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.

Alvaro Morata told his Spain team-mates to expect more negative tactics in their next World Cup qualifier against Georgia on Sunday. 

Spain were held to a 1-1 draw by Greece in the country's opening Group B fixture in Granada on Thursday as their opponents set up defensively straight from kick-off.

Morata put Spain ahead with a stylish volley, but visitors Greece equalised with their only shot of the game courtesy of a Anastasios Bakasetas penalty.

Spain monopolised possession with 79.9 per cent and made 920 passes with a successful accuracy of 92.4 per cent.

However, Greece's defence stood firm as they won 42 duels to Spain's 33 with Georgios Tzavellas making the most clearances in the game and Konstantinos Tsimikas the most tackles on either side with five apiece.

Morata predicted Spain's players will face more teams who will try to stifle their play, starting with Georgia at the weekend.

"We'll have lots more games with rivals who try to do this to us," Morata said in a post-match media conference.

"We knew how Greece were going to try and play us this evening. Any international side which knows how to defend can make things difficult for you.

"In fact, Georgia play in a similar style. We need to get used to having complicated moments and trying to get the best from them.

"We have to draw the positives from this match and keep on working hard."

Spain head coach Luis Enrique echoed Morata's sentiments but insisted despite the setback their commitment to play attacking football remains.

"I don't like the result at all, nor have we been inspired," he said.

"I liked the rhythm, but once we pinned Greece back we didn't flow and fashion the chances that would have enabled us to take a clear lead.

"I did like our attitude and the tempo of play that the team tried to produce throughout. Whenever we got near the Greek penalty area, however, we lacked sharpness and efficiency.

"Sunday will be a similar game, with an opponent who uses the same weapons. We'll continue to insist on attacking in the same way.

"This result doesn't change anything for the next two games. [Attacking] is the most difficult phase in football, it depends on the situations you generate. 

"I don't think this result will influence the following ones."

Alvaro Morata told his Spain team-mates to expect more negative tactics in their next World Cup qualifier against Georgia on Sunday. 

Spain were held to a 1-1 draw by Greece in the country's opening Group B fixture in Granada on Thursday as their opponents set up defensively straight from kick-off.

Morata put Spain ahead with a stylish volley, but visitors Greece equalised with their only shot of the game courtesy of a Anastasios Bakasetas penalty.

Spain monopolised possession with 79.9 per cent and made 920 passes with a successful accuracy of 92.4 per cent.

However, Greece's defence stood firm as they won 42 duels to Spain's 33 with Georgios Tzavellas making the most clearances in the game and Konstantinos Tsimikas the most tackles on either side with five apiece.

Morata predicted Spain's players will face more teams who will try to stifle their play, starting with Georgia at the weekend.

"We'll have lots more games with rivals who try to do this to us," Morata said in a post-match media conference.

"We knew how Greece were going to try and play us this evening. Any international side which knows how to defend can make things difficult for you.

"In fact, Georgia play in a similar style. We need to get used to having complicated moments and trying to get the best from them.

"We have to draw the positives from this match and keep on working hard."

Spain head coach Luis Enrique echoed Morata's sentiments but insisted despite the setback their commitment to play attacking football remains.

"I don't like the result at all, nor have we been inspired," he said.

"I liked the rhythm, but once we pinned Greece back we didn't flow and fashion the chances that would have enabled us to take a clear lead.

"I did like our attitude and the tempo of play that the team tried to produce throughout. Whenever we got near the Greek penalty area, however, we lacked sharpness and efficiency.

"Sunday will be a similar game, with an opponent who uses the same weapons. We'll continue to insist on attacking in the same way.

"This result doesn't change anything for the next two games. [Attacking] is the most difficult phase in football, it depends on the situations you generate. 

"I don't think this result will influence the following ones."

An Alvaro Morata strike was not enough for victory as Spain began their World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign with a 1-1 draw against Greece in Granada on Thursday 

Morata's stylish volley put Spain ahead in the first half of a Group B clash they dominated with 79.4 per cent of the possession before the break.

But Greece levelled when Anastasios Bakasetas converted from the penalty spot four minutes before the hour mark after Inigo Martínez fouled Giorgos Masouras inside the area.

