Milan, Italy: Champions Juventus face a test of their title-defending credentials today when a resurgent Inter Milan travel to Turin with a real chance of reducing their four-point deficit to the leaders.
Juventus extended their unbeaten streak to 49 matches after a late Paul Pogba header helped secure a 2-1 win away to Bologna Wednesday as Napoli slipped up at Atalanta and Inter moved up to second with a 3-1 win at home to Sampdoria.
A 50th match without defeat — Juve’s last reverse came against Parma in May 2011 — will be expected by fans of the Old Lady, but Inter’s resurgence has slashed the odds.
Inter’s sixth win on the trot came in convincing and timely fashion ahead of a fixture billed as the ‘Derby d’Italia’.
Indeed, Inter have peaked so well for this game conspiracy theorists might suggest that canny 36-year-old coach Andrea Stramaccioni, who recently waved off comparisons with Jose ‘The Special One’ Mourinho, had timed it deliberately.
Argentine midfielder Esteban Cambiasso admits Juve’s “good run” deserved applause, but said Inter’s good form is a reflection of their high expectations.
While Inter seem to be relishing the challenge, Juve could be suspected of feeling the pinch ahead of a possible 50th match without defeat.
On Thursday it was announced coach Angelo Alessio, the caretaker in the absence of the suspended Antonio Conte, would not be talking to the press prior to the game — the second such decision this week on the part of the club.
Juve defender Andrea Barzagli was not scared to admit Stramaccioni’s Inter, boasting the attacking talents of Diego Milito, Antonio Cassano and Rodrigo Palacio, have made them sit up and take notice.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Saturday: Milan v Chievo (1600), Juventus v Inter Milan (1845)
Sunday: Perscara v Parma (1030), Bologna v Udinese, Catania v Lazio, Fiorentina v Cagliari, Sampdoria v Atalanta, Siena v Genoa, Napoli v Torino (all 1300), Roma v Palermo (1845).
Juventus’s defense has leaked only five goals, the meanest in the league, in 10 games, to Inter’s nine.
On Saturday Milan, 12th at 17 points adrift of Juve, host Chievo at the San Siro with only one thing on their minds: “We have to beat Chievo if we are to start climbing up the table,” said midfielder Kevin Constant.
Napoli, who dropped to third at six points behind Juve, could yet be without top striker Edinson Cavani when Torino visit on Sunday, the Uruguayan having missed the trip to Bergamo due to an injury niggle.
After a sluggish start to the season Fiorentina are enjoying a purple patch and moved up to fifth thanks to a 1-0 win away to Genoa Thursday, three days ahead of hosting Cagliria.
Zdenek Zeman’s Roma, meanwhile, host Palermo in Sunday’s late match hoping to put their recent setbacks behind them.
Two consecutive 3-2 defeats, to Udinese then Parma on Wednesday, have left the Giallorossi seventh, 14 points adrift of Juve and for many their defense is to blame.
While Roma, along with Juventus, have scored a league-topping 22 goals they have conceded the most goals, at 19.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Milan v Chievo (1600), Juventus v Inter Milan (1845)
Sunday: Perscara v Parma (1030), Bologna v Udinese, Catania v Lazio, Fiorentina v Cagliari, Sampdoria v Atalanta, Siena v Genoa, Napoli v Torino (all 1300), Roma v Palermo (1845)