Coach Antonio Conte warned Juventus that this stage of the season is make or break as the key games come thick and fast for the Bianconeri, starting with Thursday's UEFA Europa League meeting with Trabzonspor AŞ.
"I've done a few calculations and I see that in the next 51 days the players could have 16 games, which means they will be playing every three days so we've all got to be ready," said Conte. "I'm going to need everybody, rotating where necessary; otherwise it would be impossible to play every three days. It is going to be a very intense period, with the league in the final stages and knockout games in Europe."
Juventus arrive at the home straight in fine shape, Sunday's 3-1 home victory over AC Chievo Verona maintaining their nine-point lead in Serie A. Yet Conte stresses they may not have it all their own way against Trabzonspor. "We're up against a side who finished top of a group containing Lazio," he said. "They have great strikers and players like [Didier] Zokora, [José] Bosingwa and [Florent] Malouda who have been around a while. We're going to have to be very careful."
The Turkish outfit have lost their way somewhat since the beginning of December, Saturday's 2-2 draw at Kardemir Karabükspor leaving them with just one win in ten outings. That was their first match under Hami Mandıralı, temporarily handed the reins after boss Mustafa Akçay stepped down at the start of last week. Not ideal preparations for this round of 32 first leg, though domestic rivals Galatasaray AŞ provide some hope after the matchday six victory that ended Juve's UEFA Champions League ambitions.
"We know that football offers plenty of surprises; anything can happen," said Mandıralı. "It was a surprise that Galatasaray beat Juventus to knock them out, but then you can't say that Galatasaray are not a strong side. We've been performing better in Europe than in the Turkish Süper Lig. We beat Lazio and we'd be delighted to come back to Italy for a third time [to face ACF Fiorentina in last 16]."
Juve, though, have the bit between their teeth, as underlined by Conte: "Winning the Europa League [on home turf] would be beautiful, extraordinary. We've got to relieve the tension levels, though, because we've got three months of this, where all the games are about either taking you further in Europe or closer to the Scudetto. At the same time we've got to be focused because you've got to want things to actually get them. You don't get anything for free."
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