Juventus have the chance to claim top spot in Serie A on Sunday with leaders Inter Milan contesting the Italian Super Cup, while Roma idol Daniele De Rossi takes the reigns at his boyhood club.
Massimiliano Allegri’s Juve can put pressure on Inter with a win at Lecce in a title race the coach inelegantly described as “cops and robbers”.
“The robbers runaway and the cops give chase. If there is someone in front there has to be someone behind them,” said Allegri after last weekend’s 3-0 thumping of Sassuolo.
That was a remark which did not go down well with Inter fans, whose team are trying to retain the Italian Super Cup and who consider Juve their biggest rivals.
Inter do not have a league fixture this weekend due to their commitments in Riyadh, meaning that Juve can take advantage and move top of the pile by a single point.
Juve are on a six-match winning streak in all competitions and success at mid-table Lecce, where they will have almost a full squad at their disposal, would leave a potentially tired Inter playing catch-up with the Champions League last 16 also on the horizon.
Inter don’t play what would have been this weekend’s fixture with Atalanta until the end of February and when come back to Italy they have to travel to top four-chasing Fiorentina.
That tough fixture, a week on Sunday, comes a day after Juve’s next home match with struggling Empoli where a four-point gap could be opened up.
And the following week Inter host Juve in what could be a crucial match in this season’s title race which is looking increasingly like a two-team affair.
Allegri has created a solid outfit, with plenty of team spirit, which has in recent weeks suddenly started to bang in the goals after weeks of grinding out results.
And with no European football this season — the result of the accounting scandal which dominated last season and led to a hefty points deduction — Juve won’t have any other distractions from their Scudetto bid.
The weekend kicks off with De Rossi achieving his dream of taking his place on the Roma dugout, the former captain of the capital club coming in for Saturday’s home clash with struggling Verona after the shock sacking of Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho was dismissed on Tuesday with Roma languishing in ninth place after last weekend’s 3-1 defeat at AC Milan.
However, only five points separate them from the Champions League positions, and De Rossi is confident that his team can make up that gap.
“I think this is a good team with very good players. Even the best sometimes go through difficult periods… I think we’ve got everything in order to get back up the table,” said De Rossi in an interview with Roma’s official channels.
De Rossi will also have to deal with a large chunk of Roma’s supporters protesting Mourinho’s sacking and pointing the finger at the Friedkin family who own the club — hardly the ideal atmosphere with which to start his first major managerial job.
Player to watch: Paulo Dybala
A Mourinho acolyte ever since his surprise arrival in Rome in the summer of 2022, Roma’s talisman Dybala was reportedly upset that the Portuguese was sacked so suddenly.
Now Dybala is going to be the key man in De Rossi’s new-look Roma, and will be at the centre of Roma’s attack on Saturday after recovering from another spell on the sidelines.
He and Romelu Lukaku will bear the weight of responsibility for Roma’s attempt to get their season back on track, especially with captain Gianluca Mancini and key midfielder Bryan Cristante suspended and a host of others either injured or at the Africa Cup of Nations.
2 – Juve trail Inter by just two points at the top of Serie A.
4 – The number of months De Rossi lasted in his previous — and only — coaching job at lower league team SPAL.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Roma v Verona (1700), Udinese v AC Milan (1945)
Frosinone v Cagliari (1130), Empoli v Monza (1400), Salernitana v Genoa (1700), Lecce v Juventus (1945)
Stay informed with The Namibian – your source for credible journalism. Get in-depth reporting and opinions for only N$85 a month. Invest in journalism, invest in democracy –