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Preview: Pirlo peaking as Juventus eye key Olympiakos win

AFP, Tuesday 4 Nov 2014
Juventus's Andrea Pirlo, second from right, celebrates with teammates at the end of a Serie A soccer match between Empoli and Juventus at the Carlo Castellani stadium, in Empoli, Italy, Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014.(Photo: AP)
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Italian midfield star Andrea Pirlo appears to be hitting peak form in time for a crucial clash against Olympiakos on Tuesday that could prove decisive for Juventus's hopes of qualifying from Group A in the Champions League.

The Turin giants' last-16 chances are hanging in the balance after dropping to third in the group, three points adrift of Atletico Madrid and Olympiakos, following respective away defeats to the pair in the past month.

With a tricky away trip to Swedish champions Malmo and a home clash against Atletico still to come, Massimiliano Allegri's men realistically need a win in Turin on Tuesday if they are to keep their knockout phase hopes alive.

But if Pirlo's form is any indicator, Juventus fans could be forgiven for believing they are about to finally turn the corner following a nightmare month of October that saw them held by Sassuolo and lose to Genoa in Serie A.

The 35-year-old has been steadily rebuilding form since returning from a long injury lay-off in time for a bad-tempered 3-2 win over Roma on October 5, and broke his league drought with the opener in a a 2-0 win over Empoli on Saturday.

"I'm improving, doing well during the week and I feel better with every game I play. I hope to be back in peak condition as soon as possible," said Pirlo.

But the joy of restoring a three-point lead over Roma, who lost 2-0 to Napoli earlier in the day, has been eclipsed by the more pressing matter of beating Michel's Greek champions.

- Onslaught -

"Every match is a final for us, not just this one, but Olympiakos will be a crucial encounter," Juve midfielder Arturo Vidal, who underlined the need or an early goal on Tuesday, told Sky Sport Italia.

Olympiakos's 1-0 win in Piraeus a fortnight ago was down to Pajtim Kasami's clinical 36th-minute finish, although much of the credit after the game went to Spanish goalkeeper Roberto for repelling a second-half onslaught from the visitors.

The Chilean international added: "They played their game in our first meeting, scoring from one of the two moves they strung together. This time we need to score quickly and put in a really good performance."

Pirlo said Juve's weekend win was "an important sign - mainly for ourselves - that enables us to prepare as best we can for Tuesday's game".

He added: "It’s like a final for us. We have to play well because only one result will do."

The victory came at little cost. Allegri's usual strike pair of Carlos Tevez, who made a cameo appearance after 68 minutes, and Fernando Llorente were both rested as Alvaro Morata partnered Sebastian Giovinco for the first time.

Paul Pogba also spent the entire match on the bench, underlining the French midfielder's importance to Allegri for a match that Juve are desperate to win.

"Now we need to think about the next game, which is a must-win for us," said Morata, who saw several attempts saved by Roberto in their away trip to Olympiakos but who hit his second goal of the season on Saturday.

While Juve moved three points clear at the top of Italy's top flight, Olympiakos struggled to a scoreless draw away to 10-man Asteras Tripolis at the weekend.

The result saw the Greek champions close the gap on leaders PAOK Salonika to two points although they have played a game more.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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