As Serie A resumes, Juve looks to pick up where it left off
ROME (AP) — Juventus will want to pick up right where it left off when Serie A resumes this week following the holiday break.
Having started the season by winning only three of its opening 10 matches, the four-time defending champion then put together seven consecutive victories to surge up the standings.
After struggling to overcome the departures of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Carlos Tevez, Juventus is now firmly in the hands of preseason signings Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic and Sami Khedira.
“Our most dangerous opponent is Juventus,” fullback Patrice Evra said, recounting how the club held a full-squad meeting following its last loss — 1-0 at Sassuolo on Oct. 28. “It was a psychological problem. Something wasn’t working.”
Entering Wednesday’s home match against last-place Hellas Verona, Juventus is in fourth place, three points behind leader Inter Milan and two points behind Fiorentina and Napoli.
Inter, which was beaten 2-1 by Lazio in its last match before the break, resumes at Empoli. Fiorentina visits Palermo and Napoli hosts Torino.
Fifth-place Roma, which is one point behind Juventus, travels to Chievo Verona.
The 18th round opens Tuesday with Genoa vs. Sampdoria in a derby.
Wednesday’s other matches are: Udinese vs. Atalanta; AC Milan vs. Bologna; Lazio vs. Carpi; and Sassuolo vs. Frosinone.
Here are a few things to know about the Italian league entering this week’s matches:
ETERNAL EVRA: At 34, Patrice Evra isn’t ready to slow down yet.
The France international has been dividing playing time at fullback for Juventus with the Brazilian Alex Sandro, who is 10 years his junior.
Evra has made 14 appearances and Sandro eight so far.
“He’s improved a lot but I like playing every match,” Evra said. “As I used to tell (former Manchester United manager Alex) Ferguson, ‘I’ll rest when my career is finished.’”
BALOTELLI’S BACK: Mario Balotelli is preparing to return from a pelvis injury that has kept him out since September.
The AC Milan striker was operated on in November and will need a strong second half of the season to be called up to Italy’s squad for the European Championship.
Balotelli has not played for Italy since the Azzurri were eliminated at the group stage of the World Cup.
Meanwhile, there are also questions over Balotelli’s club future. Unless he displays rapid improvement, it’s difficult to imagine that Milan will want to keep the striker when his loan deal from Liverpool concludes. Liverpool is not too anxious to reclaim Balotelli, either, after he scored only one Premier League goal last season.
ROSSI’S FUTURE: With the opening of the transfer market, Fiorentina is reportedly looking to loan out struggling forward Giuseppe Rossi.
After a series of serious knee injuries, the former Italy international has had a tough time regaining his scoring touch.
While he has scored twice in the Europa League, the United States-born Rossi hasn’t found the net in nine Serie A appearances and has become mostly a bench option.
Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf