Serie A preview: Inter and Roma look to change fortunes on derby weekend
Inter Milan take on fierce rivals Juventus on a high from their dramatic passage to the Champions League quarterfinals on a bumper Serie A Sunday in which the Rome derby will also have a say on the top-four race.
Simone Inzaghi's side caps off the weekend's matches with the Derby d'Italia, a fiery fixture between Italy's traditionally biggest two clubs which is as hotly contested and far more poisonous than Inter's battle for local bragging rights with AC Milan.
It could be key in a tight tussle for next year's edition of Europe's top club competition in which five clubs are fighting for three places, league leaders Napoli off in the distance and seemingly cruising to the title.
Inter sit 18 points behind Napoli in second and are separated by just three points from fifth-placed Roma, who are two points and two places behind Lazio ahead of an intriguing capital city clash which tees up Sunday's main event.
Defeat at Spezia on Friday looked certain to damage Inter's top-four hopes, but all of their rivals then dropped points, including Atalanta, who are six points away from the Champions League places and host Empoli on Friday.
Inter have been inconsistent this season but have shown up in the biggest games, as in Wednesday's battling goalless draw at Porto which secured them a place in the last eight of the Champions League for the first time since 2011.
The 1-0 aggregate win over the Portuguese temporarily silenced the critics who after the Spezia loss had suggested Inzaghi's time at Inter would be up.
"I've been in football a long time and I know both where the criticism comes from and whom I should listen to," said Inzaghi.
"Sunday we have an important match, but right now I want to enjoy the moment. We deserve it."
Juventus come into the clash at the San Siro in the uncharacteristically low position of seventh and 10 points behind Milan, who sit fourth and travel to Udinese on Saturday.
However, they would be ahead of Inter in second were it not for the 15-point penalty inflicted in January by the Italian Football Federation for illicit transfer activity.
Juve are hoping to overturn the ruling but will have to wait weeks until they know their fate.
In the meantime, they have been slowly climbing up the table, with five wins in their last six league matches.
Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri has repeatedly cited the number of points his team has earned "on the pitch," a phrase used often by fans when talking about the number of league titles they have won.
Officially, Juve have 36, but supporters believe the two taken away in the aftermath of the infamous Calciopoli match-fixing scandal should be counted.
Allegri is again without Paul Pogba due to the injury, the France midfielder having played just 35 minutes since returning from Manchester United last summer.
Player to watch: Paulo Dybala
The clearest demonstration of how important Paulo Dybala has become to Roma came last weekend when the Argentina forward came on at halftime with his team down a man and two goals to Sassuolo.
He pulled a goal back with a fabulous first-time strike and went ever so close to leveling the scores with a delicate long range chip which was just under hit.
Roma ended up losing 4-3, but everything good about their play went through him, and if they are to win their derby and boost their top-four hopes, they will need their star player on top form.
3: The number of points separating second and fifth.
10: The points distance between Juve and the top four.
- Sassuolo vs. Spezia
- Atalanta vs. Empoli
- Monza vs. Cremonese
- Salernitana vs. Bologna
- Udinese vs. AC Milan
- Sampdoria vs. Verona
- Fiorentina vs. Lecce
- Torino vs. Napoli
- Lazio vs. Roma
- Inter Milan vs. Juventus
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