Serie A: Juventus and Milan under pressure ahead of crucial meeting in Turin

Juve is at risk of a previously unthinkable failure of missing out on a top four spot, having started the season as title favourite.

Juventus is currently in the third place on 69 points, level with Atalanta in second and AC Milan in fourth, but two points ahead of fifth-placed Napoli.   -  REUTERS

When the 2020/21 Serie A fixture list was produced last year, few would have predicted that AC Milan’s trip to Juventus with four games to go would be a potential Champions League playoff.

The season has gone sour for both clubs recently.

Juve, winner of the last nine league titles, is at risk of a previously unthinkable failure of missing out on a top four spot, having started the season as title favourite.

Milan, meanwhile, had Scudetto aspirations of its own after a superb start to the season kept the team on top of the table until February.

READ: Ronaldo saves Juventus blushes as late brace downs Udinese

Now it will head to Turin on Sunday for a crucial game in both sides' quest to reach European football's top competition next season.

"The team that loses is out," former Juventus and Milan coach Fabio Capello told Corriere della Sera.

"It is not just about the league table. I think the psychological repercussions of a defeat would be very heavy.

"They are already not doing well, they are the two teams in most difficulty. Losing the playoff would be a blow."

Milan bounced back from two straight defeats to beat Benevento 2-0 last weekend, while Juve struggled to a 2-1 win at Udinese.

However, both sides are lacking in form and confidence and have their fair share of off-pitch distractions to deal with.

The Turin club has struggled to find an identity under rookie coach Andrea Pirlo, resulting in incessant speculation that Massimiliano Allegri is set to replace him.

Tensions in Milan came to a head last weekend when a group of hard-line "Ultras" confronted goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, demanding that he either renews his soon-to-expire contract or does not play against Juventus. Milan subsequently froze all contract talks.

Both clubs were involved in the ill-fated European Super League project last month, a move that led to 11 Serie A clubs jointly signing a letter demanding consequences for their actions and Milan President Paolo Scaroni resigning from his position on the league council.

To make matters worse, both teams have had to watch on as their major rivals Inter Milan celebrated wrapping up the league title with four games to spare.

Five points separate Atalanta in second from Lazio in sixth with four games to go, but the Roman club has a game in hand.

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Atalanta, level on 69 points with Juve and Milan, is unbeaten in eight games and will travel to already-relegated Parma on Sunday.

Napoli, two points back in fifth, slipped up with a draw against Cagliari last time out but is otherwise in good form and faces Spezia on Saturday.

Lazio's 4-3 win over Genoa was its 11th home win in a row, a club record, and its seventh victory in the last eight games.

The capital club is at Fiorentina on Saturday and has a favourable run-in, making it difficult to predict the eventual top four make-up.

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