And although Luis Enrique's side enjoyed the bulk of the chances in the remainder of the game, they were unable to find a winner in an underwhelming start to the campaign.

After a sluggish start, La Roja sparked into life when Dani Olmo rattled the crossbar with a long-range curling effort and, moments later, they were ahead.

Koke showed his guile to cleverly dink the ball over the Greek defence to Morata, who controlled on his chest before crisply striking a fine volley beyond Odisseas Vlachodimos.

Morata went close again early in the second half when his shot hit the side-netting, but Greece soon equalised.

Martinez caught Masouras after a sliding clearance and Bakasetas smashed the resulting spot-kick high down the middle of the goal.

Spain rallied and Morata got on the end of a Ferran Torres cross but was unable to make his header count, nodding straight into the ground, before Jose Gaya teased a low dangerous cross into the box which Mikel Oyarzabal could not convert.

The hosts continued to pile on the pressure late on but were unable to find a way past the resolute visiting defence, their joy evident at the final whistle.

Alvaro Morata believes Cristiano Ronaldo is happy at Juventus but says the superstar forward will certainly have been affected by the criticism directed his way.

Ronaldo joined Juve in 2018, signing a four-year deal in Turin.

He has gone on to help the Bianconeri to successive Serie A titles – their eighth and ninth in a row – yet has not been able to propel the team to Champions League glory.

It is a failure that cost both Massimiliano Allegri and Maurizio Sarri their jobs, while latest incumbent Andrea Pirlo will also be unable to count European success among any accolades this season, with Juve falling to Porto in the last 16 earlier this month.

Juve's chances of a 10th consecutive Serie A title also look slim, with a shock defeat to Benevento last time out leaving Pirlo's side 10 points adrift of leaders Inter.

With just over a year remaining on his contract, speculation around Ronaldo's future is rife.

And although Morata hopes his team-mate stays put, he understands why the 36-year-old – who was heavily criticised following Juve's Champions League exit – may be disappointed with what the Bianconeri have achieved in recent seasons.

"We have all been criticised but no one in the team has won as many trophies as he has," Morata, who is on international duty with Spain, told Cadena SER's El Larguero programme.

"It has affected all of us and whoever says it hasn't is lying. I am the first to know when I receive criticism. I'm sure he will know when he is criticised too. I don't have to explain who Cristiano is because we all know.

"Small details were what decided the Porto game. We are all to blame. If I had scored that header in the first half we would be in the quarter-finals.

"But you have to look on the positive side. We won the [Supercoppa Italiana], we have another cup final against Atalanta. We have to look at this season as one of change. Some things can be improved and that is all there is to it."

Asked about his relationship with Ronaldo, Morata replied: "We talk about everything apart from football. We spend a lot of time together and, when we aren't playing, we talk about all kinds of subjects, life, the world we live in.

"We talk about the pandemic situation in Spain, in Portugal.

"He gives that sensation because he is so used to being at the top. It's nothing to do with Juve because he would be the same at any other club.

"He seems happy to me but, the thing is, he is so used to winning that it's understandable he feels disappointed – as we all do. But he's happy at Juve."

Morata came through the ranks at Madrid while Ronaldo – who has scored 30 goals in all competitions for Juve this term – was in the middle of his Los Blancos career.

"I've never thought about that," Morata said when asked if Ronaldo could move back to the Santiago Bernabeu.

"A few years ago a friend asked me the same question but you know I am not going to answer. I want Cristiano to stay at Juve because I want Juve to have the best players.

"I hope to have him near but I'll be pleased with whatever he decides to do that makes him happy."

Juventus forward Alvaro Morata does not believe Cristiano Ronaldo wants to leave the struggling Serie A champions.

Ronaldo has been linked with returns to former clubs Real Madrid and Manchester United following Juve's Champions League last-16 exit.

Juve – third and 10 points off the pace in Serie A this season – have not progressed beyond the quarter-finals of the Champions League since Ronaldo's blockbuster arrival in 2018.

Morata was asked about Juve team-mate Ronaldo and the five-time Ballon d'Or winner's future in Turin.

"I don't think that's the case," Morata told El Larguero while on international duty with Spain.

"It would have been the same had he joined another club.

"He's used to winning Champions League finals. It's not a Juventus thing. He's happy in the team.

