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Roma ready for Juventus test

Serie A
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 By Mina Rzouki

Another praiseworthy Allegri effort has Juve in good stead at break

Former Liverpool defender Steve Nicol assesses the impact losing Emre Can to Juventus would have at Anfield, especially with the imminent arrival of Naby Keita.
Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri was delighted to lead his side to the semi-final stage of the Coppa Italia for the fourth time in a row.
ESPN FC's Gab Marcotti gives his take on how likely it is that the latest transfer rumours will come to fruition.

With the transfer market open for business and the winter break around the corner, it will be tough for Massimiliano Allegri to get his men to concentrate in their challenge against Cagliari on Saturday evening. The last match of the day to be played, Juventus have a habit of dropping concentration when there are other things on their mind.

Cagliari might not be the toughest opponent to face on the final day before the break, but as the Bianconeri have demonstrated, when they don't play with ambition, they suffer against sides that are usually incapable of a challenge. Organised, quick and very aggressive, the Sardinians can pose a problem or two, and defeated Atalanta last week, scoring two quick goals.

A side that likes to commit fouls and is good in the air, Juve just need to rely on their experience and maturity to ensure all three points to keep up with Napoli at the top of the Serie A table, and that shouldn't be too hard to do.

In fact, at a time when certain title challengers are bucking under the pressure -- such as Inter, who yet again dropped two points Friday evening against Fiorentina -- Juventus are going from strength to strength, and that is despite the absences and subpar performances from certain players.

Gianluigi Buffon is right: Allegri is truly underrated as a coach. Many were worried about what could happen to a side that lost Leonardo Bonucci, Dani Alves and the Alex Sandro of last year. While the first two players physically departed, the Bianconeri are yet to see Sandro play to his usual levels, rendering him almost unnecessary. Lacking heart, desire, energy and a certain level of professionalism, the Brazil international has seemingly made it clear his heart and mind belong elsewhere after a summer in which he was heavily coveted by Chelsea.

Massimiliano Allegri again has Juve threatening the top of the table despite an ever-changing cast.

It explains why Beppe Marotta reiterated the club's policy on wantaway players and Juve's reluctance to keep hold of them while he mentioned that there were no negotiations for Sandro "at the moment." Those three words suggest those very negotiations might well take place soon.

In truth, this version of Sandro is free to go. Juventus' success has been built on the premise of unity, harmony and hard work. Players are expected to sacrifice, improve and behave as professionals, and if Sandro believes he can achieve more from another experience, then he should and will be allowed to chase that dream. Particularly as he's not adding any value to the team with his current form.

When we consider Sandro's performances, the mental obstacles Paulo Dybala is fighting, the decline of Stephan Lichtsteiner, the struggle to integrate new players and the struggle to keep all the best midfielders fit at the same time, Allegri should be hailed as the genius he is. Far too many now take Serie A and Coppa Italia trophies for granted, and yet so few appreciate that Allegri's brilliance is the reason why it all looks so easy for Juventus. Fighting on all three fronts relentlessly every season requires mental strength and ridiculous footballing intelligence. Doing so when you are spending millions is easy, as so many often say, but losing key players every summer while integrating new ones, changing tactics and continuing to win with the level of consistency Juve have managed is almost unheard of, particularly for a side that is not spending as much as certain European giants do in one summer.

Juventus have overachieved largely because of their coach. While the leadership of their players and management's ability to spot a talent should also be recognised for their role in creating the formidable success of the team, Allegri is still owed more. Unlike Barcelona and Real Madrid, Juventus isn't full of champions who need little coaching. There is no clear club philosophy that allows Allegri to simply rinse and repeat every season. The current squad, meanwhile, aren't a collection of tremendous players that the likes of Inter and their team can't challenge. Yet no one seems capable of coming near to this Bianconeri side -- not even Napoli, who are having to drop out of competitions as their coach seemingly implied in order to concentrate on trying to win Serie A.

Allegri might never win the Champions League or follow in the mighty footsteps of Fabio Capello and Arrigo Sacchi, but he also didn't have the pleasure of training Frank Rijkaard, Franco Baresi and Marco Van Basten. In his era, with the competition he has in Europe and an ever-changing squad, Allegri should be recognised for his "exceptional work," as Buffon put it, at least in relevant terms, rather than face so much criticism for not playing stylish football or carrying European trophies. After all, how many Champions League finals did Marcello Lippi lose?

Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.

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