ROME, Italy, Feb 28 – Juventus travel to Napoli on Sunday looking to close the book on a Serie A title race that has hardly looked in doubt since the opening day of the season.
Under previous coach Maurizio Sarri, Napoli had become Juve’s biggest rivals and last season even managed to take the title race down to the final weeks.
But managed by Carlo Ancelotti this campaign they have failed to provide a challenge for the champions, who are odds-on to clinch their eighth straight “Scudetto” regardless of what happens at the San Paolo stadium on Sunday night.
“The race has finished too quickly,” said Jose Mourinho, who won the treble with Inter Milan in 2010, in an interview with the Gazzetta Dello Sport.
Juve are 13 points clear and that gap has taken some of the sting out of what is one of Italy’s iconic fixtures, as well as leaving little room for drama at the top.
“Juventus aren’t facing much of a challenge, and while that’s obviously good for them, it’s a negative for Italian football,” Mourinho added.
That lack of threat means that coach Massimiliano Allegri can rest Cristiano Ronaldo for the trip after he picked up an ankle knock during the 1-0 win at Bologna at the weekend.
On Wednesday, Juve revealed that the Portuguese would have scans on his left ankle and it would be no surprise if the 34-year-old were left out, as with the title all but wrapped up his team’s season rests on the second leg of their of Champions League last 16 clash with Atletico Madrid on March 12.
Ronaldo was signed partly in the hope he would fire Juve to continental glory for the first time in over two decades so it would be no surprise to see him left to recover fully with a view to overturning the 2-0 defeat they suffered at the Wanda Metropolitano.
His absence will be a boon to Napoli, who are unbeaten at home this season in all competitions and haven’t conceded a goal in five matches.
– Rome derby drama –
While the title race is all but wrapped up, the race for the Champions League is hotting up as Roma prepare for the biggest game of their season — a Rome derby against Lazio that could have a huge impact on their European hopes.
Eusebio Di Francesco’s side are a point behind fourth-place AC Milan, who occupy the last Champions League spot, and three away from Inter Milan in third despite a disappointing season that has seen the coach’s position frequently questioned.
It is the start of a huge week for Roma as they also prepare for their trip to Porto on Wednesday, narrow 2-1 leaders after the first leg a fortnight ago.
Champions League football is crucial to the club’s finances as they battle to get a new stadium built and Di Francesco recieved a boost on Wednesday in the form of centre-back Kostas Manolas, easily Roma’s best performer in a shaky defence that has conceded league 33 goals this season.
Italian media reports that the Greek is recovering well from a sprained ankle suffered in their last-gasp 3-2 win at Frosinone on Saturday and could be back in time for the derby.
Lazio meanwhile, who will be the nominal “home” side at the shared Stadio Olimpico on Saturday night, are one of three sides lagging six points behind Roma after Monday’s home match with Udinese was postponed to make way for their goalless Coppa Italia semi-final, first leg draw with Milan on Tuesday.
Gattuso’s Milan, who are unbeaten since Boxing Day and have looked impressive since red-hot striker Krzysztof Piatek signed from Genoa in January, host Sassuolo with Inter in their sights.
Milan are hoping to take advantage of their city rivals’ battle with their own star striker Mauro Icardi, who has refused to play for Inter since being stripped of the captain’s armband last week amid protracted contract negotiations and will almost certainly miss Friday night’s trip to Cagliari.