Sat, Sep 22, 2012 - Page 18 News List

Juve eye opening up a gap as Milan hit panic button


Serie A champions Juventus will look to add to the domestic woes of their title challengers when they host AC Chievo Verona, hoping to extend their unbeaten streak to 43 matches today.

Although Juve are one of four teams to hold 100 percent records after three Serie A games, their most likely title challengers — Inter and AC Milan — are playing catchup, and Milan are already in crisis mode.

Juventus overcame an 18th-minute opener by hosts Genoa last week by producing a second-half performance worthy of the champions to secure a deserved 3-1 win.

Anything less than three points against Chievo, who have suffered two defeats since an opening-day win against Bologna, would be a major surprise.

A valiant Juve side fought back to level 2-2 away to Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday to remind Roberto di Matteo’s defending champions they could be a force to be reckoned with.

It is widely expected that Juventus will defend their Serie A title with relative ease this season and some sections of the Italian media are already talking of a Champions League-Serie A double.

However, goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon, who played in the 2003 Champions League final when Juve finished runners-up for a fifth time in their history, was quick to play down that speculation.

“It would be presumptuous to think about that midway through September,” Buffon said.

After their Stamford Bridge match, Juventus could rest several top players for Chievo, with Chilean forward Arturo Vidal expected to be sidelined with a minor ankle problem.

That could pave the way for Denmark international striker Nicklas Bendtner to make his debut for the Turin side.

Ahead of the fourth round of matches, Juventus sit top on nine points, ahead of SSC Napoli and SS Lazio, who also have nine.

Genoa-based UC Sampdoria have also won all three games, but have only eight points having started the season with a one-point penalty for their role in the Calcioscommesse illegal betting scandal.

Although Napoli and Lazio are showing some fine early-season form, AC Milan’s worst start to the season in more than 80 years — and continued doubts over coach Massimiliano Allegri — could dominate the weekend.

Since Milan finished league runners-up last season the spine has been ripped out of Allegri’s side, with a clutch of key players either being sold or retiring.

With only one win in three league games and having failed to win in three home appearances at the San Siro, including Tuesday’s scoreless draw against RSC Anderlecht in the UEFA Champions League, Allegri’s time could soon be up.

The man who led Milan to a league and Super Cup double in 2010-2011 has so far been given the backing of Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani.

“The faith we have in Allegri won’t come to an end [on] Sunday in Udine,” Galliani said.

While it is Inter’s time to host at the San Siro, with AC Siena visiting, Milan’s away match at fourth-from-bottom Udinese could decide Allegri’s future — especially after Thursday’s drama.

A clash, which reportedly turned nasty, with former striker Filippo Inzaghi, who is now the club’s youth coach, only served to highlight existing tensions at the club, but after claiming he had seen “improvements at an individual level” in midweek, Allegri admitted that his team is missing the magic ingredient — goals.

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