Allegri plays down pressure ahead of Juve’s trip to Napoli

MILAN (AP) — Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri doesn’t want the pressure on his team, so he’s trying to deflect it to the other side.

In second place after winning eight straight matches without conceding a goal, Juventus will play at Serie A leader Napoli on Friday.

“It’s a lovely match to play,” Allegri said Thursday. “We need to play well, with enthusiasm and desire, but it won’t be decisive for the title and it will be more important for them.

“It’s not a crash test. We’re coming off a good run but Napoli is, too. It will not be a decisive match but a very important one, for them more than for us.”

Juventus has risen up to second place in the standings because of its eight-game winning streak, putting it even on points with defending champion AC Milan and seven behind Napoli.

The team has continued to perform on the field despite a bookkeeping scandal that saw the club’s board of directors resign en masse and the Turin prosecutor’s office request indictments.

Another win in Naples would cut the gap on the leaders to four points and instill a real sense of belief that Juventus could have a chance of reclaiming the league title it lost two years ago after dominating Italian soccer for nine years.

“Two months ago we didn’t think that Juve could get to January in this position,” Allegri said. “We need to put in a great technical performance and play with intensity because we are facing the strongest team in the league.

“That’s not just me saying it but the standings, because they have racked up 44 points and lost only once. It’s normal that they’re favorites tomorrow.”

Napoli has been at the top of Serie A for three months and is guaranteed to be named winter champion regardless of what happens in the final two matches of the first half of the season.

The team has won 14 of its 17 matches and has the best attack, having scored 39 goals, as well as the best goal difference. Juventus has the best defense.

The team coached by Luciano Spalletti had its first loss of the season last week, 1-0 at Inter Milan.

However, Napoli shrugged off that setback with a 2-0 win at Sampdoria with Victor Osimhen scoring his 10th goal in 13 league matches as the Nigeria forward continues to develop into an ever-more key player for his club.

“He has a way of being on the field and taking on a lot of responsibility,” Spalletti said. “He uses all the characteristics that you need in a match: readiness, strength, tracking back, taking on players.

“He has become stronger most of all because of the exemplary behavior that he has.”

Napoli has won its last three home matches against Juventus and another victory would send it 10 points clear at the top of Serie A ahead of Milan’s match at Lecce on Saturday.

“Even without the eight straight wins, Juve is the team that’s most difficult to face, alongside Milan and Inter,” Spalletti said. “For so many reasons it’s the best of them all.”

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