Soccer-Juventus eye Pogba, Vlahovic return to spark chase for European spot

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Champions League - Group H - Benfica v Juventus - Estadio da Luz, Lisbon, Portugal - October 25, 2022 Juventus' Dusan Vlahovic celebrates scoring their first goal REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

(Reuters) - After the 15-point deduction that plunged them from third to 10th place, Juventus have recalibrated their Serie A goal to snatching a European slot, and the possible return of Paul Pogba and Dusan Vlahovic against Monza on Sunday should help.

Juventus were on 37 points when the deduction for false accounting sent them sliding down to mid-table, leaving Italy's most successful club with practically no chance of catching runaway leaders Napoli.

Yet missing out on next season's European competitions could see Juve suffer an even bigger blow.

With 19 games left to play, they are still a hefty 14 points adrift of AS Roma, Inter Milan and Lazio, currently fifth, fourth and third respectively on 37 points, and 15 points behind second-placed AC Milan, who are all battling for a top-four finish and a spot in the Champions League.

Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri praised his team's attitude after they put aside their off-field troubles to rescue a 3-3 draw with Atalanta on Sunday, two days after the court ruling.

"The players proved to be serious and responsible. Two days like these would have killed any other team," he told a post-match news conference.

"We may win or lose, but they will never lack commitment."

With Vlahovic and Pogba readying to return to action there could be two big comebacks in the Bianconeri camp for the clash against the 13th-placed Monza, who are only one point behind Juventus.

Both players, who are returning from lengthy injury absences, were expected to take part in a friendly against Juventus' reserve team on Thursday, Italian media reported, and they could be called up by Allegri to face Monza.

The Frenchman has yet to play a game this season while Vlahovic, who participated in the 2022 World Cup with Serbia, has not played for Juventus since their Champions League clash against Benfica in October.


Struggling AC Milan host Sassuolo earlier on Sunday, hoping to end their five-game winless run in all competitions against a side hovering one place above the relegation zone.

Sassuolo have recorded two draws and six defeats in their last eight league games, but have won both of their last two away games against Milan in Serie A.

Milan coach Stefano Pioli was furious after his side's humiliating 4-0 defeat at Lazio on Tuesday, where they conceded four minutes into the game, and said after the defeat that it was time to talk less and work more.

"I am here talking to you only because I have to. Otherwise we should just stay quiet and work hard," he told broadcaster DAZN.

Local rivals Inter Milan will look to bounce back to winning ways when they visit bottom-placed Cremonese on Saturday after a 1-0 defeat to Empoli in their last outing.

Leaders Napoli are 12 points clear at the summit and will take on Jose Mourinho's Roma on Sunday.

Napoli, who have lost only three games in all competitions this season, are unbeaten in eight of their last nine Serie A matches against Roma.

However, Roma's defence will pose a tough challenge for Napoli's potent strike force.

Only Nantes (five from five games) and Newcastle United (5/6) have gained more clean sheets in all competitions than Roma (4/5) among teams in the big five European Leagues since the start of 2023.

(Reporting by Anita Kobylinska in Washington D.C.; Editing by Toby Davis)

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