Clubs, Gonzalo Higuaín, Italian Serie A, Juventus, Story

Alexis Nunes and Stevie Nicol go head-to-head in predicting Wednesday’s Champions League fixtures.

Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri insists he does not want to hear any more negativity about Gonzalo Higuain as he defended his decision to leave him out at the weekend.

Higuain was dropped for Juve’s 4-0 win over Torino after finding the back of the net only twice in the first five games of the season.

That goal return had drawn criticism in the Italian media and all eyes will be on whether the Argentine striker starts against Olympiakos on Wednesday night, but Allegri says that even if he does not play, it is not because he is unhappy with his performances.

“I will decide tomorrow after final training who will be the four players up front, but I repeat for the umpteenth time that Higuain is not a problem,” Allegri said at a news conference on Tuesday. “It would be a problem if he wasn’t a Juventus player.

“It happens that one of Higuain, [Paulo] Dybala or [Mario] Mandzukic could be out for a game or two. Fortunately we’re playing every three days, which means we’re in the Champions League, the league and the Coppa Italia, but I certainly don’t see a problem with Higuain.

“Gonzalo is serene. Regardless of the coach’s decisions, a player has got to work to be ready when asked upon. I decided to leave him out on Saturday he came on and did well. He needs to remain serene and think of being himself, nothing more and nothing less.”

Allegri confirmed that Miralem Pjanic and Blaise Matuidi will start on Wednesday with Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira not yet fit to start, while he will take a late decision over whether Andrea Barzagli will play alongside Giorgio Chiellini in the centre of his defence or wide on the right.

Barzagli, 36, says he does not mind where he plays — joking he would even play up front — but was serious when it came to discussing the Bianconeri’s ambitions this season.

“We know how much we care about this tournament — the Champions League is the ultimate for any footballer,” he said. “I think tomorrow’s game is crucial — it’s too important for us to win. Then after that, we’ll think of the next two games. It’s not worth thinking about trying to finish top of the group right now, we just have to think of tomorrow night.

“Clearly we’ve realised over the past few years how you need to play in the Champions League. We’ve learnt from our mistakes — losing two finals is tough, but we’ve learned from them. The Champions League is made of periods, of fortune, of how you are in the knockout rounds.

“It’s complicated to win it and you have to be good, but then you need a lot of things to come together too.”

“I’ve got to say we’re a very convinced group of lads, in which we all feel important, which is crucial. We’ve got ambitions this year too and Juve have improved and taken giant leaps forward. It’s going to be a difficult year given the objectives we’ve got, but bit by bit we hope to fulfil them all.”

Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.

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