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Ronaldo to the rescue: Portugal superstar saves Andrea Pirlo and Juventus with late brace to keep Champions League chase alive

On the day their rivals Inter were crowned champions, Cristiano Ronaldo kept Juventus’ hopes of finishing in the top four alive by sinking Udinese with a late double that could have saved under-pressure manager Andrea Pirlo’s job.

Reports before kick off claimed that Pirlo could be fired if he failed to win at the Stadio Friuli, and Nahuel Molina’s goal after 10 minutes threatened to derail the visitors’ quest for a consolatory Champions League place, as well as the 2006 World Cup legend prospects of seeking a new employer by the turn of the week.

Argentina international Rodrigo De Paul caught the Old Lady napping with a quick free-kick which sent compatriot Molina down the right flank, unleashing a vicious strike that sneaked past Wojciech Szczesny despite the Poland goalkeeper managed to apply a touch to it.

Taking their lead down the tunnel at half time, Udinese started strongly again after the interval with Tolgay Arslan hitting just wide.

When Ronaldo had a weak attempt smothered easily, Juventus looked as though they might never find a way through. 

But the Serie A top scorer always does, with De Paul going from assist hero to zero by putting an elbow on the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s free-kick in the box. 

After CR7 smashed the resulting penalty past Simone Scuffet, who was starting his first game for Udinese since 2018, the visitors went for the jugular.

In the 89th minute, Ronaldo met an Adrien Rabiot cross at the back post and headed in to trigger a passionate sprint from Pirlo down the touchline in celebration, as Juve finished 2-1 winners, leaving them joint second with Atalanta and AC Milan.

“This victory arrived with determination and fight. We once again made life complicated for ourselves but we wanted to bring home the result right to the end and that’s what is important,” Pirlo told Sky Sport Italia.

“It was particularly crucial considering the results from this afternoon. This is a group that’s strong: it wants to fight for its targets and we never lacked that.

“Sometimes the attitude during the game was not worthy of Juventus, but the final embrace was a show of our unity. Now we need to continue with this spirit.

“I thought it’d be a bit less stressful and emotional, but when you win games like this at the end, it gives you the energy to keep going.”

“There’s fatigue, both physical and mental, so when you’re used to challenging for the [Italian title] Scudetto and not the Champions League, something changes. We have adapted – it’s a struggle, but we need to get there.”

Pirlo gave credit where it was due to his former manager, Antonio Conte.“I congratulate Inter and the boss for this deserved title,” he said, discussing the runaway leaders who have won the league with four matches to spare.

“Now we need to change because we want to be the champions again. One era ends after [Juve won] nine consecutive Scudetti – another will now begin and we aim to be back there.”

Udinese director Pierpaolo Marino was less cordial, alleging that Juventus chief Fabio Paratici tried to “intimidate” and “influence” the referee.

“I am angry because my team put in a great performance and I am here to protect their hard work,” he raged.

“The Ronaldo free-kick that led to the penalty should’ve been a free kick in Udinese’s favor instead.

“I am a veteran of football, so I’ve seen before those who cling to complaining over the lack of first-half stoppages to intimidate the referee.

“Then after that, the referee can give a penalty for a free kick that was non-existent. It’s [Juventus winger] Juan Cuadrado who fouls [defender] Jens Stryger-Larsen, not the other way round.

“It was a blatant error and cannot be ignored. I believe the referee was influenced by this verbal assault at half-time by the Juve directors, staff, coaches and players.

“The way they were behaving, it was as if they’d lost because there weren’t 40 seconds of stoppages.

“This sort of thing belongs to football of another era. I spoke out against it then and I’ll speak out against it now.”
Also on rt.com Ronaldo and Pirlo will BOTH be at Juventus next season, says Pavel Nedved

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Ronaldo and Pirlo will BOTH be at Juventus next season, says Pavel Nedved

Pavel Nedved has come out strongly to dispel rumors that either Cristiano Ronaldo or Andrea Pirlo could be leaving the club this summer.

In an interview with DAZN, the Juventus vice-chairman insisted that Ronaldo “can’t be touched” while stating Pirlo will “100 percent” be in charge of the club next season.

The news comes in light of recent speculation that Ronaldo would be allowed to leave the club for the right price. On Tuesday, it was reported that offers of €25 million ($ 29.5 millon) would be accepted for Ronaldo, should the Portuguese superstar want to leave Italy.
Also on rt.com Juventus ‘prepared to listen to €25 million bids’ for Cristiano Ronaldo
Speaking in an interview, Nedved asserted: “For me, Ronaldo can’t be touched. He has a contract until June 30, 2022 and will stay. What happens after that remains to be seen.

