Milan and Inter continue duel for top spot, Roma set for Spezia rematch
AC Milan and Inter Milan resume their duel for the Serie A summit on Saturday days before they face off in their Italian Cup quarter-final clash at the San Siro.
Leaders Milan are three points ahead of Inter before the weekend's 19th round of games which marks the half-way point of the season.
Stefano Pioli's Milan face a tricky task at home to sixth-placed Atalanta, despite the Bergamo side losing momentum in recent games in draws with Genoa and Udinese.
Inter meanwhile travel to struggling Udinese boosted by their 2-0 win over champions Juventus last weekend at the San Siro.
"For us it'll be a very important match as we're fighting teams like Juve, Napoli, Roma and Lazio," said Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini of their Champions League rivals.
"The challenge against the 'Rossoneri' will serve to measure where we are before the Champions League knockout rounds."
Forward Rafael Leao returns from suspension for Milan with newly-signed Mario Mandzukic insisting he's "good to go" despite being without a club since leaving Qatar's Al-Duhail in July.
Forward Ante Rebic and midfielder Rade Krunic have recovered from coronavirus infections, while defender Theo Hernandez has got the all-clear after a 'false positive'.
But Milan have only won once in their last 10 Serie A games against Atalanta, with their last home victory against the Bergamo side in January 2014.
By contrast Inter have won nine of their last 11 league games against Udinese, and not conceded a goal in their last five.
"(The win over Juventus) was an important step in terms of mentality," said Inter coach Antonio Conte.
"But we're just at the beginning and I want them to back this up."
- Roma deja vu -
Roma, who sit nine points behind Milan in fourth, are set for a rematch with Spezia days after the promoted side dumped them out of the Italian Cup.
Pressure is mounting on coach Paulo Fonseca after a chaotic extra-time defeat in which they finished with nine men and fielded six substitutes rather than the five allowed.
Roma were also handed a 3-0 defeat earlier this season against Hellas Verona in Serie A for fielding an ineligible player.
Roma also lost to city rivals Lazio in the league last weekend, which saw the capital side miss the chance to move ahead of Napoli into third place.
Champions Juventus are a further point back in fifth and will be looking to close the gap on the leaders after their morale-boosting Italian Super Cup success over Napoli when they host 12th-placed Bologna.
On Friday, struggling Torino head to mid-table outfit Benevento guided by new coach Davide Nicola, who is tasked with saving the 'Granata' from the drop as he did with in previous jobs at Crotone and Genoa.
European rivals Lazio and Sassuolo face off in Rome on Sunday.
One to watch: Lorenzo Insigne
Napoli skipper Insigne has the chance to score his 100th goal for the club against Hellas Verona, days after sending a penalty wide in their Italian Super Cup defeat by Juventus.
Napoli are third after last weekend's 6-0 hammering of Fiorentina when 29-year-old Insigne scored twice to bring his league tally to nine this campaign and set up Hirving Lozano's first-half strike with an outstanding pass following deft footwork.
Gennaro Gattuso's side are nine points behind Milan as they chase a first Scudetto since 1990.
45 - Inter's goals in 18 games
16 - Points between Roma and Spezia
15 - Top-scorer Cristiano Ronaldo's tally
8 - Antonio Conte has won eight of his nine matches against Udinese as a coach
2 - Torino's wins this season
1 - Udinese's points in their last seven home games against Inter
Benevento v Torino (1945)
Roma v Spezia (1400), AC Milan v Atalanta, Udinese v Inter Milan (both 1700), Fiorentina v Crotone (1945)
Juventus v Bologna (1130), Hellas Verona v Napoli, Genoa v Cagliari (both 1400), Lazio v Sassuolo (1700), Parma v Sampdoria (1945)
© 2021 AFP