Lazio aiming to equal club record with 9th straight win
ROME (AP) — Lazio will be aiming to equal a club record with a ninth consecutive win when the Roman club visits Juventus in a 1 against 2 matchup in Serie A on Saturday.
The Milan derby is also scheduled for this weekend, but with both Inter and AC Milan languishing in the middle of the table, the interest level won’t as high as usual at the San Siro.
Lazio, by contrast, has been gaining plenty of interest.
A 4-0 win over Empoli last weekend enabled Lazio to move ahead of city rival Roma and into second place.
Lazio has made up 13 points on Roma in the last eight rounds, scoring 21 goals to Roma’s five, and relegating Roma to third place for the first time under coach Rudi Garcia, who is in his second season.
One more Lazio win would match the record streak set under Sven-Goran Eriksson in the 1998-99 season.
Germany veteran Miroslav Klose and Brazil revelation Felipe Anderson lead Lazio with 10 goals each, while captain Stefano Mauri has nine.
For Juventus, the match is sandwiched in between the first and second legs of the Champions League quarterfinals with Monaco.
A controversial penalty handed Juventus a narrow 1-0 win over Monaco in the opening leg Tuesday and coach Massimiliano Allegri will likely rest some key players ahead of Wednesday’s return match.
Allegri also rested key starters in a shocking 1-0 loss at last-place Parma last weekend, although the Bianconeri still hold a 12-point lead with eight matches remaining.
Juventus will also meet Lazio in the Italian Cup final June 7.
In other matches this weekend, it’s: Sampdoria vs. Cesena; Sassuolo vs. Torino; Chievo Verona vs. Udinese; Empoli vs. Parma; Palermo vs. Genoa; Roma vs. Atalanta; and Cagliari vs. Napoli.
Fiorentina plays Hellas Verona on Monday.
Here are a few things to know about this weekend’s games:
Stefano Pioli was an unpopular choice when he was hired to coach Lazio in June.
With his only previous top-division experience coming with clubs like Parma, Palermo and Bologna that were merely fighting to avoid relegation, fans didn’t think he meshed well with Lazio’s objectives.
Now they are comparing him to Lazio coaching greats like Eriksson and Tommaso Maestrelli, who guided the club to its only two Serie A titles, in 1974 and 2000.
“Of course I’m honored by all of these comparisons but we still haven’t reached our goal,” Pioli said. “There are too many matches remaining to start celebrating.”
Still, Pioli has taken note of the fans’ change in heart.
“It’s wrong to think that only those who win are winners,” Pioli said. “All those coaches who reach their goals that were set out at the start of the season are winners. If a coach is called in to save a squad from relegation and reaches safety then I think he’s just as good as coaches with different resources who are fighting to win the league.”
PIPPO’S LAST DERBY?
With AC Milan in ninth place and Inter 10th, the Milan derby will be more about city bragging rights than title hopes.
“The derby is definitely not like it was a few years ago but motivation won’t be lacking,” said fullback Ignazio Abate, who will likely wear the captain’s armband for Milan with midfielder Riccardo Montolivo injured.
It could mark the last derby for Milan’s first-year coach Filippo “Pippo” Inzaghi, who is expected to be fired after the season.
“I hope with all my heart that he stays,” Abate said. “The biggest mistake would be starting over from zero.”
TAKING ON THE ULTRAS
Roma’s American president, James Pallotta, is waging a verbal battle with the club’s hardcore “ultra” fans for displaying a banner aimed at the mother of a rival fan who was shot and later died.
The enormous banner was shown during a match earlier this month with Napoli — the southern club’s first visit to Roma since the shooting before last season’s Italian Cup final. The dead fan’s mother had presented a book earlier that week and the stadium banner accused her of taking advantage of her son’s death.
As a result, the league closed Roma’s “curva sud” — the southern end of the stadium where the “ultra” fans sit — for Sunday’s match against Atalanta.
Pallotta decided not to appeal the closure and criticized the fans which held up the banner during an expletive-filled tirade. Fans responded with insulting banners and slogans aimed at Pallotta.
“I’ve always defended Roma fans but I only do it for the real supporters, who are the majority,” Pallotta said. “The real fans can criticize but they continue to support the players. They don’t make racist comments or create violent situations.”
Andrew Dampf can be followed at www.twitter.com/asdampf