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Pirlo’s faltering Juve look for Ronaldo return, Lukaku blow for Inter

Andrea Pirlo’s Juventus head to promoted Spezia on Sunday hoping to have coronavirus-hit Cristiano Ronaldo back to boost their campaign days after their Champions League flop against Barcelona.

But rivals Inter will be without star striker Romelu Lukaku against Parma after the Belgian picked up a thigh strain which also puts him at risk for next week’s Champions League game at Real Madrid.

Ronaldo missed Juventus’ 2-0 defeat against Lionel Messi’s Barcelona, more than two weeks after testing positive for Covid-19, as Pirlo fell to his first coaching defeat.

The champions have had a stuttering start to a campaign they hope will reap a 10th consecutive league title, and a first elite European title in quarter of a century.

The Turin giants are fifth — four points behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Milan — and take on the minnows from Liguria, who are 14th in the table.

The nine-time reigning champions won their opener against Sampdoria in September, their only victory on the pitch in Serie A this season, before three draws.

Between those matches they were awarded a 3-0 victory after Napoli refused to travel to Turin on October 4 because of coronavirus cases.

“Our results are not up to our standards,” said defender Leonardo Bonucci. 

“It is time to grit our teeth, unite, and bring out the best in ourselves.

“We miss important players, it’s not an excuse, it’s reality, but in four days we’ll be back on the pitch and we’ll try to do better.”

‘Spoilt for choice’

Unbeaten Milan travel to Udinese after their 3-0 Europa League win against Sparta Prague at the San Siro, with coach Stefano Piolo saying his side this season were spoilt for choice.

“The more we go on, the harder it will be to choose, if they all play so well,” said Pioli.

Second-placed Napoli, two points behind Milan, have won all the league games they played this season, and next take on Sassuolo, third but equal on points.

Gennaro Gattuso’s southerners won their Europa League game at Real Sociedad this week, but captain Lorenzo Insigne pulled up with a thigh injury.

Inter, a further point adrift in fourth, warm up for next week’s trip to Real Madrid after their goalless draw against Shakhtar Donetsk, against 16th-placed Parma.

Lukaku, who has scored seven goals this season for Inter, is being monitored daily.

Atalanta travel to rock-bottom Crotone on Saturday, ahead of their Champions League home game against Liverpool.

The Bergamo club were held 2-2 at home against Ajax after a 3-1 loss to Sampdoria as Gian Piero Gasperini conceded his attempt at “a bit of experimenting” in the squad backfired.

Claudio Ranieri’s Sampdoria — equal on points with Juventus and Atalanta — take on city rivals Genoa, looking to push their winning streak to four games.

One to watch: Lautaro Martinez

Inter forward Lautaro Martinez has been frustrated at his failure to score in recent games, furiously punching his seat in the dugout after his substitution in last week’s win against Genoa.

The Argentine was again replaced by coach Antonio Conte against Shakhtar Donetsk after missing a great chance for the winner in the goalless draw this week.

“I got angry with myself because I didn’t play the match I wanted,” said Martinez.

The Argentine scored in three consecutive league games before drawing a blank in four, and will want to impress in Lukaku’s absence.

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