Despite enduring his most turbulent spell since taking charge at Juventus, birthday boy Claudio Ranieri was in confident mood ahead of the visit of Real Madrid CF, insisting that his side had "absolutely nothing to lose".
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Despite enduring his most turbulent spell since taking charge at Juventus, birthday boy Claudio Ranieri was in confident mood ahead of the visit of Real Madrid CF, insisting his side had "absolutely nothing to lose".
The Bianconeri are in the throes of a five-match winless sequence and the pressure is mounting on Ranieri following their second successive Serie A defeat, at SSC Napoli on Saturday night. Juventus, who squandered a second-half lead in Naples, have slipped to 12th in the table and the coach has not escaped censure from the Italian media.
Nonetheless, the Roman tactician put on a brave face for the cameras, joking that he was "pleased to have turned 71 today", before addressing the more serious matter of tackling Madrid. "We know Real are playing well at the moment," said the 57-year-old. "They are Spanish champions, they have scored 20 goals in the Liga [in seven games and Madrid coach] Bernd Schuster has a very well-organised team. By contrast we have not been playing as well as we would have liked so we have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.
"It's a testing time but we're still building this Juventus side," he continued. "And this game represents a great opportunity to bring back some smiles and beat one of the greatest sides in Europe. We have a few injuries but the players available are proud and determined to play well against outstanding opponents. I want them to feel free to play their best football and this is how I want us to approach the game – to give it our all."
Ranieri's cause has not been helped by a crippling injury crisis, which worsened on Saturday when Christian Poulsen (thigh) joined a casualty list including David Trezeguet (knee), Jonathan Zebina (achilles), Cristiano Zanetti, Tiago, Mauro Camoranesi, Vincenzo Iaquinta, Nicola Legrottaglie and Olof Mellberg (all thigh) in the treatment room. There are hopes, though, that the last three will recover in time, while Mohamed Sissoko returns from the suspension that forced him out of the Napoli defeat.
After overcoming FC Zenit St. Petersburg 1-0 in their Group H curtain-raiser, Ranieri's team could only draw 2-2 at FC BATE Borisov, and they could do with pulling out a vintage display against the nine-time European champions who are two points better off in the standings. Morale is high in the Merengues camp following their last-gasp victory in Saturday's Madrid derby. Ruud van Nistelrooy's early opener and a stoppage-time penalty from Gonzalo Higuaín sealed a 2-1 success at Club Atlético de Madrid, stretching the side's unbeaten run to eight matches, including the wins against BATE and Zenit.
"We know that three points here will be a huge step towards qualifying," said Schuster, who may be deprived of Arjen Robben who has tweaked a thigh muscle. "The onus is on the hosts to get something, which could work in our favour. Their injuries have mounted up of late, but that could be dangerous for us. They are a resourceful side who know how to react to adversity."