Juventus looking for calm ahead of decisive derby at Inter

(AP Photo/Antonio Calanni, file)

By DANIELLA MATAR

Associated Press

MILAN (AP) Juventus' seemingly unstoppable march to a record-extending seventh straight league title has hit a bump in the road.

Last week, the defending champions held a six-point lead at the top of Serie A. But after a 1-1 draw at Crotone and a 1-0 loss to title rival Napoli, Juventus will head into Saturday's match at Inter Milan with only a one point lead with four games to go.

"We have thrown away five very important points in the last couple of matches, but we're still in first place, albeit with a narrow lead," Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said. "We must try to keep that until the end of the season. This is our objective and our duty."

Italian media reported that Buffon had a heated locker-room spat with teammate Medhi Benatia after Sunday's match, blaming him for a late error which led to Kalidou Koulibaly's last-minute goal.

Buffon said the news was "clearly invented gossip."

"It attempts to destabilize an environment and undermine the confidence and togetherness of a group," the Juventus captain said. "Nobody, at least in my 17 years at Juventus, has taken it upon themselves to point the finger at another teammate, blaming them for a defeat, and this will never happen while I am captain of this team."

Instead, Juventus needs some wins, and it would certainly help if Paulo Dybala starts scoring consistently again.

The 24-year-old Argentina forward has scored a career-high 21 league goals this season but it has been a campaign full of ups and downs. Dybala started strongly, scoring 10 goals in the opening six league matches. That was only one less than his tally from last season.

But he then had a drop in form and was injured at the beginning of 2018. Since his return, he has scored more goals but he has become anonymous at times during matches.

The low point came on Sunday when Dybala was substituted at halftime, his second straight match without a shot on target.

At San Siro, Dybala has failed to find the target even once in his Juventus career.

Inter striker Mauro Icardi, on the other hand, seems to relish facing Juventus. The Argentine has scored seven goals in 10 league matches against Juventus, including three in four matches at San Siro.

Overall, Icardi is second in scoring in Serie A this season, with three less than Lazio forward Ciro Immobile.

Inter is also playing for a spot in the Champions League, making Saturday's match even more important for the hosts. The team is fifth in Serie A, a point behind Roma and Lazio. Only the top four qualify for the Champions League.

Juventus has to think ahead, too.

"The match against Inter is decisive, but the games that follow against Bologna, Roma and Hellas Verona will also be so," Buffon said. "And there's also the Italian Cup final."

Updated April 26, 2018

Sports Data API Powered by STATS © 2018 by STATS.
Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited.

Partner of USATODAY Sports Digital Properties