SPOT­LIGHT ON OLD LADY

Tre­ble beck­ons for Ju­ven­tus

New Straits Times - - Sport -

TURIN Roma by nine points with four matches re­main­ing.

Ju­ven­tus are also in the Ital­ian Cup fi­nal, where they will face Lazio, as they bid for a third straight league and cup dou­ble.

No­body has been able to match Ju­ven­tus in the Ital­ian league, where they have the best de­fence — hav­ing only con­ceded 22 goals in 34 matches — and the sec­ond best at­tack be­hind Napoli.

Ju­ven­tus are also al­most un­beat­able at home where they are cur­rently on a Serie A record 33match win­ning run. They haven’t lost at the Ju­ven­tus Sta­dium in the Cham­pi­ons League since a 20 de­feat to Bay­ern Mu­nich in the 2013 quar­ter-fi­nals.

The Bian­coneri fi­nally ap­pear to be trans­form­ing this domestic suc­cess to the in­ter­na­tional stage, where they are bid­ding to reach a sec­ond Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal in three years.

Last time they reached the fi­nal of Europe’s premier club com­pe­ti­tion, Ju­ven­tus were swept aside 3-1 by Barcelona. This year they beat the Span­ish club 3-0 over two legs in the quar­ter-fi­nals.

Beat­ing a side which con­tained Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ney­mar — and barely al­low­ing them a chance of a goal — has given Ju­ven­tus the con­fi­dence and be­lief that they could claim a first Euro­pean tro­phy since 1996.

THREE PLAY­ERS TO WATCH z PAULO DYBALA — Dybala has had a fan­tas­tic two sea­sons at Ju­ven­tus since join­ing from Palermo for €32 mil­lion (RM162 mil­lion) in June 2015.

But it is this sea­son that the Ar­gen­tine has re­ally made an im­pact on the in­ter­na­tional stage, earn­ing com­par­isons with his

AP more fa­mous com­pa­triot Lionel Messi and re­port­edly draw­ing in­ter­est from Barcelona and other top clubs.

Ju­ven­tus fans heaved a sigh of re­lief when the 23-year-old Dybala signed a new con­tract at the be­gin­ning of the month, ty­ing him to the Bian­coneri un­til 2022.

That deal came just days af­ter Dybala net­ted two goals in the first leg of the Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter­fi­nal against Barcelona.

Dybala has scored 40 goals in all com­pe­ti­tion for Ju­ven­tus, mak­ing him the club’s lead­ing scorer over the past 18 months.

z GON­ZALO HIGUAIN — Higuain might be wear­ing a dif­fer­ent shirt this sea­son but he is still bang­ing in the goals.

Higuain joined Ju­ven­tus in the off­sea­son for an Ital­ian-record €90 mil­lion af­ter scor­ing 36 goals for Napoli last cam­paign to break a 66-year-old Serie A record.

He is less of a fo­cal point this sea­son, in a team where the goals are more evenly shared out than dur­ing his time at Napoli. But Higuain has nev­er­the­less net­ted 23 league goals — putting him fourth in a tight race for the top goalscorer award — and three in the Cham­pi­ons League.

How­ever, the Ar­gentina for­ward hasn’t scored in a Cham­pi­ons League knock­out match since 2013, and he will be ea­ger to end that neg­a­tive streak against Monaco.

z LEONARDO BONUCCI — Bonucci is an in­te­gral part of Ju­ven­tus’ famed ‘BBC de­fence’ along with An­drea Barza­gli and Giorgio Chiellini.

The trio helped put on a de­fen­sive mas­ter­class to shut out Barcelona over the 180 min­utes of their Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter-fi­nal.

Bonucci has been an ever-present for Ju­ven­tus over the past two sea­sons, mak­ing 87 ap­pear­ances, more than any other player — in­clud­ing cap­tain Gian­luigi Buf­fon.

The Italy in­ter­na­tional is re­garded as one of the best ballplay­ing de­fend­ers in world foot­ball, and Bonucci showed off his su­perb skills with a stun­ning goal against Genoa re­cently, go­ing on a mazy run from in­side his own half, be­fore fir­ing off an un­stop­pable shot from the edge of the area. AP

Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe has scored 24 goals in 38 matches in all com­pe­ti­tions this sea­son.

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