PRE MATCH: UDINESE VS JUVENTUS

After another underwhelming result last weekend, outgoing champions Juventus meet Udinese on Sunday, with their top-four place still in serious jeopardy.


While the Bianconeri are bound for a nail-biting climax to the Serie A season - but with only Champions League qualification at stake, rather than their defense of the Scudetto - the hosts are close to confirming their survival in the top flight: sitting eight points above the drop zone.


Under-pressure coach Andrea Pirlo admitted that his inconsistent Juventus side put in another sub-par performance in their draw at lowly Fiorentina last weekend, as they again disappointed on their travels.


Though Alvaro Morata scored a second-half equalizer less than a minute after coming off the bench at Stadio Artemio Franchi, that was Juve's only shot on target in a game where they bossed the ball, to little effect.


As Pirlo's future remains deeply uncertain, everything now rests on the Turin giants' qualification for next season's Champions League - an absolute minimum requirement which his team must fulfill. Recent results, though, have left third-placed Juventus locked on 66 points with Napoli and Milan going into the weekend's action, while Lazio continues to lurk close behind.

The Coppa Italia finalists, who face Atalanta in the showpiece final - due to host a limited number of fans, it has been confirmed - have now won just three of their last seven league games after crashing out of the Champions League and are in danger of receiving a swift comeuppance, given the club president's apparent derision for Europe's elite competition.


Of late, the Bianconeri have toiled somewhat in the final third, as top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo's rare failure to hit the net in his last three starts (the last time he missed out four times in a row was back in 2017) has come amid rumors of a summer departure - and the absence of bright spark Federico Chiesa from the attack has further undermined their cause.


Nevertheless, Juventus have won six of their last seven Serie A games against Udinese ahead of their trip to the Dacia Arena, racking up 14 goals in their last five visits. They will, therefore, see a viable chance to add to a relatively meager tally of 25 away points so far this season - currently fewer than any other team in the top six of the standings.


Last Sunday lunchtime, Udinese may have fashioned far fewer chances than relegation-threatened opponents Benevento - not to mention far less of the ball - but ultimately emerged with a 4-2 win.


A rare success in the final third for a side that has struggled to hit the net on a consistent basis saw the Zebrette pull closer to the top half of the table and within touching distance of confirming their place on the start line for Serie A's 2021-22 campaign.

Four defeats in their previous five matches had underlined the frailties within Luca Gotti's squad, but hopes of catching 10th-placed Verona remain realistic - as Hellas have been toiling of late and Udinese are now just two points behind.


They do, however, still have to face both Napoli and Inter in the closing weeks, shortly after taking on a wounded Juventus side. The last time the two clubs met, in January, Udinese fell to a 4-1 defeat at the Allianz Stadium, so will be seeking a significant upgrade on that result back on home turf.


Having lost each of their last three home games by one goal to nil, Udinese appears ill-placed to take advantage of Juve's current inconsistencies, so may find that their barren run on Friulian soil continues.


A lack of goal threat often undermines the hosts' neat play, so despite the promptings of in-demand skipper Rodrigo De Paul, expect them to come out of this encounter empty-handed - as their more illustrious Bianconeri counterparts take another uncertain step towards a top-four finish.








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