MILAN (Reuters) - On taking over as Juventus coach in June, Maurizio Sarri said he wanted midfielder Miralem Pjanic to have 150 touches of the ball in every match.
The Bosnian now appears to be getting near that mark, touching the ball 127 times in the 2-0 win over SPAL last Saturday, in a sign that Sarri’s new-look Juventus are beginning to take shape — just in time for their biggest match so far.
On Sunday, second-placed Juventus visit leaders Inter Milan in a table-topping Serie A match, hoping to end their opponents’ 100 percent league record.
Inter, under former Juventus coach Antonio Conte, lead with 18 points from six games, two more than the Turin side who are aiming for their ninth successive title. It will be the first time Conte has faced Juventus since leading them to three successive Serie A titles between 2011 and 2014.
Juventus won their last five titles under Massimiliano Allegri but the Turin club still let the phlegmatic coach go during the summer, hoping that Sarri could change their reputation for being at team who win relentlessly but who lack charisma.
One of the chain-smoking Sarri’s first moves was to give Pjanic a wider role in central midfield.
“I’d like to see Miralem Pjanic touch the ball 150 times per game,” Sarri said, “but first we need to teach the rest of the team to find him 150 times.”
Pjanic has readily accepted the challenge.
“There has been a big change from Allegri to Sarri, the way we position ourselves on the field and the way we play has changed,” he said.
“Allegri asked me to try and play the ball out to the flanks: as soon as I had it, I had to switch the play. Instead of that, I now try to pass the ball forward because there are a lot of players ahead of me who move between the lines.”
He added: “I’ve gone step by step but I am playing for one of the best teams in the world and I want to be one of the best midfielders in the world.”
Colombian Juan Cuadrado is another who has been given a new role under Sarri, playing at right back instead of on the right wing.
“He is doing things in the right way,” said Sarri after the 3-0 Champions League win over Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday. “He was tidy, he never lost his composure, he just needs to improve in his defensive work.”
Although Inter have a perfect record in the league, they have taken only one point from their opening two games in the Champions League, much to Conte’s displeasure.
“We must lick our wounds and prepare to play Juventus on Sunday,” he said after Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat to Barcelona.
“I find it difficult to talk in positive terms after a defeat, because I suffer when we lose. I suffer.”
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis