MILAN - After literally being frozen out
of the Europa League, Juventus can now concentrate on Serie A
with resurgent midfielders Felipe Melo and Alberto Aquilani
again likely to be key figures in Sunday's trip to Catania.
The pair were near laughing stocks last season with
Brazil's excitable Felipe Melo often being booed by his own
fans for his lacklustre performances while Aquilani hardly got
a game for Liverpool amid an injury nightmare.
This season has been completely different with on-loan
Aquilani impressing so much he has won back his place in the
Italy squad while Felipe Melo has just done the basics well.
The central midfielders have helped Juve rise up to third
in the table after a sticky start under new coach Luigi Del
Neri with their two league defeats from 14 games coming when
former AS Roma player Aquilani has not started.
He was ineligible for the Europa League after an
appearance for Liverpool so he missed Wednesday's elimination
after their fifth draw from five games in the group match at
Lech Poznan, where temperatures dipped to as low as -15.
Thick snow also covered the pitch in the second half.
"We shouldn't have played," Del Neri told reporters.
Juve seem not too upset to have exited the competition.
The twice European champions, still recovering from a 2006
match-fixing demotion, see themselves as Champions League
regulars and the uninspiring Europa League was only
threatening to sap resources for an assault on the Serie A
"Juve are worthy of the scudetto," Italy coach Cesare
Prandelli told reporters.
They lie six points behind leaders AC Milan but have
scored 26 goals this term, more than any other Serie A team.
The goals have been spread across the side, with new
winger Milos Krasic looking particularly sprightly, but the
striking quartet of Alessandro Del Piero, Fabio Quagliarella,
Vincenzo Iaquinta and Amauri have lacked consistency.
Amauri's injury problems have also dragged on so a new
forward may be on the cards in January with media reports
saying Antonio Cassano, banished at Del Neri's former club
Sampdoria for abusive behaviour, is an option.
Argentine Maxi Lopez, the main striker for Sunday's
opponents Catania, has also been heavily linked with Turin.
Leaders Milan host Brescia on Saturday with
Ronaldinho again expected to be left on the bench and the
slowing Andrea Pirlo given no guarantees of a starting spot as
coach Massimiliano Allegri shows his muscle.
Second-placed Lazio, three points behind Milan, entertain
fifth-placed champions Inter Milan on Friday before
Rafael Benitez's side jet off to the Club World Cup in the UAE
with their injury crisis easing slightly.
A strike by the players' union is planned for the weekend
after but the parties still hope for a deal with Serie A over
a collective contract to avert the industrial action.
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