meret in Juve's 2-1 win after Cristiano Ronaldo's first-half opener.

It proved to be the decisive goal, with Juve having been left living dangerously in the closing minutes after a late penalty from Lorenzo Insigne.

With a year to run on his contract, it has been suggested Juve could look to move Dybala on after this season, but head coach Pirlo is keen to keep the Argentina international.

Indeed, Pirlo believes Dybala would have made a greater impact this season had he not missed nearly four months of action with a knee injury.

"When you have a player like Dybala at your disposal, you always try to let him play. We've almost never had him," he told Sky Sport.

"When you miss someone like this, it becomes difficult, and when he comes back he helps you win.

"He still has a year on his contract. We hope to be able to keep him."

The win saw Juve bounce back from their shock 1-0 home loss to Benevento last week, but league leaders Inter remain 12 points ahead after beating Sassuolo 2-1.

Pirlo accepts the champions have themselves to blame for allowing such a gap to open up, but he was delighted with the attitude shown by his players against Gennaro Gattuso's side.

"We've lost a lot of points. We gave up too many chances on the road that led us to having this gap to the leaders," he said.

"When you sacrifice yourself for everyone in the game, you get the great benefit of the result. Everyone sacrificed themselves. Cristiano, too, when someone was out of position, he ran backwards."

Juventus returned to winning ways in Serie A with a 2-1 defeat of Napoli at the Allianz Stadium on Wednesday.

After a shock defeat to Benevento ended their run of seven consecutive home league wins, the champions responded in impressive style to record a ninth victory in 10 home league games against Napoli.

Cristiano Ronaldo dispatched a cross from the excellent Federico Chiesa to put Juve ahead with his fourth goal in his past six appearances against the Partenopei.

Gianluigi Buffon made a handful of solid saves to preserve Juve's lead before substitute Paulo Dybala fired in an expert second to make the points safe, with Lorenzo Insigne's late penalty counting for little.

Ronaldo missed a clear chance to head in the opener before finding his mark with aplomb 13 minutes in, steering home a low right-footed finish after Chiesa had twisted superbly into space down the right wing.

Chiesa and Juan Cuadrado were causing real problems for Gennaro Gattuso's side, the latter stinging the palms of Alex Meret after a promising run.

The visitors offered little first-half threat of their own, although Insigne did have Buffon scrambling with a shot from the edge of the box that whistled wide.

Buffon was busier after the restart, denying Giovanni Di Lorenzo and then Insigne from either side of the six-yard box as Napoli pushed forward for an equaliser.

Fabian Ruiz was denied by the Juve veteran from another hopeful attempt, and Napoli heads dropped further 17 minutes from time when Dybala swept a stylish low finish past Meret from the edge of the box – his first goal since January 3.

Insigne at last beat Buffon with an emphatic penalty after Giorgio Chiellini bundled over Victor Osimhen, but it proved too little too late for the visitors.

 

What does it mean? Andrea Pirlo restores pride but Inter remain clear

Juve are still third but just a point behind Milan, who drew with 10-man Sampdoria last weekend.

However, with Inter 12 points ahead at the top, Juve's hopes of making it 10 consecutive league titles are beginning to look slim indeed.

Napoli stay fifth but are only two points behind Atalanta in fourth.

Cunning Chiesa

Chiesa was the liveliest player on the pitch and Juve's most persistent source for attacking threat, even after his superb assist for Ronaldo.

While he completed the fewest passes (15) of any starting Juve player, his runs with and without the ball caused chaos and he should have had the chance to score a simple finish from Alvaro Morata's fast break.

Morata misfires

Morata was guilty more than once of getting into the right position in attack only to make the wrong call with the ball at his feet.

While he did manage to create two chances in his 69 minutes on the pitch, he missed both of his attempts at goal and made a mess of a three-on-one counter-attack.

What's next?

Juve host Genoa on Sunday, with Napoli next in action away to Sampdoria.

Romelu Lukaku maintained his impressive scoring run to help Inter to a 2-1 win over Sassuolo at San Siro that moves Antonio Conte's side 11 points clear at the top of Serie A.

The Belgium international scored for a fifth game running for club and country to open the scoring after 10 minutes and Inter did not look back in Wednesday's rescheduled clash.

Lukaku played in strike partner Lautaro Martinez for the home side's second and they held on for another win after Hamed Junior Traore had set up a nervy finale with a well-taken strike five minutes from time.

With this latest victory, Inter become just the second side in Serie A history - after Milan in 1989-90 - to win their first 10 games in the second half of a campaign.

