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Roma look to keep scudetto in sight in derby

07 Feb 2014 01:31:52

Roma look to keep scudetto in sight in derby

Roma's Serie A title credentials face a test in the capital derby against Lazio on Sunday, while Juventus travel to a Verona side intent on making life difficult for Antonio Conte's leaders.

Roma sit nine points behind Juventus at the top but with a game in hand after last week's home fixture against Parma was abandoned early on when torrential rain made conditions unplayable.

While the match has yet to be rescheduled, Rudi Garcia's side are fancied to maintain their momentum after a 3-2 victory over Napoli on Wednesday in the first leg of their Italian Cup semi-final.

The win came complete with a stunning goal from Dutchman Kevin Strootman and a brace from Gervinho, including the 88th-minute winner, and had Roma president James Pallotta purring about the Ivorian international forward.

"He's a joy to watch, he runs so fast that the opponents can never catch him," said Pallotta.

Roma's last defeat was a 3-0 reverse away to Juve at the turn of the year but the Giallorossi have hit the net 10 time in their three league games since then.

And their midweek triumph over Napoli underlined why they are favourites to make it a fourth consecutive league win.

Garcia, who said after the game Gervinho "can still improve", also expects to see Strootman show the full scope of his talents.

"Strootman can play games like this more consistently. He's an important player who helps our guys," said Garcia. "He's like a washing machine, you give him a dirty ball and he always cleans it up."

A win at the Olympic Stadium against a Lazio side who are unbeaten in five league games since a 4-1 pre-Christmas rout at the hands of Verona would further boost Roma's belief the scudetto is still within their grasp.

Given Juve's recent form, the reigning champions are widely expected to prevail despite what is, at least on paper, a tricky away fixture in Verona.

Verona only brought an end to a streak of three consecutive defeats with a 2-1 win away to struggling Sassuolo last week, but the hosts are intent on giving Antonio Conte's men a run for their money.

Defender Michelangelo Albertazzi told TeleArena: "We shouldn't be afraid of anyone, including Juventus, who we face next Sunday.

"They're having a great season... but we'll show up fully aware of our own capabilities. That's the only way we can stop them."

The latest reports from Italy suggest striker Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, signed recently from Southampton, will feature for Juve at some point.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon should return following a one-match suspension, although there is an injury doubt over defender Andrea Barzagli.

Napoli coach Rafael Benitez has come in for some harsh criticism after the Partenopei's grip on third place was loosened by a string of poor results.

Two draws, away to Bologna and at home to Chievo, were followed by a stunning 3-0 reverse at Atalanta last week, leaving Fiorentina only three points behind in fourth and in sight of the third and last Champions League qualifying spot.

Benitez's rotation policy has been under fire but, while a title bid now looks impossible, the Spaniard replied by underlining the club's ambition to seal a Champions League place and perhaps a Cup triumph.

"The championship is important, but we are in the semi-finals of the Cup and we'll be trying to get to the final," he said ahead of Wednesday's first-leg reverse.

Milan are expected to be without Kaka due to flu, paving the way for the possible debut of Moroccan international winger Adel Taarabt. Former Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien is also expected to start.

Fixtures

Saturday

Fiorentina v Atalanta, Udinese v Chievo (both 1700 GMT), Napoli v AC Milan (1945)

Sunday

Torino v Bologna (1130), Verona v Juventus, Lazio v Roma, Livorno v Genoa, Parma v Catania, Sampdoria v Cagliari (all 1400), Inter v Sassuolo (1945)


AFP

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