Bologna preparing for Serie A Juve upset
Juventus's hopes of taking another step towards a successful defence of their Serie A title could be kept in check by resurgent Bologna on Saturday.
Antonio Conte's side hold a nine-point lead over Napoli with AC Milan sitting 11 points adrift in third place but four ahead of misfiring city rivals Inter.
Although the smart money should be on Juve, who have lost away from home only twice this season, Bologna have been beaten only three times in 2013 and have won their past three games including a shock 1-0 win over Inter at the San Siro.
Sitting just above the relegation zone only two months ago, Bologna are now 10th, 11 points ahead of third-from-bottom Siena.
With the momentum of last week's win over Inter -- who were knocked out of the Europa League by Tottenham on Thursday -- the fans smell an upset.
On Thursday the club announced a record sell-out of tickets at their 34,415-capacity Stadio Dall'Ara.
"The whole town is waiting with baited breath for this game," said striker Manolo Gabbiadini.
"It's a crucial game for us but we've been preparing for it just as we would every other game because in Serie A you can't afford to be complacent against any team."
Napoli will be looking to get back on track following yet another reverse, away to lowly Chievo, last week.
Walter Mazzarri's side had been talked up as title challengers all season but despite dropping out of the Europa League at the last 32, Napoli, and their league-leading goalscorer Edinson Cavani, have hit a wall.
Napoli's last Serie A win was at home against Catania six weeks ago and with Juve nine points in front anything less than a win against visiting Atalanta on Sunday could spell disaster
"There are difficult moments in every season but we are still two points ahead of Milan," said Mazzarri. "But it's clear we cannot afford any slip-ups against Atalanta."
However that was before he and the players were visited at their training ground by concerned club president Aurelio De Laurentiis.
"I wanted to tell the team that as of now an altogether different championship starts," said De Laurentiis. "I'm sure from now on everyone will be giving their maximum."
Another stumble by Napoli would further boost a campaign by AC Milan which looked dead and buried prior to Christmas.
After Milan's worst ever start to a season coach Massimiliano Allegri faced the sack, despite leading the team to a runner-up place in 2012 and the title in his first season in charge in 2011.
The 45-year-old survived the chop and despite exiting the Champions League in midweek after a 4-0 rout by Barcelona in the second leg of their last 16 tie Milan remain on the ascendancy in the league.
For striker Stephan El Shaarawy, Milan can realistically aim for the second place that would guarantee direct entry into next season's Champions League.
"We have to put Barcelona behind us and focus on second place. We have 10 games left to make sure we play in next season's Champions League," El Shaarawy told acmilan.it.
"What we're doing at the moment seemed unthinkable at the start of the season. These last 10 matches will have to be like 10 cup finals."
Inter's slip-up last week, coupled with Fiorentina's 2-0 win away to Lazio, dropped them to fifth place and raised questions over the tenure of coach Andrea Stramaccioni.
Inter are away at Sampdoria on Sunday and are expected to be in for a hard game.
The 37-year-old Stramaccioni, however, appeared confident he would survive until the end of the season: "I think my work will be judged at the end of the season and not now. Then it will be up to the president to make a decision.
"We still have 10 games remaining and I'm sure we will turn things around."
Catania v Udinese (1600), Bologna v Juventus (1845)
Siena v Cagliari (1030), Fiorentina v Genoa, AC Milan v Palermo, Napoli v Atalanta, Pescara v Chievo (all 1300), Roma v Parma, Sampdoria v Inter, Torino v Lazio (all 1845)
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