Juve taking nothing for granted in Europa League
PARIS - Agence France-Presse
REUTERS PhotoJuventus are theoretically only four matches away from a Europa League final date in their own Turin stadium.
But the runaway Italian league leaders are unlikely to go into Thursday's quarter-final first leg away against French club Lyon taking anything for granted.
That is especially the case after they suffered only their second league defeat in 31 matches at the hands of Napoli at the weekend. So Juve will be keen to make sure that 2-0 reverse does not signal the start of a slump.
Coach Antonio Conte sounded a warning after the visit to Napoli when he said: "There are tired legs in my squad, that's inevitable when you've been playing every three days and are unable to rotate due to injuries."
Having struggled to see off Italian rivals Fiorentina in the previous round, with the indefatigable Andrea Pirlo scoring the only goal in the second leg for a 2-1 aggregate victory, Juve will nonetheless start as favourites to book their berth in the last four.
"It's a difficult draw against Lyon, even if many people are already talking about Juventus in the final," said Pavel Nedved, the former Czech playmaker who is now on Juve's board.
"We need to take it very seriously. No rival should be underestimated. We really are not thinking about playing in the final at home. We must focus on the quarter-finals."
Lyon, one of three sides in the quarter-finals yet to win a major UEFA club trophy along with AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands and Swiss club Basel, have never faced Juventus, their neighbours from across the Alps, before.
They go into the game on the back of a defeat, a 2-1 reverse at home to local rivals Saint-Etienne that effectively ended their chances of a top-three finish in Ligue 1 that brings with it qualification for next season's Champions League.
They are also struggling with injuries just now, with fragile playmaker Yoann Gourcuff hurting an ankle at the weekend and fellow creative lynchpin Clement Grenier one of a host of others in the treatment room.
Swiss champions Basel will have to play their first-leg clash against 2004 UEFA Cup winners Valencia behind closed doors after being punished for the violent behaviour of their fans.
UEFA also fined FC Basel 107,000 euros ($147,500) after objects, including cigarette lighters, were thrown on to the pitch in their last-16 clash against Salzburg, with the referee halting the game for 10 minutes.
AZ take on Benfica, last season's beaten finalists who saw off Tottenham Hotspur in the last round.
The last Spanish representatives, Sevilla, travel to face 2011 winners Porto, who ended Napoli's interest in the competition with a 3-2 win on aggregate in the last round.
The return legs are scheduled for a week on Thursday, April 10.