"Will he return to Real Madrid? We talk about everything except football, really."

Ronaldo surpassed Pele's record after scoring 770 career goals courtesy of his hat-trick against Cagliari on March 14.

The 36-year-old tops the Serie A's goalscoring charts with 23, ahead of Inter star Romelu Lukaku (19).

Andrea Pirlo wants Juventus to put the pressure on Inter as they aim to close the gap between themselves and the Serie A leaders this weekend.  

With a coronavirus outbreak at Inter forcing their game against Sassuolo to be postponed, Juve can move within seven points of the Nerazzurri with a home win over Benevento on Sunday - their final game before the international break.  

The reigning champions – who are looking to win the Scudetto for a 10th successive season – have won their last seven league games at the Allianz Stadium too, scoring at least two goals in each of those matches while conceding just three times.  

While they do have the Coppa Italia final against Atalanta to come later in the season, Juve's surprise Champions League exit to Porto in the last 16 leaves them with time to focus fully on league duties.  

"It's our duty to put pressure on Inter and we have to do it match after match, starting tomorrow," Pirlo told the media on Saturday.

"Our only goal now is to win as many points as possible, in order to put pressure on Inter and to make it all to play for in our game against them.

"I've spoken to the team, let's see where we are after each match, thinking towards the future. We must try to win as many games as we can.

"It will not only depend on us, but we must believe that we can always win. We are aware and convinced."

Alvaro Morata scored twice to help Juventus to a 3-1 home win over Lazio on Saturday and keep alive their faint hopes of a 10th consecutive Serie A title.

The Bianconeri, who started with Cristiano Ronaldo on the substitutes' bench, had started sluggishly and fell behind inside 15 minutes courtesy of Joaquin Correa's third league goal of the campaign. 

Adrien Rabiot pulled them level with their first shot on target in the 39th minute, though, before Morata's quickfire double after the break – the second from the penalty spot – sealed a third win in four top-flight games. 

Andrea Pirlo's side remain in third, but have moved to within a point of Milan and seven of leaders Inter, having played the same number of games.

 

 

Sergio Aguero is being targeted by four European giants, while Bayern Munich are looking at Christian Pulisic.

Aguero, 32, is out of contract with Manchester City at the end of the season and his future is uncertain.

The forward has only played nine games this season, but he is still wanted by several European clubs.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA, JUVENTUS CHASE AGUERO

Barcelona, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Inter are interested in signing Aguero, according to the Mirror.

Aguero has been at City since 2011 and is the club's all-time leading goalscorer.

The Argentina international has struggled with injury and coronavirus this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Another player who has battled injuries this season is Pulisic. Todofichajes.com reports Bayern Munich have contacted Chelsea about a possible move for the former Borussia Dortmund star.

- Juventus want to keep Alvaro Morata. Goal reports the Serie A side are keen to extend the forward's loan for another season and are prepared to pay Atletico Madrid €10million.

- Barcelona seem set to sign a forward ahead of next season. ESPN reports the LaLiga giants have intensified their interest in Real Sociedad striker Alexander Isak.

- Struggling for game time at Manchester United, Dean Henderson could make a move. Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham are interested in the goalkeeper, according to the Manchester Evening News.

- Hector Bellerin may leave Arsenal. CBS Sports reports the full-back is eager to test himself away from the Premier League club and Paris Saint-Germain are ready to revive their interest.

Cristiano Ronaldo's behaviour on his days off is not Juventus's responsibility, according to Andrea Pirlo, after the five-time Ballon d'Or winner allegedly broke coronavirus travel restrictions.

Valle d'Aosta police are investigating whether Ronaldo failed to adhere to Italy's strict COVID-19 protocols by travelling to the area from Piedmont to go skiing with his girlfriend Georgina Rodriguez, as part of her birthday celebrations this week.

Both Valle d'Aosta and Piedmont are listed as "orange zone" regions, with travel between such locations prohibited.

Ronaldo, who tested positive for coronavirus last October, may face a fine if found guilty.

"Cristiano Ronaldo had a day off and on your days off you are free to do what you want," head coach Pirlo told a news conference ahead of Saturday's trip to Sampdoria.

"When they are here they are under my control, but outside of here they are free citizens and can take their own actions."

