Milan (AFP) – Andrea Pirlo sees positives despite his preparation for his biggest match since taking over as Juventus, facing Covid-19-afflicted Cristiano Ronaldo against Barcelona’s Lionel Messi in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Pirlo took over after sacking Maurizio Sarri right after Juventus were knocked out of the Round of 16 for Lyon in August, with the veteran coach lamenting another failure in the “damned competition of Juventus”.
The Turin team won the championship twice, but not since 1996. He has been runners-up seven times, including twice in the past five years.
In fact, the 41-year-old Pirlo’s last game for Juventus came as a player in a 3–1 loss to Barcelona in the 2015 UEFA Champions League Final.
Juventus signed the Portuguese star Ronaldo in 2018 with the aim of lifting the coveted European Cup, and his absence against Barcelona Messi could be heavy.
The 35-year-old will need to test negative for 24 hours before being allowed to appear in Turin. Back at Camp Nou on December 8th.
“Of course we miss him now,” said fellow Colombian Juan Cuadrado. “He is a hero. In these extremely difficult matches, his strength, mentality and desire shine through.”
Ronaldo scored three goals for Juventus in his first two league matches before he contracted the virus while performing international duty.
Even if Pirlo has yet to score a loss this season, Juventus are fifth in Serie A, with three draws in five matches.
“Barcelona? “Don’t worry me, they are two different games,” said Pirlo after Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Hellas Verona.
“Verona plays differently than Barcelona, against teams that play like this. You have to prepare for a specific type of match.
“We are in the construction phase,” the junior coach continued.
“We are sorry to leave some points along the way, but we are on the right track. We are building a long-term project. I only see positive things.”
– Kulusevsky, Morata spark –
Pirlo’s main weapons in Ronaldo’s absence were Spanish striker Alvaro Morata, who scored two goals against Dynamo Kiev, and Swedish striker Diane Kulusevsky, who saved the point against Verona.
Former Chelsea and Real Madrid player Morata returned to Juventus this season with Kolosewski contracting from Atalanta in January before being loaned directly to Parma.
The 20-year-old Swedish player was on the spot, scored on his club debut in September and was knocked off the bench to give Juventus the advantage against Verona.
Pirlo was also impressed by Paulo Dybala’s performance “well above expectations” in his seasonal debut against Verona after more than three months of his absence.
Captain Giorgio Chiellini’s presence is in doubt, with fellow defender Leonardo Bonucci being watched for a thigh strain, although Gianluca Frappotta, 21, is entering the breakout, with Alex Sandro also exiting.
Of the nine-time Italian champion, Cuadrado said: “Given how we started the other tournaments, this was a little slow start.”
“But we haven’t lost yet.”
The two teams won their first Group G matches, as Barcelona beat Hungary’s Ferencváros 5-1 and Juventus 2-0 over Dynamo Kiev.
Ronaldo vs Messi
If Ronaldo misses the opportunity to come out on Wednesday, he will have to wait until December to renew his rivalry with Argentine Messi.
They are the greatest players of their generation with 11 Ballons d’Or between them, and the highest goalscorers in Champions League history.
They have not faced since the departure of the Portuguese star Real Madrid to Juventus, and they are both running out of time to win the Champions League again.
Messi, 33, has appeared in four winning campaigns, all with Barcelona, while Ronaldo has won it five times, four with Real Madrid and once with Manchester United.
Ronaldo scored 130 goals in the Champions League, including ten with Juventus, compared to 116 goals by Messi.
Messi won 16 of the 35 games against Ronaldo’s 10 meetings, with the remaining nine ending in a draw. Messi also scored 22 goals in those matches compared to 19 goals for Ronaldo.
The duo have met only five times in Champions League matches, most recently in the semi-finals in 2011.
Barcelona defeated Real Madrid by winning 3-1 on aggregate, and Messi scored twice in the first leg.
The most memorable encounter was the 2009 UEFA Champions League Final when Messi scored in Barcelona’s 2–0 victory over Manchester United.
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