Football: A draw would be great, says Allegri ahead of Champions League tie with Villarreal

Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri will not take the upcoming Champions League last-16, first-leg match against Villarreal on Feb 22, lightly. PHOTO: REUTERS

(REUTERS, AFP) - Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri will not be taking Villarreal lightly ahead of their Champions League last-16, first-leg clash on Tuesday (Feb 22), saying the Spanish team are experts at getting results against Europe's big sides.

Allegri got Juve through four of five Champions League round-of-16 ties during his first spell in charge, his only elimination coming against Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich in 2015-16.

However, Juve have fallen at the last-16 stage in the last two seasons under Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo, with Allegri issuing a warning about the sixth-place La Liga side who beat Arsenal and Manchester United en route to winning the Europa League last term.

"It's not an easy route to the quarter-finals at all, we have a 50 per cent chance of progressing," Allegri told a news conference on Monday.

"They came through a very good group like us.

"They are experts against the very best teams and have got some great recent results. They have a very good coach who does not give advantages.

"Any positive result is good, with the away-goals rule having changed. Before you could lose one and win one and you were through, now it's different. A draw in Spain would be a great result."

Allegri said January signing Dusan Vlahovic will make his Champions League debut at Villarreal, alongside Spanish striker Alvaro Morata.

Morata responded to media reports that he was close to moving to Barcelona in the January transfer window, especially after Vlahovic's €70 million (S$107 million) signing.

"It is not important (whether he was close to Barca move)," he said.

"I talked to the coach about it when the transfer market was there and we talked about the ideas he had. He told me how important Dusan's arrival would be for me and so it was. If it were up to me, I would always stay here at Juventus."

On Allegri’s role in persuading him to stay, Morata said: “I have always felt his confidence, since we started working together. He is the first to ask me things, but he knows what I am and what I am not.

“He told me that I had to stay and that he trusted me. Now I have to give everything to return his trust.”

On his new strike partner, who had already hit 20 goals in 25 games for Fiorentina, Morata said: “Dusan has given us all extra energy. You can see in his eyes how much he is looking forward to tomorrow’s match. He only brings positive things. He is young and he has a wonderful career ahead of him. He’s adapted right away.”

Allegri, though, wanted to calm expectations around the 22-year-old Vlahovic.

“Vlahovic is just starting in the Champions League,” the Italian said.

“You can’t put all the responsibility on him because you need a lot of experience that he doesn’t have, you have to support him. When he has played 60 or 70 games, he will be a totally different player. It’s not just a technical question, but also a psychological one, a question of pressure.”

Juventus, sitting in fourth place in Serie A, have enjoyed an upturn in form in recent weeks, although two consecutive draws against Atalanta and Torino have dented their hopes of a late challenge for the league title.

Villarreal have also improved in the second half of the season, losing only once in their last 10 La Liga games.

“They’re coming off a good period, like us,” said Allegri, who also confirmed Leonardo Bonucci would be available after recovering from injury.

“They are a top team, with a lot of physicality. I think it will be a tactical match, decided by little details.”

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