MILAN (Reuters) – Maurizio Sarri is still unbeaten after 19 matches in his new role as coach of Juventus but that proud record faces a severe test when the Serie A champions visit free-scoring Lazio on Saturday.
Sarri’s numbers have been impressive with 15 wins and four draws, yet the chain-smoking coach does not seem to have quite imposed his distinctive footballing philosophy on his team.
A 2-2 draw at home to Sassuolo on Sunday meant they lost top spot and left them one point behind Inter Milan, who host AS Roma on Friday.
Led by Ciro Immobile, Serie A’s topscorer with 17 goals, Lazio have climbed to third after a run of six successive league wins and have already blasted 33 goals in 14 games.
Juventus, who are chasing their ninth successive title, had hoped that Sarri’s arrival would change the rather dour image the side had acquired under his predecessor Massimiliano Allegri.
Yet, despite several players saying that they are having more fun under Sarri, Juventus have continued their habit of sneaking narrow wins.
Twelve of their 15 wins have been by single-goal margins and, in Serie A, their total of 25 goals scored is six less than at the same stage last season.
Much of the focus has been on Cristiano Ronaldo who, despite scoring six goals in 11 games, has struggled with pain in his knee, shown his displeasure on being substituted and generally given the impression that he is not really enjoying himself.
Sarri said, however, that the 34-year-old had got his fitness back and just needed some polish.
“In terms of resistance, he has recovered, the next step will be to regain a touch of brilliance but he is on the way up,” he said after the Sassuolo match.
Ronaldo also suggested that he was better, posting a photograph of himself on Twitter with the caption: “Positive vibes!”
Still, the question remains as to whether Ronaldo is the problem or the solution for Juventus.
Juve have looked at their best when Argentine pair Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala have both been playing.
The duo scored all three goals between them in a 3-1 win at Atalanta, Dybala scored a late winner against AC Milan after coming on for Ronaldo and they were also on target when Juve won 2-1 at Inter, their best result of the season.
Yet, with Sarri fearing that a Ronaldo-Higuain-Dybala trio would unbalance the team, one of them has to be left out to make way for the Portuguese forward.
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Christian Radnedge)