Soccer-Pressure mounts on Pirlo as Juve season goes from bad to worse

Soccer Football - Serie A - Atalanta v Juventus - Stadio Atleti Azzurri, Bergamo, Italy - April 18, 2021 Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

(Reuters) - He has been keen to point out his project is in its infancy, but after Juventus' season went from bad to worse as they slipped to fourth in Serie A after a 1-0 loss at Atalanta on Sunday, patience with coach Andrea Pirlo must be wearing thin.

Following their early Champions League exit last month - the second season in a row that Juve have been knocked out at the last-16 stage - things have also gone badly for Pirlo in Italy.

In the six games since Porto ended their European dream, Juve have lost at home to Benevento, been held to a draw by struggling Torino, and have now surrendered third spot to Atalanta.

Pirlo had previously conceded that a 10th successive Serie A title this season was unlikely, reiterating that securing a top-four finish was the new target.

But Juve are now looking to Inter Milan for a favour, as should fifth-placed Napoli beat the league leaders on Sunday, they will move level on points with Pirlo's side, and threaten Juve's hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League.

"We played the match we had to play, then the moments went in their favour," Pirlo said after the Atalanta loss. "We have not faced all the games with the same motivation and aggression.

"We have to think about ourselves. We have to play seven more games and win as many as possible to get to the Champions League. If we play with this spirit there will be no problem for the rest of the championship. Our season is not over yet."

Without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, Juve looked shorn of ideas in attack in Bergamo.

Paulo Dybala, who has missed much of the season through injury, did make his first start for Juve since early January, but he tired as the match wore on.

Atalanta deserved their win - a first victory over Juve for over 20 years - and are finding form at the right time.

"Often with Juventus we have come close to winning," coach Gian Piero Gasperini said. "For us it is a very important victory, a signal - this means that Juventus can also lose and that is great for morale.

"For the purposes of Champions League qualification, this win is not decisive, it will take more victories. It is an exciting (top four) race."

There is little time for Juve to regroup as they host Parma on Wednesday, and another bad result would heap more pressure on Pirlo.

(Reporting by Peter Hall, editing by Ed Osmond)

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