A rested Cristiano Ronaldo is a dangerous Cristiano Ronaldo. Just ask Atletico Madrid.
Ronaldo took some time off before the second leg of the last 16 in the Champions League and responded with a hat trick against the Spanish team as Juventus overturned a 2-0 deficit.
He was again left out of the squad on Saturday — along with a number of other regulars — ahead of the quarterfinal return match against Ajax on Tuesday.
Against Spal in Serie A, Juventus had only two players in its starting lineup that began in the 1-1 draw in Amsterdam. The team needed only one point to secure a record-extending eighth straight Serie A title. The second-string team lost 2-1.
However, with six league games remaining, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri wasn’t too perturbed — even it means the club cannot surpass the Serie A record of 102 points it set in 2013-14.
“Making records is very difficult, you have to spend energy and there is also Europe to concentrate on,” Allegri said. “If we had put to put all our starters in, it would have been easier to win it, but there is the goal to obtain on Tuesday.
“We have made 27 victories, three draws and two defeats and this is an impressive record.”
After playing Ronaldo in almost every match in the first half of the season — even while being accused of raping a woman in 2009 in the United States — Juventus is realizing how best to use the 34-year-old Portugal forward.
In his last two seasons at Real Madrid, Ronaldo was pacing himself, skipping games that he would have normally played in previous years, and that meant he peaked at just the right time.
Ronaldo scored one goal in his first six Champions League matches for Juventus — and also got his first red card in the competition. He has four goals in his past two games.
Ronaldo had an enforced rest before the first leg of the quarterfinals after injuring a thigh muscle two weeks previously while playing for Portugal. He returned for the match in Amsterdam and scored Juventus’ goal.
In Ronaldo’s absence, teenager Moise Kean has been given more of a chance and has thrived. Kean has scored six goals in his past six matches for Juventus and Italy’s national team and Allegri hinted he might have a role to play against Ajax.
“Everyone is needed on Tuesday, even on a mental level,” Allegri said, “and that’s why it’s important to have Kean in these conditions.”
STIRRING IT UP
AC Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso apologized for his players after their 1-0 victory, and Lazio midfielder Francesco Acerbi accused his opponents of “stirring up hatred.”
In a match vital to both teams’ chances of qualifying for next year’s Champions League, tension was high in the buildup, including a spat on social media after Acerbi said Lazio was “better man for man” than Milan.
Acerbi seemingly tried to put an end to the matter by swapping shirts with Tiemoue Bakayoko after the match, but the Milan midfielder and teammate Franck Kessie waved it in front of their supporters like a trophy.
“I am disappointed because I swapped shirts to put an end to the matter,” Acerbi posted on twitter . “Stirring up hatred is not sport, but a sign of weakness.”
Gattuso soon apologized.
“You don’t do these things,” the Milan coach said. “A professional player should use social networks as little as possible and instead concentrate on doing an extra hour of training.”
Both Kessie and Bakayoko later apologized to Acerbi on social media, saying they only wanted “to joke.”
There was also a brawl immediately after the final whistle, with several members of the bench joining in.
Milan is in fourth place and the final Champions League spot. It has six more points than eighth-place Lazio, which has played a match less.
The two teams will meet again at the San Siro on April 24 in the second leg of the Italian Cup semifinals. The first match ended 0-0.