Juventus target scudetto after Europa exit

MILAN - After literally being frozen out of the Europa League, Juventus can now concentrate on Serie A with resurgent midfielders Felipe Melo and Alberto Aquilani again likely to be key figures in Sunday's trip to Catania.

The pair were near laughing stocks last season with Brazil's excitable Felipe Melo often being booed by his own fans for his lacklustre performances while Aquilani hardly got a game for Liverpool amid an injury nightmare.

This season has been completely different with on-loan Aquilani impressing so much he has won back his place in the Italy squad while Felipe Melo has just done the basics well.

The central midfielders have helped Juve rise up to third in the table after a sticky start under new coach Luigi Del Neri with their two league defeats from 14 games coming when former AS Roma player Aquilani has not started.

He was ineligible for the Europa League after an appearance for Liverpool so he missed Wednesday's elimination after their fifth draw from five games in the group match at Lech Poznan, where temperatures dipped to as low as -15.

Thick snow also covered the pitch in the second half.

"We shouldn't have played," Del Neri told reporters.

Juve seem not too upset to have exited the competition.

The twice European champions, still recovering from a 2006 match-fixing demotion, see themselves as Champions League regulars and the uninspiring Europa League was only threatening to sap resources for an assault on the Serie A title.

"Juve are worthy of the scudetto," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli told reporters.

KRASIC SPRIGHTLY

They lie six points behind leaders AC Milan but have scored 26 goals this term, more than any other Serie A team.

The goals have been spread across the side, with new winger Milos Krasic looking particularly sprightly, but the striking quartet of Alessandro Del Piero, Fabio Quagliarella, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Amauri have lacked consistency.

Amauri's injury problems have also dragged on so a new forward may be on the cards in January with media reports saying Antonio Cassano, banished at Del Neri's former club Sampdoria for abusive behaviour, is an option.

Argentine Maxi Lopez, the main striker for Sunday's opponents Catania, has also been heavily linked with Turin.

Leaders Milan host Brescia on Saturday with Ronaldinho again expected to be left on the bench and the slowing Andrea Pirlo given no guarantees of a starting spot as coach Massimiliano Allegri shows his muscle.

Second-placed Lazio, three points behind Milan, entertain fifth-placed champions Inter Milan on Friday before Rafael Benitez's side jet off to the Club World Cup in the UAE with their injury crisis easing slightly.

A strike by the players' union is planned for the weekend after but the parties still hope for a deal with Serie A over a collective contract to avert the industrial action.


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