Stephan Lichtsteiner believes the fixtures in the run-up to Christmas could prove pivotal in Juventus’ bid to retain the Serie A title, with a trip to Palermo up next on Sunday.
Juve have won the last four Scudetti, but that run is under serious threat following a major close-season overhaul of the playing squad that has seen Massimiliano Allegri’s men make a slow start to the 2015-16 campaign.
Now, though, a run of 16 points from their last seven league matches has brought the champions back up to sixth place and within striking distance of the leading pack, who have all taken points off each other to keep the division close.
Leaders Inter are nine points ahead of Juventus, with the match against Palermo followed by crucial games against Lazio and Fiorentina, while the club are also in a strong position to finish top of their Champions League group following the home win over Manchester City last time out.
Juve have a brilliant record against Palermo having won their last six matches against them in Serie A without conceding a goal and Lichtsteiner is eager to see that continue to set up a title bid.
“We are expecting a tough game at a testing venue, but we will make sure we produce a strong performance as we have done in recent weeks,” the full-back told the club’s official website.
“We must believe in the Scudetto. Now we have to think about getting as many points as possible before Christmas, then see what happens in the New Year.
“In the Champions League we have done well, despite having the strongest and most difficult group
“We played a back-four in Manchester and won against City, then we played 3-5-2 at home and won, so that shows this team can play any system.”
New Palermo head coach Davide Ballardini secured an impressive 1-1 draw at Lazio in his first game in charge, but he is under no illusion over the strength of his side’s opponents this time around.
He believes Juve will go on to compete for both the Scudetto and Champions League this season, with former Palermo star Paulo Dybala one of the key players he highlighted ahead of the game.
“I am not surprised by Juventus’ recent play,” Ballardini told Tuttosport.
“They are the most advanced club in Serie A, the only one who can compete with the European superpowers. They have a great structure, as shown by their skill in choosing their players. Their signings are a mix of technical quality and the right mentality.
“I have always liked Alex Sandro because he reflects my ideas about football: technical ability, freedom, quality and strength – no wonder he has exploded.
“Juve have a lot of champions. Dybala, [Alvaro] Morata, [Gianluigi] Buffon, [Paul] Pogba.
“They have everything to compete for the Scudetto and the Champions League.”
Juventus will check on the fitness of striker Mario Mandzukic, who limped out of the game against City with bruising on his leg. Hernanes is out for three weeks with a thigh injury.
Key Opta stats:
– There has not been a draw in the last 11 games between Palermo and Juventus at the Barbera, with the hosts winning four to Juve’s seven.
– Juventus have conceded only two goals from inside the box, fewer than any other team in the Serie A 2015-16.
– Palermo and Juve are the two teams to have had the most headed shots in the league: 32 for the former and 30 for the latter.
– Juve have the lowest tackle success percentage this season(69.3 per cent), while Palermo have the highest (80.9 per cent).
– Paulo Dybala has scored six goals in his first 13 games, the same return he had at this stage last season. Last term, he played 1106 minutes, this campaign so far he has played 781.