Lukaku scored the only goal for Inter in their 1-0 win over Bologna last weekend and picked up from where he left off with Serie A goal number 21 of the season early on here.

Ashley Young sent in a right-footed cross from the left and former Manchester United team-mate Lukaku guided the ball into the far corner with a header from 10 yards.

Sassuolo were without a number of players through coronavirus concerns but would have been level if not for a fine Milan Skriniar block to thwart Jeremie Boga in the box.

The lively Boga tested Samir Handanovic the other side of the half-time interval as the visitors, who held Roma in their last match, started to pose more of a threat.

But Martinez gave Inter further breathing space by burying a low shot past Andrea Consigli once picked out by Lukaku on the counter.

Sassuolo felt Stefan de Vrij pulled back on the shirt of skipper Giacomo Raspadori in the build-up to Martinez's strike, but VAR did not feel the need to intervene.

Inter's win was not without a scare, though, as Traore curled a fine finish away from Handanovic following an Achraf Hakimi error, though there was to be no late leveller at San Siro.

Lionel Messi's future is a popular topic.

Messi wanted to leave Barcelona at the start of the season but opted to remain at Camp Nou.

With his contract expiring at the end of 2020-21, the Barca superstar is continuing to make headlines.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI WAITING ON BARCA

Barcelona have yet to make a move to re-sign superstar captain Lionel Messi, according to the front page of Wednesday's Marca.

Messi is out of contract at the end of the season and his future is far from certain, having been tipped to join either Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City.

Led by new president Joan Laporta, Barca are determined to retain the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

 

ROUND-UP

- Mundo Deportivo reports Ousmane Dembele wants to continue with Barca, but speculation is mounting that Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar could return to Camp Nou. Neymar – who left Barca for PSG in a world-record €222million deal in 2017 – has been negotiating a new contract in the French capital. Dembele has previously been linked with Manchester United.

Manchester City are eyeing a new striker but they are unwilling to spend "crazy" money, claims Fabrizio Romano. With Sergio Aguero – linked with Chelsea, Inter, PSG and Barcelona – leaving on a free transfer, Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland has emerged as City's prime target, while Tottenham star Harry Kane is another option.

- Goal says Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli and Juventus' Federico Bernardeschi could swap clubs. Both players have struggled this season and they could reportedly be involved in an exchange deal. Romagnoli has attracted interest from Barca and Chelsea.

- Eurosport reports United and Liverpool could go head-to-head in a battle to sign RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate. The 21-year-old has been heavily linked with Liverpool, but United are also interested. Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and team-mate Raphael Varane, Villarreal's Pau Torres and Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly are also reportedly being monitored at Old Trafford.

- Romano claims there are "huge chances" for Hector Bellerin to leave Arsenal. The Spaniard was previously linked with PSG and Barca.

Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane said "Juventus are still important to me" amid links with the under-fire Serie A champions.

First-year Juve coach Andrea Pirlo is under mounting pressure in Turin, where the Italian giants are fourth in Serie A and in danger of missing out on Champions League qualification for next season.

Cristiano Ronaldo's Juve were stunned by Portuguese side Porto in the Champions League last 16 this term.

Former boss Massimiliano Allegri – who left in 2019 – has been linked with a return after meeting president Andrea Agnelli.

Zidane spent five years at Juventus, winning two Serie A titles among other honours before joining Madrid in 2001, and the Frenchman did not rule out a possible Bianconeri reunion.

"Both, Italy is in my heart, I spent five years in Turin and Juventus are still important to me," Zidane told Sky Italia.

"Future at Juve? For now I'm here, we'll see," 

Zidane was speaking after Madrid defeated Liverpool 3-1 in the opening leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie on Tuesday.

Vinicius Junior scored twice for hosts Madrid in the Spanish capital, where Marco Asensio was also on target against the Premier League holders in the absence of centre-back duo Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

Toni Kroos teed up Vinicius for the opening goal with an exceptional pass in the 27th minute before Trent Alexander-Arnold's error gifted Asensio a goal of his own nine minutes later.

Liverpool star Mohamed Salah reduced the deficit six minutes into the second half, but Vinicius restored Madrid's two-goal advantage within 14 minutes.

Aged 20 years and 268 days, Vinicius became the second youngest goalscorer for LaLiga holders Madrid in a Champions League knockout match after 18-year-old Raul netted against Juventus in March 1996.

