Pressure cranked up on title-chasing Juventus
Just as Juventus have overhauled pace-setters Napoli in the race for the Serie A title, the Italian leaders are under increasing pressure as they head to Atalanta on Sunday.
The defending champions qualified for the Italian Cup final beating Inter Milan after extra-time and penalties on Wednesday in what was described as a dreadful performance -- by their own players.
"Tonight we played the worst ever game since I've been at Juventus," said defender Leonardo Bonucci. "We were lucky to take it to penalties."
While his side lead second-placed Napoli by three points, Gazzetta dello Sport reported Thursday that Real Madrid were preparing to pounce for their coach Massimiliano Allegri.
Meanwhile, Giorgio Chiellini, Claudio Marchisio and Martin Caceres are all out injured for the Atalanta game, but goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, striker Mario Mandzukic and defender Patrice Evra should all be back in action.
Goal-shy Atalanta managed a draw with Carpi last weekend to avoid getting sucked into a relegation battle, and immediately turned their sights to a win over Juventus.
"We must look forward and try to break this streak of games without a win as soon as possible," said their Slovenian midfielder Jasmin Kurtic, after scoring his first goal for the club in the 1-1 draw at Carpi.
"We conceded little or nothing in that match and created some opportunities we can build on."
Napoli, out of Europe and only three points behind Juventus, received a boost ahead of their home tie with mid-table Chievo when former Italy coach Cesare Prandelli tipped them to bounce back.
"Napoli are in good shape, they’re only three points behind Juventus who will have important commitments, and if I were at Napoli I’d be thinking about maintaining concentration," he said.
"They’ve been strong, in four games we’ll see how the table looks."
Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik feels the same way about his side's title chances.
“February was a difficult month, but we played well against Juve and Milan -- the Bianconeri have a three-point advantage now, but there are 11 rounds left and anything is possible," he said.
Napoli also boast the prolific Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain in attack with his 25 league goals so far.
Just below the two leaders there is a Champions League "six-pointer" between Roma and Fiorentina on Friday.
With six straight Serie A wins since a narrow loss to Juventus in January, Roma have been on fire under new coach Luciano Spalletti.
On-loan striker Stephan El Shaarawy has scored four goals in five games as Roma have climbed to third on 53 points, five ahead of their visitors on 48.
"It won't be decisive, but it's a six-pointer," Fiorentina coach Paulo Sousa said in relation to the third automatic Champions League spot.
Sousa's men were held 1-1 by second placed Napoli on Monday.
Friday (all times GMT)
Roma v Fiorentina (1945)
Verona v Sampdoria (1700), Napoli v Chievo (1945)
Torino v Lazio (1130), Atalanta v Juventus, Bologna v Carpi, Frosinone v Udinese, Genoa v Empoli, Sassuolo v Milan (1400), Inter v Palermo (1945)
© 2016 AFP