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Sousa laments timing of Juventus clash

Paulo Sousa concedes he would have preferred for Fiorentina to face Juventus during their early struggles in Serie A.

Juve began their Scudetto defence with just three wins from the opening 10 fixtures, but a run of five straight victories has propelled them up to fifth position and back into the title hunt.

And Sousa feels his side now face a sterner challenge against Massimiliano Allegri's team than they would have earlier in the campaign, while admitting Europa League participation has hampered Fiorentina's preparation.

"Juventus are chasing the pack, but the confidence of four years of success allowed them to stay calm," Sousa, whose men beat Belenenses 1-0 on Thursday, said.

"Unfortunately for us, Juventus are on fine form now. We hoped to face them earlier.

"It will be a very difficult game, because this Juve is in great shape and found their best system. They defend very well and everyone is involved in protecting the back three, then counter-attacking.

"They have quality individuals, so we have to play at a very high level to contain them and, at times, dominate so we can win.

"Unfortunately we had two fewer days to prepare for this game and tactically that can mean a lot, but on the bright side we have a five-point advantage over Juventus, so that makes me happy."

The 45-year-old considers fourth-placed Roma to be strong contenders for the title, but is attempting to instill a new competitive mentality within his team.

"Roma, in my view, are the most balanced team," Sousa added.

"Since Juve found their balance again they are the strongest defensively, the most mature and know how to read the various moments of the game.

"Fiorentina will be increasingly courageous and ambitious. All my decisions so far in Florence have been aimed at replacing fear and concern with courage and ambition, to play for the victory from start to finish."