"I'm happy for him because he needed to score, like Marco [Asensio] or Karim [Benzema] do," said Zidane, who took charge of his 50th Champions League fixture with his 31st victory – only Jupp Heynckes (32) won more of his first 50 managerial games in the competition than the Frenchman.

"He's playing well, he's helping the team and he gets a boost by scoring a goal.

"Vini was lacking goals and he's going to gain a lot of confidence from today. He deserves it.

"I don't know if it was his best game [at Real Madrid], but two goals in a quarter final is something very important."

Madrid have progressed from 15 of their last 16 Champions League knockout matches after winning the opening leg, only failing to do so against Ajax in the 2018-19 round of 16.

In all European competition, no side has beaten Liverpool more often than Real Madrid (four, level with Benfica), with the Reds suffering defeat in each of the last four encounters with Los Blancos.

"We studied Liverpool pretty well before the game and prevented them from playing their way," Zidane said ahead of Saturday's Clasico showdown with LaLiga rivals Barcelona.

"We weren't going to play with three at the back with Varane, 4-3-3 was the preferred choice from the start."

"3-1 is a deserved victory, I'm proud of my team, we're in good form but the players are very tired now. I hope we recover well for the Clasico."

Zidane added: "We haven't won anything. We're happy with what we're doing. What the players are doing is tremendous considering the difficulties we've had."

Antonio Conte has seen evidence of "massive progress" in Lautaro Martinez's game both with and without the ball during his time as Inter coach.

Conte arrived at San Siro in 2019, a year after striker Martinez was signed from Racing Club.

The Argentina international's debut campaign had brought just nine goals and two assists in 35 games in all competitions, but those figures quickly improved under Conte.

Martinez tallied 21 goals and five assists in 49 outings last season and has scored 16 times and created six more for team-mates in 38 appearances in the 2020-21 campaign.

His minutes-per-goal rate has improved across his three seasons in Italy, this season finding the back of the net every 162.2 minutes.

Martinez is also creating more chances, 1.4 per 90 minutes, resulting in the increase in assists, but his work in defending from the front has been similarly impressive.

The 23-year-old has won possession in the final third 32 times this term (1.1 per 90) and posted 31 interceptions (also 1.1 per 90), comfortably more than in his previous two seasons combined.

Among Serie A forwards to score 15 or more goals in all competitions this season, Martinez leads the way in both categories as well as in recoveries per 90 (3.1).

Conte was asked about his number 10 ahead of Inter's game with Sassuolo on Wednesday, and said: "He has improved in all areas, on the ball and off the ball.

"He has improved when it comes to holding up possession and attacking the space.

"Like the other players, he has made massive progress. He needs to stay on this track. Taking his age into account, he has a very bright future ahead. It's in his hands."

Of those with 15 goals or more, Martinez's strike partner Romelu Lukaku ranked last for interceptions (0.1) and recoveries (1.6).

But Lukaku trails only Cristiano Ronaldo (31) in the scoring charts with 26 strikes in all competitions, and Conte is confident all of his players are contributing to the cause as Inter - eight points clear with Wednesday's game in hand - close on a first Scudetto since 2009-10.

"I think for every side putting the team first is the most important factor," the coach said. "Alone, you cannot win matches.

"It's the team that gets the best out of the individual. The players have understood the message. They are all pulling in the same direction."

Andrea Pirlo was not concerned by a meeting between former Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri and president Andrea Agnelli, insisting he retains the support of the Serie A champions.

Reports this week revealed Allegri, who won five Scudetti in five seasons in Turin, had met with Bianconeri chief Agnelli.

That appeared to increase pressure on Pirlo, whose first season as a senior coach has badly gone off the rails.

Juve are fourth heading into Wednesday's game against Napoli, who are fifth on the same number of points.

After nine consecutive Serie A titles, Juve risk missing out on Champions League qualification for next season.

But Pirlo feels he still has the backing of Agnelli, who informed him of the encounter with Allegri, a coach who has been without a job since his departure in 2019.

"There is no position," Pirlo said ahead of the Napoli game. "I was warned by the president himself about the meeting with Allegri.

"Football is one thing, friendship is another. I have a daily relationship with Agnelli, we tell each other everything that happens.

"I knew about this meeting and I know I have his confidence, then obviously it's up to me to prove that I can be the coach for next season as well."

Pirlo might find the going tough against Napoli, as the Partenopei arrive in Turin on a four-match winning run in Serie A.

Napoli have also won their previous two games against Juve, while they have a joint-high five wins over the Bianconeri since the start of their sequence of nine championships in a row.