“Cristiano, both technically and in terms of image, pushed us towards the peak of football. On a technical level, you can’t fault him. He’s scored more than 100 goals in 120 games and he dragged us into the Champions League.

“We can criticize him – we all have to be open to criticism when we make a mistake – but to question his numbers and what he gives us in every game, for me, isn’t fair.

“He’s a simple guy, even if it doesn’t seem like that from the outside. Kids will study his physique and his career. He’s the prototype of the modern player who, with immense talent and a lot of work, has achieved incredible goals.”

He then expressed his confidence in the club’s Italian head coach: “Pirlo is, and will be, the Juventus coach. 100 percent. We committed to a project with Andrea knowing the difficulties that would arise. The difficulties were foreseen.

“We have a new coach with a very rejuvenated squad at our disposal. We are very calm – we’re on the path we wanted to be and will continue on this path.

“He has everything to become a great coach.”
Also on rt.com Andrea Pirlo or Cristiano Ronaldo: It is one or the other, not both for Juventus

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Andrea Pirlo or Cristiano Ronaldo: It is one or the other, not both for Juventus

When Juventus signed Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018, they had won seven consecutive Serie A titles. They did not spend over €100 million on a man in his 30s to help win another league title – they spent it to win the Champions League.

In some ways, it made a lot of sense. After all, Ronaldo is a Champions League specialist. He has won the tournament five times. However, four of those wins were with Real Madrid, arguably the kings of that competition. Juventus, on the other hand, are not quite so adept on the European scene and have not captured Europe’s biggest club prize since 1996.

Fast forward to 2021, and what has Ronaldo achieved with Juventus? In his first season, a league title and a Supercoppa, but not the Champions League. The issue, Juventus decide, is the manager. So Massimiliano Allegri is gone.

Next year, under Maurizio Sarri, it’s more of the same. Another domestic double but no European trophy. Plus, Sarri and Ronaldo don’t seem to click, so out goes the Italian – Ciao, Maurizio.

In a panic, a new manager is needed. Somebody with the club’s DNA. Andrea Pirlo is the man. Sure, he only took charge of the U23 team nine days ago, but he was won everything as a player – including the Champions League, twice!

At the end of this first season in charge, Pirlo will not be a Champions League winner, not even a Serie A winner. It turns out, he wasn’t quite as ready as everyone at the Bianconeri had hoped. And there is nothing to suggest, with any realism, that by the start of next season Juventus, with Ronaldo and Pirlo, will be good enough to win the Champions League.

Ronaldo’s current contract runs out in the summer of 2022. If he stays with Juventus, he will have one year to win the Champions League, or else he would have failed as a signing. Sure, he has scored goals and won titles, but Juve were doing that just fine without him. Aside from the commercial revenue gained by having one of the game’s biggest stars, there has been little else to prove this was a deal worth doing for Juventus. 

As mentioned, if both Ronaldo and Pirlo are at Juventus next season, it is highly unlikely they will win the Champions League. So, the Italian giants must make their call. Do they fire Pirlo, find a new manager and hope to get the best out of Ronaldo for one last season? Or do they sell Ronaldo, put faith in young talent such as Federico Chiesa and Dejan Kulusevski, and allow Pirlo the time to fulfil his potential as a manager of the next few years?

As we approach the summer, rumors are already beginning to stir. AS English have reported that Juve would be willing to listen to offers around €25 million for the Portuguese star. While former Real Madrid forward Antonio Cassano was warned Pirlo that Ronaldo is a “big problem”.

The ex-Italy international said: “Juve already got burned last year, because Sarri was unable to find the right chemistry with him, and some other players, and what do you do? You take another coach who would like to play football and you still have Cristiano Ronaldo as a blocker for that.

“If you have chosen the path of [playing a certain type of] football, Ronaldo is not good. He is someone you have to give the ball to and he scores, thinking about his records. Ronaldo is not what he was four years ago.”

Finances could also be a problem if Juventus wanted to replace Pirlo. As reported, the club announced losses of more than €113 million ($ 155 million) for the first six months of the 2020-21 season. That makes any moves for top managerial targets such as Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola rather unlikely.

Still, Juventus will have to cut their losses on either Pirlo or Ronaldo at some point. The sad truth is, they likely cannot succeed with both. To delay a year would just be a waste of time and money. So, who will it be? Ronaldo or Pirlo?

By Hal Fish

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