MILAN, Italy: Juventus’s lead at the top of Serie A could come under threat Saturday when they are expected to be without three key midfielders, including Andrea Pirlo, when they host in-form Udinese.
The champions, on 45 points, have a three-point lead over Napoli, who moved back into second place in unexpected fashion Thursday, when the Italian federation (FIGC) overturned a two-point deduction for suspected match-fixing.
Lazio drop to third, equal on points, while Inter Milan are fourth on 38.
However Juve’s hopes of keeping the chasing pack at bay could be dealt a blow even before Udinese, whose striker Antonio Di Natale has recently taken his league tally to an impressive 14 goals, visit Turin on Saturday.
Italy international Pirlo (calf) and Chilean winger Arturo Vidal (ankle) added to coach Antonio Conte’s woes when they missed training on Thursday.
Claudio Marchisio, who missed last week’s 1-1 draw at Parma due to a knee injury, also remains doubtful as he continues to work his way back to match fitness.
Juventus did not confirm whether any of the trio would be available, stating simply: “The players’ conditions will continue to be monitored over the coming days.”
However reports suggest that neither player will be fit in time.
Whether Udinese can maintain a purple patch of form which has seen them climb to eighth remains to be seen, especially as the north-eastern side lost number one ‘keeper Zeljko Brkic last week for a month due to a fractured finger, meaning Daniele Padelli steps into the breach.
Should Juve lose, Napoli and Lazio could both pull level on points if they win.
Vladimir Petkovic’s Lazio are unbeaten in their last 13 games but travel to Palermo, who sit second from bottom on only 15 points, possibly missing top striker Miroslav Klose.
The German veteran is reported to be suffering from a left thigh problem, leading to media speculation he could be spared the trip with a view to possibly recovering for next week’s Italian Cup semi-final first leg against Juventus.
Having begun the week in second place, Lazio dropped to third, through no fault of their own, as Napoli were elevated to second by the FIGC decision.
Napoli, however, face a tricky away trip to Fiorentina, who have failed to win their last three games including a 1-0 defeat to Roma in the Italian Cup quarter-final in midweek.
Vincenzo Montella’s side, who sit fifth, 10 points off the pace, should be fighting to get back to winning ways but Napoli have won their last three outings including last week’s 3-0 rout of Palermo when striker Edinson Cavani scored a hat-trick.
AC Milan, meanwhile, will look for home advantage to count when they host Bologna, hoping to leapfrog Roma into sixth.
Roma, however, will also have home advantage when they host Inter Milan at what should be a near full house at the Olympic Stadium in Sunday’s late match. -AFP
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Palermo v Lazio (1600), Juventus v Udinese (1845)
Fiorentina v Napoli (1030), Atalanta v Cagliari, Chievo v Parma, Genoa v Catania, Milan v Bologna, Pescara v Torino, Siena v Sampdoria (all 1300), Roma v Inter (1845)
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