Pirlo will also be without Merih Demiral, Leonardo Bonucci and Federico Bernardeschi following positive coronavirus tests, but the coach insisted he had no issue with the game going ahead.

The fixture was originally scheduled to take place in October but did not go ahead as planned, after Napoli did not travel to Turin on the recommendation of their local health authority (ASL).

"We respect the protocol," Pirlo said. "We are in tune with what the ASL says. We will do what we have always done, we will present ourselves and play."

Paulo Dybala, left out against Torino on Saturday after breaching COVID-19 regulations, is back in contention, while Pirlo is keeping faith with Wojciech Szczesny and Dejan Kulusevski, who have each been guilty of recent on-field mistakes.

Juve had not committed a single error leading to a goal in Serie A this season until March but have since had three.

Szczesny's, against Torino, also saw Kulusevski - at fault against Lazio - give the ball away cheaply.

"Szczesny will play because after a negative performance there is always a desire for redemption," Pirlo said, adding: "I spoke to Kulusevski. I reassured him. Mistakes can happen - you have to raise your head."

Juventus knew exactly what they were getting when hiring Andrea Pirlo and would be wrong twice if they decided to make a change now, according to Fabio Cannavaro.

Despite winning Serie A for a ninth successive season, Juve reacted to the team's shock Champions League exit to Lyon last year by sacking head coach Maurizio Sarri.

Pirlo was promoted from within to the top job, the former Italy international - who had only just been appointed as the club's new under-23 boss - signing a two-year deal to take charge of the first team.

His debut campaign has been tough, both at home and abroad. Juve's dominance in the league looks set to come to an end, while their hopes of European glory were dashed again at the last-16 stage, this time unexpectedly losing over two legs to Porto.

Pirlo's position has come into question as a consequence, yet former team-mate Cannavaro insists the club must show faith in the decision they made to appoint him in the first place.

"When Juve chose Andrea they knew very well that he had no experience," Cannavaro said in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport

"It is logical that he should have his time to mature, even in the relationship with the team. There are still 30 points at stake, so it is right to leave it.

"And he did good things, throwing young people and managing a complicated dressing room, one full of people who have won a lot. Of course, some things don't work, he was wrong: he is a human.

"It's a heritage that must be protected. After all, if Juve don't confirm his position, what did they choose him to do last summer?

"They would be wrong twice if they take that decision now. And the blame can't only be his if the players make mistakes on and off the pitch."

Pirlo's Juve have a 57.14 per cent win percentage in Serie A, having scored 56 goals and conceded 25. The team averages exactly two points a game, considerably lower than the 2019-20 season.

They face a fight just to qualify for the Champions League again: Saturday's 2-2 draw against Torino saw them slip to fourth in the table, with a crucial home game against Napoli - who sit fifth, albeit level with Juventus on 56 points – to come on Wednesday.

As for Sarri, his solitary campaign in charge averaged out at 2.18 points per game, the former Napoli and Chelsea boss winning 68.42 per cent of his league fixtures as he secured the title again.

However, both slip below the lofty standards set by Massimiliano Allegri in his final year in the job. In 2018-19, his squad won 73.68 per cent of their Serie A outings, conceding just 30 goals as they picked up points at a rate of 2.37 per game.

Juventus have announced Federico Bernardeschi has tested positive for COVID-19, ruling him out of Wednesday's crucial game against Napoli.

Bernardeschi is isolating away from the rest of the first-team squad following the test result, though Juve revealed on Tuesday that the Italy international is asymptomatic.

The 27-year-old came on as a second-half substitute as the reigning champions drew 2-2 with Torino on Saturday, a result that further damaged their bid to win the league for a 10th straight season.

Juve boss Andrea Pirlo was without both Leonardo Bonucci and Merih Demiral for the Turin derby after the defenders tested positive for coronavirus during the international break.

Cristiano Ronaldo struck a late equaliser but the Bianconeri still dropped down to fourth in the table, 12 points behind leaders Inter with just 10 matches remaining.

Juve host fifth-placed Napoli in midweek too, a key fixture for both clubs in the battle to qualify for next season's Champions League.

Like compatriot Bonucci, Bernardeschi was involved for the Azzurri as they started their World Cup qualifying campaign last month – he made appearances in all three Group C fixtures in March, against Northern Ireland, Bulgaria and Lithuania.

The Italian Football Federation announced four members of their staff had returned positive tests prior to the game in Lithuania, which resulted in a 2-0 win for Roberto Mancini's side.

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