Weston McKennie has become one of Juve's key performers this season since joining from Schalke, scoring four times across all competitions from midfield since the start of December.

Pirlo believes the 22-year-old United States international has plenty of room for further improvement.

"He is so young he can improve everywhere," he said.

"We were the fastest to sign him in Germany and we are so happy to have him with us.

"He is humble and very keen to improve, especially from a technical point of view. I mean, he is a bit rough in ball control, in his body movements, but he can improve quickly.

"He is a healthy kid, he knows he is not done, he is just at the beginning and being aware of this is already a good starting point."

Pirlo has a clean bill of health, with the exception of forward Paulo Dybala, who is still nursing a knee injury.

Federico Chiesa completed the scoring in the 4-0 Coppa Italia win over SPAL and will start after shaking off an ankle problem.

Alvaro Morata put Juve in front from the penalty spot in midweek - his 13th goal of the campaign - and is ready to go again having been compromised by groin pain of late.

"He played last time and we managed to save him some minutes, so tomorrow he will be at the top of his game," Pirlo added.

"We know him well, he dwells so much on enthusiasm and that is what we need to give him back.

"But he has done well, he knows he is very important for Juventus, so I am more than convinced he will go on at his best."

Cristiano Ronaldo's 760th goal in professional football helped deliver Supercoppa Italiana glory for Juventus as they beat Napoli 2-0 after Lorenzo Insigne's penalty miss.

Having seen their aspirations of again retaining the Serie A title dealt a blow by a 2-0 loss to rivals Inter, Juve could have been considered vulnerable to a Napoli side coming off a 6-0 thumping of Fiorentina.

But Andrea Pirlo's men grew into the game in the second half and Ronaldo rewarded their efforts with what proved to be the decisive goal in the 64th minute.

Pirlo's first title as Juve head coach came with a dramatic conclusion, however, Insigne incredibly chipping wide from the spot after Weston McKinnie had felled Dries Mertens before Napoli were caught cold on an injury-time counter and Alvaro Morata's simple finish sealed the Bianconeri's ninth Supercoppa crown.

An open but low-key first half was light on chances until Wojciech Szczesny had to produce a reaction to keep out Hirving Lozano's diving header from Diego Demme's cross in the 28th minute.

Ronaldo went close with a dipping effort from the left side of the box that narrowly cleared the crossbar 12 minutes later and it was Juve who started the second half brighter.

Davide Ospina had to be alert to prevent Federico Bernardeschi from scoring within a minute of his half-time introduction after good work from McKinnie.

Ronaldo then prodded narrowly wide after getting ahead of a throughball from Arthur, but he made no mistake when Bernardeschi's corner deflected into his path, lashing home from point-blank range.

Insigne had a golden chance to erase the deficit 10 minutes from time after Paolo Valeri pointed to the spot following a VAR review. He sent Szczesny the wrong way but shot woefully wide of the left-hand post.

The excellent Szczesny produced a fine 94th-minute save with his legs to deny Insigne and glory for the Bianconeri was sealed as Cuadrado broke free soon after and laid the pass on for Morata to stroke home.

A little before the midway point of the season, heading into Sunday's Derby d'Italia, you could argue Inter have Juventus just where they would have wanted them.

Antonio Conte was brought to San Siro in 2019 and strongly backed in the transfer market with the primary aim of ending the dynasty he launched back in 2011-12 in Turin.

Juve have won every Scudetto since then but are four points behind Inter having played a game less.

Unfortunately for Conte, the Nerazzurri aren't the only side with designs on ripping away the Bianconeri's long-held crown.

Milan remain top of the table despite succumbing to a 3-1 defeat to Juve earlier this month, where they were subjected to arguably the most authoritative display of the fledgling Andrea Pirlo era.

Nine points separate Milan from Atalanta, Napoli and Lazio in fifth, sixth and seventh. Like fourth-place Juve, the former two have a game in hand on the leaders.

Inter are their local rival's nearest challengers, three points from the top and three better off than third-place Roma, who were left with wounded pride by Friday's 3-0 derby defeat to Lazio.

Struggles for consistency and congested title races can be seen across Europe as the effects of truncated pre-seasons and packed schedules continue to shake out.

