Wed, Oct 30, 2013 - Page 19 News List

Juventus look to close the gap as Roma eye record

AFP, MILAN, Italy

SSC Napoli’s Marek Hamsik, left, battles for the ball with Olympique de Marseille’s Alaixys Romao in their UEFA Champions League match at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, France, on Tuesday last week.

Photo: EPA

Juventus host struggling Catania in one of eight Serie A fixtures today when the champions will be among the sides looking to close the gap on record-setting AS Roma.

The Bianconeri have endured a tough two weeks, seeing their UEFA Champions League group hopes nosedive with defeat away to Real Madrid, four days after suffering a first reverse of the season in a 4-2 away defeat to ACF Fiorentina.

Despite a dominant 2-0 win over Genoa on Sunday, the spotlight has been directed away from the Turin giants and southwards toward league leaders Roma.

Roma’s fairy-tale start under Frenchman Rudi Garcia continued on Sunday when they set a new Serie A record of nine consecutive wins at the start of a season.

Their 1-0 win away at Udinese was all the more impressive as defender Maicon had been sent off early in the second half and Udinese had not been beaten at home for more than a year.

In the absence of injured captain Francesco Totti, likely to be sidelined for another two weeks, Garcia will be relying on Moroccan Mehdi Benarti to marshal his forward line away to the Mussi Volanti.

AC Chievo Verona sit bottom of the table, but having seen league newcomers US Sassuolo pull off a sensational 1-1 draw at title contenders SSC Napoli on Sept. 25, Garcia was quick to warn his side against complacency in tomorrow’s only fixture.

“Although we’ve already won our most difficult match of the season so far [against Napoli], everyone thinks we’ve already won the game against Chievo,” Garcia told the Roma Channel.

“All the games in Italy are tough and this one will be even tougher. Look at what happened with Napoli versus Sassuolo for example,” added the 49-year-old, who guided unfashionable LOSC Lille Metropole to the 2010-2011 Ligue 1 title.

While not dismissing Roma’s impressive start, Juventus striker Carlos Tevez said the battle for the scudetto has just begun.

“There’s a long way to go,” said Tevez, Juve’s top scorer with five goals in nine games.

Napoli, who sit second, are also five points adrift, but unlike Juventus Rafael Benitez’s side face a tough task away to ACF Fiorentina.

La Viola sit fifth, a further four points adrift, are unbeaten at home this season and full of confidence following their come-from-behind 4-2 win over Juve just over a week ago.

Any slip-ups at this juncture could prove costly for Napoli, who after facing Catania at home at the weekend are away to Juventus.

“We have a crucial run of fixtures coming up, so we have to focus on every match,” said Slovakian forward Marek Hamsik, who was Napoli’s top scorer until being caught by Argentine teammate Gonzalo Higuain following his penalty double in a 2-0 win over Torino.

Reports in Italy suggest it could be a make-or-break week for AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri following their 3-2 defeat away to Parma.

Milan striker Mario Balotelli lasted less than an hour on his return from injury and suspension on Sunday, when the Rossoneri’s fourth defeat in nine games reportedly infuriated Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi.

Milan should welcome back Mattia di Sciglio, but they have lost another defender to injury in Matias Silvestre.

SS Lazio, who recorded their first win in a month at home to Cagliari on Sunday, will fancy at least a share of the points.

Meanwhile, Garcia, who has so far talked down Roma’s hopes of winning a title they last secured in 2000-2001, appears to be changing tack.

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