ROME, Italy, March 2 – After last weekend’s nailbiting affair between the two left AC Milan a point clear, Juventus will hope to take command in Serie A on Saturday with a seemingly easier fixture than their rivals.
The ‘Old Lady’ were lucky to escape from the San Siro with a point after Sulley Muntari had a header ruled out despite crossing the line and now the Turin outfit will look to beat midtable Chievo.
Milan, having played a game more, head for Palermo a point clear of Chievo and clearly a tougher proposition in front of their partisan fans, whom they have treated to 10 home league successes for only two losses.
A win for Juve and a draw for the rossoneri would put Antonio Conte’s men top of the heap as they chase down their first Scudetto since 2003 – since when seven coaches have come and gone before the arrival of Conte, a veteran of more than 400 league games in the black and white.
As the leading pair jostle for glory the ripples from last weekend’s confrontation saw the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) investigate alleged misconduct by Milan’s Philippe Mexes and Muntari and Juve’s Milan old boy Andrea Pirlo.
French centre-back Mexes punched former Roma colleague Marco Borriello to earn himself a three-match suspension, while his Ghanaian team-mate Muntari escaped sanction after shoving Stephan Lichtsteiner.
Pirlo likewise escaped punishment for elbowing Mark van Bommel.
Juve remain unbeaten but have drawn 11 of their 24 games.
They finished the match at San Siro with 10 men after Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal was shown a late red card for a nasty foul on Dutch enforcer van Bommel.
As well as being without Mexes, Milan must also come through a fortnight without forward Alexandre Pato with a thigh strain – his 13th injury in barely two years.
Sunday sees the Rome derby between AS Roma and Lazio.
Lazio, who won the season’s first derby right at the death, will expect to bag full points as they chase down the top two — they are currently level on 45 points with third-placed Udinese, who take on Atalanta.
But Roma, blowing hot and cold under Luis Enrique, can overhaul Napoli and move into fifth with a win.
The Neapolitans, likely to rest several key names ahead of their potentially season-defining Champions League visit to Chelsea, host Parma looking to cut the five-point gap on Lazio.
As AC Milan chase the title and set their sights on a place in the Champions League quarter-finals with a four-goal cushion protecting them in their Arsenal return Tuesday, local rivals Inter can only pray for a win over Catania.
A dreadful run of seven defeats and a draw in their last eight outings has heaped pressure on coach Claudio Ranieri with the team nine points off the Champions League qualifying places.
It says much for Inter’s slump that a Catania win would lift them level with Ranieri’s men.
Even so the former Chelsea and Valencia boss, who only a year ago was packing his bags after his Roma adventure turned sour, appears to retain the support of his players.
“We are all behind the manager,” insists Argentine striker Diego Milito.
“We know that when things are going badly the first to pay the price is the coach – but we are the ones who go out there on the pitch and we have been disappointing.”
Yet chairman Massimo Moratti has a track record when it comes to coach longevity at Inter — with Ranieri the fifth man at the helm in the past year-and-a-half.
A loss to Catania and a Champions League exit to Marseille — unless a 1-0 first leg deficit can be overturned — could push Ranieri over the edge with Moratti not renowned for his patience – as recent previous incumbents Rafael Benitez, Leonardo and Gian Piero Gasperini would testify.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Palermo v AC Milan (1600), Juventus v Chievo (1845)
Parma v Napoli (1030)
Bologna v Novara, Fiorentina v Cesena, Lecce v Genoa, AS Roma v Lazio, Siena v Cagliari, Udinese v Atalanta, Inter Milan v Catania (1845)