However, the firepower up front for Inter and Juve provides a strong case for both breaking clear of the pack, while promising a thrilling high-stakes shootout at San Siro.

Lukaku-Martinez partnership brings joy

Conte's second and final season in charge of Chelsea in 2017-18 was soured before kick-off as Manchester United beat him to the signature of Romelu Lukaku.

It was clear that state of affairs did little for either man by the time they finally came together at Inter before the start of last season.

Had Lukaku ranked himself as being among the top five strikers in world football, as he did last month, during the 2019 transfer window, plenty would have sniggered.

But the big Belgian has put a patchy spell at Old Trafford behind him to shine at San Siro.

 

Since the start of last season, Lukaku has 51 goals in all competitions - placing him fourth among players across Europe's top five leagues during that period, in between Lionel Messi in fifth and a certain prospective weekend opponent who is five goals better off.

While not quite as prolific, Argentina international Lautaro Martinez has been a more than able accomplice, racking up 31 in 73 matches over the past season and a half.

Nevertheless, despite this mountain of goals and Inter being Serie A's top scorers, there is a sense that Conte's front two could be more clinical.

No player in the big five leagues with 25 goals or more to their name since the beginning of 2019-20 has a lower shot conversion rate than Martinez's 12.4 per cent.

While Lukaku's conversion rate in 2020-21 is comparatively healthier at 27.9 per cent, in Serie A alone his nine goals from open play come in below an expected goals (xG) figure of 9.8 (Lukaku's three converted penalties do not figure in Opta's xG calculations).

The concern for Conte is that this relative wastefulness takes a heavier toll on the big occasion.

Inter crashed out of the Champions League after winning a solitary group match and have failed to win any of their four Serie A matches so far against last season's top six - a run continued by the raucous 2-2 draw with Roma last time out.

Ronaldo finds ideal foil in Morata

An obvious fear from an Inter perspective is that issues Martinez and Lukaku might have on the grandest stages will only be magnified by comparison to who they face this weekend.

No man in the 21st century has hit the heights of goalscoring obsession known by Cristiano Ronaldo.

Even if Juventus do not have the rampaging version that thrilled at Manchester United and Real Madrid, Ronaldo is raging against Father Time with utter conviction when it comes to putting the ball in the net.

Only Robert Lewandowski - way out in front on 78 - has more than the Portugal great's 56 in the big five leagues from August 2019 onwards.

Among that group of attackers with 25 goals or more, Ronaldo has fired off the most shots with 354. Messi (329) and Lewandowski (297) are not particularly close behind.

Chillingly for opponents, he has found much greater efficiency this season. Ronaldo's shot conversion rate is 23.5 per cent in 2020-21 so far, a 10 per cent increase on the prior campaign. His 11 open-play goals in Serie A have an xG value of 7.9.

 

If there is a new level of serenity to Ronaldo's play, part of the credit can perhaps go to the man alongside him. 

Alvaro Morata was the third corner of the tangled Lukaku-Conte transfer triangle back in 2017, his time at Chelsea proving to be as sapping as Lukaku's at United. A loan to Atletico Madrid arrived midway through 2018-19. 

Despite that move being made permanent, another loan back to Juventus came prior to the current campaign. 

Under his old team-mate Pirlo, Morata looks like a player reborn, scoring 11 times in all competitions. Only four of those have been in Serie A but his seven assists over the course of the campaign are already more than he managed in the past two completed seasons - casting him as the ideal supporting act to Juve's indisputable lead performer. 

One of the best five in the world, one of the greatest of all time, Argentina's next superstar striker or the quiet man from Madrid. On Sunday, one of them is set to step forward and add a key twist to a gripping Scudetto race.

Hamza Rafia scored the winner on his debut as Juventus needed extra time to beat Genoa 3-2 and reach the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia.

A much-changed Juve side were a cut above Serie A strugglers Genoa in the first half at Allianz Stadium on Wednesday, but made hard work of setting up a last-eight tie against Sassuolo or SPAL.

Dejan Kulusevski was outstanding in the opening 45 minutes, scoring inside two minutes and laying on a second goal for Alvaro Morata.

Lennart Czyborra pulled a goal back from out of the blue in an otherwise one-sided first half and Filippo Melegoni later equalised, but 21-year-old Tunisia international Rafia came off the bench to settle the tie late in the first half of extra time.

