Juventus take on Porto as Dortmund face Sevilla test in Champions ties - GulfToday

Juventus take on Porto as Dortmund face Sevilla test in Champions ties


Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo (right) and coach Andrea Pirlo attend a training session on the eve of their Champions League match. Agence France-Presse

Alvaro Morata is finding his best form at the right time for Juventus. Morata had not scored in the league since December and was sidelined recently with illness but the Juventus forward has scored three times in his last two matches -- including in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Lazio.

Morata has scored six goals in this season’s Champions League, two more than teammate Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 36-year-old Ronaldo was given some much-needed rest at the weekend and went on only for the final 20 minutes, which should leave him fresh for Tuesday’s match against Porto.

Juventus have been dealing with illness and injuries. Coach Andrea Pirlo hopes Giorgio Chiellini and Matthijs de Ligt will recover in time to play Porto.

Forward Paulo Dybala is still sidelined, while Rodrigo Bentancur is also out after contracting the coronavirus. Porto also has some injury problems, including defender Pepe with a right leg ailment.

Meanwhile, Weston McKennie is a symbol of a new generation coming through at Juventus along with Dejan Kulusevski, Federico Chiesa and Matthijs De Ligt.

The 22-year-old Texan became the first player from the United States to play for the Turin giants when he arrived from Bundesliga club Schalke last summer on loan.

Pirlo has hailed the young international as “a rock” in a difficult period for the Italian champions with an ongoing injury crisis.

Juventus trail Portuguese club Porto 2-1 going into the second leg of their Champions League last 16 tie in Turin on Tuesday.

Forward Chiesa, 23, pulled a goal back for the Italians late in Portugal, for a precious away goal as they look to avoid crashing in the last 16 for a second consecutive year.

McKennie helped Juventus out of the group stage with a goal in a 3-0 win at Barcelona in December having lost the home leg 2-0.

It was the second Champions League goal for McKennie having previously scored one for Schalke.

The Italians have won the European title twice, but not since 1996, and Pirlo warned that the Porto game was a “decisive match we can’t mess up”.

McKennie has found his feet in northern Italy and his move from Schalke was made permanent on Wednesday, Juve buying him outright for 18.5 million euros ($22.3 million) on a deal until June 2025.

“We chose him for his characteristics, we followed him,” said Pirlo.

“Now that he has been bought outright he can’t think that he’s arrived; this is a starting point.

“If he thinks he has reached the top he has made a mistake and is not on the right path.”

There have only been a handful of Americans who have played in Serie A over the years, such as Michael Bradley at Chievo and Roma, Armando Frigo at Fiorentina and Alexi Lalas at Padova.

“You grew up watching these players, idolising them and playing them on video games and now they’re your teammate, it’s a dream come true,” said McKennie on playing alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Despite niggling injuries and catching coronavirus in October, McKennie has remained a reliable option for the Serie A champions, scoring five times in 32 appearances.

“McKennie is also not 100 per cent fit, he has a hip problem, but he is a rock and he grits his teeth because we haven’t got many players available,” said Pirlo after the Porto defeat.

That loss in Portugal came after falling to Napoli in the league. Since then, Juventus have gotten back on track in Serie A with 10 goals in four games, consolidating third place with a 3-1 win over Lazio at the weekend.

McKennie’s performances for club and country, where he scored the quickest hat-trick in US men’s football history with three goals in 13 minutes in the CONCACAF Nations League in 2019, saw him voted the best American male football player of 2020.

“It’s a big deal, I remember when I was in the U17 and I wasn’t even considered in the U17 World Cup or qualifiers,” McKennie told former US captain Carlos Bocanegra on hearing he had won the award.

“To get to this point, it’s a big, long journey for sure.”


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