ROME, March 5 – All eyes will be on Rome's Stadio Olimpico on Saturday night as Inter Milan's two Serie A title rivals fight it out to see who will earn the right to pursue the champions to the end.AS Roma host AC Milan with both sides knowing defeat could signal the death of their championship chances.
Milan trail Inter by four points with Roma a further three points back.
Neither team can afford to lose but even victory might not be enough to keep either side in the hunt and Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani suggested as much as he took a begrudging dig at Inter.
"From an aesthetic point of view, this match is the best that Serie A has to offer at the moment," he said.
"The two teams have to put on a show because the stadium will be full.
"I’m not worried about these big matches, I’m just delighted to be able to watch them.
"And the two sets of fans should be satisfied because at the beginning of the season they would have all taken a second or third place which guarantees you qualification for next season’s Champions League group stages."
If Roma win they will draw level on points with Milan but will have momentum on their side as they still have not been beaten in the league since October — 16 matches ago.
Having been dumped out of the Europa League last week they have only an Italian Cup semi-final next month to distract them from their title bid while both Milan and Inter still have at least one eye on the Champions League.
If Roma were to lose it would surely spell the end of their hopes, while if Milan were to lose it would be hard to see how they could still retain some realistic hope.
It is in exactly these kind of tests that teams demonstrate their championship mettle and with Inter still to visit Roma’s ground, the giallorossi can still hope to deal a blow to Jose Mourinho’s team’s hopes of recording a fifth title in a row.
But even if a victory would leave Roma and Milan on equal points, it would show once again that Milan are not capable of taking that final step towards a sustained challenge to Inter.
Whereas Roma, whose form has been magnificent since October, would have more hope simply because it was only due to a poor start that they are not at least neck-and-neck with Inter.
Their run over the last 16 matches has also included trips to Inter, Juventus, Fiorentina, Napoli and Sampdoria — notoriously dififcult away trips.
And this run could have been even better but for two late collapses from 2-0 leads away to both Cagliari and Napoli.
Even so, more than Milan they appear to have the consistency and grit needed to eke out the results needed to push Inter to the wire.
Although Milan have the points in the bag, they have had their chances but have failed to take them.
Ahead of the last Milan derby in January Milan knew a win would leave them just three points behind Inter with a game in hand.
And yet despite playing with a numerical advantage for more than an hour, they were still well beaten.
And even when Inter drew three games in a row in February, Milan could not fully capitalise as they dropped points away to minnows Bologna and Livorno — had they won both they would be level with Inter.
Inter will have three players back from suspension — Muntari Sulley, Walter Samuel and Ivan Cordoba — when they host Genoa on Sunday.
Fifth-placed Juventus face the first in a series of tough away fixtures that could make or break their season.
Over their next four matches they face three trips, to Fiorentina on Saturday and then Sampdoria and Napoli, three teams fighting with Juve for the final Champions League spot.
Depending on how they fare, Juve’s Champions League hopes could look either very rosy or very bleak.
Fiorentina v Juventus, AS Roma v AC Milan
Atalanta v Udinese, Bari v Chievo, Bologna v Napoli, Cagliari v Catania, Inter Milan v Genoa, Palermo v Livorno, Sampdoria v Lazio, Siena v Parma