(Reuters) - Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo will miss his side's crucial trip to Atalanta on Sunday with a thigh injury, with his coach Andrea Pirlo insisting the setback comes from playing too many matches.
Juve are 12 points behind leaders Inter Milan with eight games left, and with a 10th successive Scudetto seemingly out of reach they will be aiming to hold on to a top-four spot in the race for the Champions League qualification places.
The third-placed champions travel to Atalanta in fourth on Sunday just one point ahead of Gian Piero Gasperini's side and three clear of fifth-placed Napoli, with the clash now seemingly more difficult given they are missing Serie A's top goalscorer.
"There is a big absence and it is Cristiano," Pirlo told a news conference. "He has not been able to recover from a thigh problem. We decided to let him rest and try to recover for Wednesday's match (against Parma).
"Speaking with his coach, with him and with the doctor, it was too risky to bring him to push. He has played too many matches, even those with the national team."
Pirlo said that in the 36-year-old's absence, Argentinian striker Paulo Dybala will start a Juve match for the first time since early January.
And the rookie coach, who is yet to win over many fans after a disappointing first season in charge, is aware of the new priority for his side.
"We have settled towards the new goal which is not the one suitable for Juventus who have always fought to win the championship," Pirlo added.
"But unfortunately the points are a bit distant and the goal must be to close the championship well."
(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Hugh Lawson)