Napoli set sights on Milan as Lazio host Juve
Title-chasers Napoli will look to maintain their purple patch against AC Milan on Sunday, when a win for the visitors and defeat for Juventus at Lazio could blow the title race wide open.
A week after a 5-2 win over Torino, Napoli outclassed Genoa 2-0 last week to stay nine points behind leaders Juventus -- a gap which most pundits feel is sufficient to secure the Bianconeri's 29th title, despite having seven games to play.
Juve face Lazio in the Olympic Stadium on Monday, five days after suffering a quarter-final exit from the Champions League at the hands of Bayern Munich.
Napoli forward Goran Pandev, who scored only his fourth goal of the season last week, believes, however, that returning from Milan with all three points is easier said than done.
"It won't be easy to leave San Siro with all three points, but it's not impossible," said the Macedonian.
In Napoli's favour is the absence of Rossoneri striker Mario Balotelli, who was handed a three-game ban in midweek for insulting match officials.
Balotelli's lawyer is said to be working hard on an appeal, leaning on the fact that the Italian -- born in Palermo to Ghanaian parents -- lost his temper after being racially abused by fans at Fiorentina last week.
While awaiting the result of an appeal, Stephan El Shaarawy is ready to step up to the plate having spent much of the time since Balotelli's arrival in the goalscoring shadows.
"It will be difficult because Napoli are a top side with good players, so we will have to be fully focused," said El Shaarawy.
The Italy striker said giving away a two-goal lead to finally draw with Fiorentina last week will provide extra motivation.
"We are disappointed at giving up our 2-0 lead against Fiorentina... but we are still up there and have to focus on the next game with Napoli."
The league's top scorer earlier this season, El Shaarawy still has 16 goals but has dropped to third since Balotelli's arrival, one behind Udinese veteran Antonio Di Natale and six behind Napoli's Edinson Cavani.
With Balotelli now out the picture, El Shaarawy added: "The priority is to beat Napoli but if I score on the way there then all the better."
A win for Milan would take Massimiliano Allegri's side to within one point of Napoli, who occupy the second and last spot for automatic Champions League qualification.
Defeat for the Rossoneri, coupled with a Lazio win against Juventus, would boost Fiorentina and Lazio's hopes of inching closer to third place, which offers a Champions League place through preliminary qualifying.
Lazio's form of late has been up and down and on Thursday Vladimir Petkovic's side bowed out of the Europa League after drawing 1-1 with Fenerbahce, having suffered a 2-0 first leg defeat to the Turks last week.
Petkovic, however, refuses to give up his ambition of finishing third.
He said after the 1-1 Rome derby draw last week: "The glass is still half full. I still believe the Champions League is a possibility."
Lazio, however, have injury and suspension woes ahead of hosting a Juve side which, as coach Antonio Conte said Wednesday "can now focus fully on winning the Scudetto".
Giuseppe Biava and fellow defender Stefan Radu, as well as midfielder Senad Lulic all sit out suspensions while German veteran striker Miroslav Klose and Brazilian midfielder Hernanes could both face late fitness tests.
A slip-up by Juventus at the San Paolo would be a dream come true for closest challengers Napoli, who have not won the title since the heady days of Diego Maradona, who led them to their second championship in 1990.
However, Conte saw the positive side to their elimination from Europe. "Now, we can will turn our full attention to defending our league title," he said.
Elsewhere, injury-hit Inter Milan will look to close the gap to the European places away to a Cagliari side that has beaten them only once in the sides' past 25 meetings.
On Saturday, Siena moved three points clear of the relegation zone with a dramatic 3-2 win at rock-bottom Pescara.
Meanwhile in Bergamo, visiting Fiorentina defeated Atalanta 2-0.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Palermo v Bologna (1030), Cagliari v Inter, Chievo v Catania, Genoa v Sampdoria, Parma v Udinese, Torino v Roma (all 1300), Milan v Napoli (1845)
Lazio v Juventus (1845)
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