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Juve stride on as race for Europe intensifies

21 Mar 2014 01:46:52

Juve stride on as race for Europe intensifies

The battle for European qualification dominates Serie A this weekend when leaders Juventus visit basement side Catania expecting to stretch their comfortable league lead.

Juventus visit the Sicilian strugglers only days after striding into the Europa League quarter-finals thanks to a 1-0 win at Fiorentina.

With only four wins this season, Catania should be easy prey for Juventus as they begin the final stretch of 10 games boasting a 14-point lead over Roma, who have a game in hand.

Roma's hopes of ending their 13-year wait for the scudetto have frittered away during recent draws away to Lazio and at home to Inter and an away defeat to Napoli.

Roma captain Francesco Totti, who marked his return from injury last week with a goal in the 3-2 win over Udinese, told Il Romanista: "The scudetto's 99 per cent gone.

"But as long as no-one leaves, including (coach) Rudi Garcia, next year we can win it. We're a really solid group, much like the one that won the scudetto in 2001."

With Juve showing little sign of slipping on the road to a third consecutive title, Roma are also under pressure from Napoli in the fight to secure the runners-up spot and an automatic Champions League qualifying place.

Roma head to Chievo and midfielder Rodrigo Taddei, who has stepped up in the absences of Kevin Strootman (injury) and Daniele De Rossi (suspended), has called for focus.

"It's a pity how things have gone for us recently, but Juve are a great side and this season no-one expected us to really be challenging," said the 34-year-old Brazilian.

"We're in second spot and we aim to hold on to it -- we have to get the points and focus on the remaining games left this season."

- Plenty of incentive -

Napoli will be given a boost if they can account for a Fiorentina side which, like them, will be looking to refocus following Europa League elimination, Napoli following La Viola out the exit door after a 2-2 second leg draw for a 3-2 aggregate defeat to FC Porto.

For Rafael Benitez's side, there is plenty of incentive -- a win at home would help refocus the San Paolo faithful and stretch their lead over Fiorentina to 13 points.

Fiorentina sit just a point ahead of Inter and coach Vincenzo Montella said: "We're disappointed, but now we have to turn the page and get our focus back on the league, where we have objectives."

Inter host Atalanta holding a one-point lead over Parma, who have a game in hand.

But Walter Mazzarri's men will likely be wary of the visitors, who stunned Napoli 3-0 in Bergamo and beat Lazio in Rome two weeks ago.

Inter have improved since Mazzarri began deploying a two-striker system composed of Argentinians Rodrigo Palacio and Mauro Icardi.

While Inter are unbeaten in their last six games, Palacio has hit a purple patch to take his goals tally to 13, only two behind league-leading compatriot and Juventus striker Carlos Tevez.

"Our understanding is growing just as the team is improving. It's becoming stronger and we have to keep this up," Palacio said on inter.it.

"We can't fail on Sunday. We're playing at home and we have to win. We know Atalanta are a team that's tough to face. We'll need to be careful."

Milan, meanwhile, travel to Lazio for the latest in a string of 'must-win' games but which, according to some reports, could carry serious ramifications for coach Clarence Seedorf if he is to keep his job.

Seedorf has recently won the backing of club owner and president Silvio Berlusconi.

But since Milan slipped to 11th, 40 points behind Juventus and 12 behind Inter, media speculation suggests Seedorf must not lose on Sunday or three days later away to Fiorentina if he wants to keep his job.

Fixtures

Saturday

Torino v Livorno (1700 GMT), Chievo v Roma (1945)

Sunday

Parma v Genoa (1130), Bologna v Cagliari, Inter v Atalanta, Sampdoria v Verona, Udinese v Sassuolo (all 1400), Napoli v Fiorentina (1730), Catania v Juventus, Lazio v Milan (both 1945)


AFP

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