Juventus wear and tear starting to show

MILAN – Serie A leaders Juventus are already showing the strains of a long season and things are only going to get tougher with at least eight matches looming in the next 30 days.

Weary and irritable, Juve were a far cry from January’s polished outfit as they scrambled a 1-0 win at bottom club Catania on Sunday.

Midfielder Arturo Vidal, playing his 43rd match of the season, was among those who struggled to find his normal rhythm and Chile may be worried he will be burned out by the time the World Cup in Brazil comes around in June.

The Europa League, with its extra round of 32, seems to have taken an additional toll on Juve who lack the strength in depth of other top continental sides.

Although they have a 14-point lead over AS Roma at the top of Serie A and look almost certain to clinch a third successive title, the signs are Juve will stagger over the finish line rather than sprint home.

“The Europa League forces us to play every three days and we need to keep our foot firmly on the accelerator,” said coach Antonio Conte ahead of Wednesday’s home game with Parma.

“We want to progress in the competition and we’ll aim to manage our resources.”

“It’s a difficult moment in terms of injuries and the same names are involved in every game but all my lads are showing themselves to be great men as well as great players,” added Conte.

Juve have won four of their last five games by single goals, in two cases provided by majestic Andrea Pirlo free kicks, while the other was a 1-1 draw with Fiorentina.

It is all very different to earlier in the season when they were regularly banging in three or four goals a game.

They also now have defenders Andrea Barzagli and Angelo Ogbonna, midfielders Claudio Marchisio and Federico Peluso and forward Mirko Vucinic on the injured list.

Juve’s relentless schedule continues against Parma followed by a visit to third-placed Napoli on Sunday.

Italy’s sole survivors in European competition then visit Olympique Lyonnais for the first leg of a Europa League quarter-final on April 3.

“There are nine games left in the Serie A season so we’ll try to balance the energy levels out,” said Conte.

Roberto Donadoni’s Parma, joint fifth in Serie A and unbeaten in their last 17 league matches, are the sort of side Juve could slip up against.

Second-placed Roma (64 points), who look set to finish as runners-up and take Serie A’s only other automatic Champions League place, host Torino on Tuesday.

Napoli, in the Champions League playoff spot in third position, travel to Catania on Wednesday and need to bounce back quickly from Sunday’s home defeat against Fiorentina which left them only seven points ahead of the fourth-placed Viola.

Fiorentina are at home to Clarence Seedorf’s troubled AC Milan who have managed only one point in four league games. (Reuters)

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