Andrea Pirlo admitted Alvaro Morata's glaring miss in Wednesday's 1-1 draw with Atalanta made him "very angry" but the Juventus boss praised the forward for an otherwise "great game".

Juve were denied a fifth consecutive win in all competitions when Remo Freuler cancelled out Federico Chiesa's opener at the Allianz Stadium.

Cristiano Ronaldo squandered a golden opportunity to seal all three points for the champions, though, missing from the spot after Chiesa had been tripped in the area – his fourth failure from 30 penalties in all competitions for Juve. 

While Pirlo was relaxed about the Portuguese superstar's miss, he could not hide his frustration at Morata's indiscretion early in the first half. 

The Spain international, who has scored nine goals in all competitions this season, inexplicably scuffed a backheeled effort wide with the goal at his mercy after initially playing a poor pass to Ronaldo when he had been clean through.

On Ronaldo's miss, he told a media conference: "It's a pity because it would have helped us to go ahead, but these things can happen.

"Morata's miss made me very angry, it's something we cannot afford. These opportunities can channel the game in a certain way.

"One must have the lucidity to make the right choice and he didn't. Aside from that he played a great game. It happens that goals are not scored sometimes."

Juve came up against a goalkeeper in inspired form, Pierluigi Gollini saving Ronaldo's spot-kick and making excellent stops to deny Morata and Weston McKennie.

The result means they have drawn six of their first 12 league games of the season for the first time since 1984-85, when they finished in sixth.

Pirlo was pleased with his side's attitude, but said they need to show more conviction if they are to start turning draws into wins.

"We played an excellent match against a strong team, with great pace," he added.

"However, we would have won if we had shown more conviction. We created a lot, but we have not been able to close it out and when we leave the game in the balance, anything can happen.

"But we took the field with the right attitude. It was an important game in terms of intensity. Atalanta is difficult to face and we did it well."

The Bianconeri will hope to return to winning ways when they visit Parma on Saturday.

Andrea Pirlo hopes he now knows his best Juventus XI and does not need to experiment further as the Bianconeri look to kickstart their Serie A title defence.

Juve are fifth ahead of a return to club action this weekend, four points behind early leaders Milan as Pirlo gets to grips with his first coaching role.

Issues with injuries and positive coronavirus tests have forced Pirlo to shuffle his pack, but he now appears to have settled on a system that relies heavily on a forward pairing of Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata.

Morata returned to Turin at the start of the season and has taken Paulo Dybala's place in the side, with the duo yet to play a single minute in Serie A together alongside Ronaldo.

Juve have not won when picking six-goal Ronaldo and Morata from the start, drawing with both Roma and Lazio, but the Portuguese's COVID-19 diagnosis set Pirlo's men back.

The coach certainly appears to have seen enough, surely encouraged by the 4-1 win at Spezia where Morata opened the scoring before the returning Ronaldo arrived from the bench to inspire victory with a brace - the first created by his strike partner.

"I hope the experiments are over," Pirlo told Juventus TV. "I have had the opportunity to work with players who are super willing to talk and make some technical, tactical changes, so I'm satisfied with this.

"Depending on the matches, maybe something will change, but let's first give an energetic impression and then maybe we will change something."

Pirlo reserved special praise for Morata, who starred in Spain's 6-0 Nations League win over Germany in midweek.

The forward, on loan from boyhood club Atletico Madrid, opened the scoring with one of his four efforts and then ran the visiting defence ragged, contesting 14 duels and winning four fouls - highs among all players.

"He is a great player," Pirlo said of Morata. "We took him for this reason. We knew of his quality; now he has also found the confidence and continuity he had lacked in recent years.

"We know his value and we hold him tight and pamper him."

Juve host Cagliari on Saturday and have both Matthijs de Ligt and Alex Sandro back fit, although the latter is likely to start from the bench.

Pirlo hopes his side can build on the 1-1 draw at Lazio prior to the international break when Felipe Caicedo's 95th-minute equaliser cost them two points.

"We played a good game - it's a pity we didn't close it," he said. "It is important to settle games early.

"This must be the mentality. We must not settle after scoring one goal. We must continue playing to try to close these games."

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