Juventus coach Ciro Ferrara said he wants his team to be stubborn when they face AC Milan at Turin's Stadio Olimpico on Sunday in a win-at-all-costs match. Juve trail champions and Serie A leaders Inter Milan by nine points, having ended 2009 with five defeats from their last six matches in all competitions, including a 2-1 home defeat to then rock-bottom Catania.
And despite beginning 2010 with a stuttering 2-1 win at Parma, defeat at home to Milan would almost certainly signal the end of their interest in the scudetto race. Worse still, Milan are in a fine run of form, despite a home loss against Palermo at the end of last year. Milan came into that match on the back of a five-game winning run in the league and started the new year with a 5-2 defeat of porous Genoa.
"We need to be stubborn in this type of match and we must restrict Milan's technical ability while also showing our qualities," said Ferrara before shying away from describing the match as a final. "I'm not talking about a final because every time I use that term it brings bad luck.
"It will be a match of the highest quality, highly anticipated, intense and it will be great for those who play."
Juve are only one point behind second placed Milan, although the rossonero have played one game fewer. However, the Old Lady of Turin crashed out of the UEFA Champions League following successive defeats to Bordeaux and Bayern Munich and Ferrara knows he is under pressure.
"Recent results have influenced opinions. There's an important difference, though. We missed out on qualification for the Champions League, but in the league we started off well and, now that we're going through a difficult spell, opinions are changing," he said.
"Our start was clearly better than Milan's, although over time they found their own conviction and started getting results. But we have almost the same number of points. Hence, we've taken different routes to obtain the same goal in the first half of the season."
A great opportunity
The simple fact, though, is that Juve won their first four games of the season and since then their form has been no better than the teams in mid-table: six wins, three draws and five defeats. But while Ferrara has tried to play down the importance of this one match, Milan coach Leonardo has no intention of doing so and has been building it up as much as he can.
"Heading into this match against Juventus, we have made great progress - not just in terms of results, but also in terms of our play and we're second with a game in hand," he said. "These type of games are what mark your league campaign.
"Tomorrow's clash will be a great opportunity for both clubs to make a jump in the standings, not just because of the three points on offer, but also for the stimulus a victory would give."
And Leonardo, who should keep faith with former England captain David Beckham on the right of his three-pronged forward line, insists he is not treating Juve lightly.
"I'm not under-estimating tomorrow's opponents. Right now Juve are being criticised due to their Champions League elimination, but they are right behind us in the league," he said. "They're not dead as some have suggested recently because if you look at how they play, their players are trying hard.
"They've had a lot of injuries, but I think Ferrara has transmitted his serenity to the team. He has the club's backing."