Juventus centre-back Giorgio Chiellini can feel the heat of the Serie A title race as they prepare to host Empoli on Saturday with Napoli in hot pursuit at the top.
The defending champions have a three-point lead going into the clash at Juventus Stadium and Chiellini – who returned to training this week after a calf injury – believes Juve have shown their quality.
A 4-1 derby win against Torino before the international break extended Juve’s excellent form to 19 wins in 20 league outings, while Massimiliano Allegri’s men have won their last six home matches without conceding a goal in Serie A.
“We’ve shown on the pitch that we’re the strongest, but we have [Napoli] behind us who won’t give up, a team that is having a great season,” Chiellini told Premium Sport.
“It’s up to us to keep them as far away as possible. The league will be decided later, after the weekend of April 24 and 25 when we’re in Florence [playing Fiorentina] and they’re in Rome [Napoli playing Roma].
“It’s possible we could have almost decisive results then.”
Juve had a major injury scare during the international break when Chiellini’s defensive partner Leonardo Bonucci appeared to be badly hurt in Italy’s 4-1 friendly defeat in Germany, but tests showed the centre-back did not suffer a serious injury, though he is suspended for the Empoli match regardless.
Alex Sandro and Sami Khedira are also banned, while Andrea Barzagli (hamstring), Paulo Dybala and Claudio Marchisio (both calf) are not expected to be fit to play.
Visitors Empoli are on the longest winless run in Serie A, having picked up just six points from their last 11 matches, but coach Marco Giampaolo claims facing Juve is the “ideal match” for his side.
“It’s the ideal match for us because we have nothing to lose,” Giampaolo told ItaSportPress.
“I have a young team, some are fired up because they know the interest of the great teams, but we need points, even starting on Saturday.
“Riccardo Saponara is outstanding – and definitely ready for a great team.”
Giampaolo is expected to be without centre-back Uros Cosic and left-back Mario Rui for the trip to Juventus, where Empoli have not won since April 1999.
Key Opta facts:
– Empoli have scored two goals in the last seven Serie A meetings against Juventus, including Maccarone’s goal in the reverse fixture.
– Juventus have lost the fewest points from leading situations this season (2), while Empoli have squandered the joint-most (18).
– Empoli are one of four Serie A teams to have gained more points in away games than at home (19 v 17).
– Massimo Maccarone has scored four of the last seven Empoli away goals.
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