5 things to know about the Italian league
ROME (AP) — Juventus and Napoli have been keeping pace just behind Serie A leader Roma and the two clubs meet Sunday night in Turin after Roma hosts promoted Sassuolo earlier that day.
Roma dropped its first points of the season last weekend but is still three points clear of two-time defending champion Juventus and last season’s runner-up Napoli.
Also this weekend, promoted Hellas Verona — which is level fourth with Inter Milan — visits Genoa, which is also in the top half.
Inter hosts promoted Livorno and fifth-place Fiorentina meets Sampdoria.
Here are five things to know entering this weekend’s Italian league matches:
ARGENTINE ACCENT: The Juve-Napoli showdown will pit two Argentina forwards who are rapidly developing into Serie A’s finest in their first seasons in Italy.
Carlos Tevez has scored six league goals for Juventus since joining from Manchester City and Gonzalo Higuain has five for Napoli after coming over from Real Madrid.
While Tevez has been on form all season, Higuain has battled various injuries but appears back to 100 percent after playing the full 90 minutes and scoring twice when Napoli eliminated Marseille from the Champions League with a 3-2 win Wednesday.
Juventus is coming off a 2-2 draw with Real Madrid in which Tevez failed to make an impact.
Both sides have long histories of Argentine forwards.
Diego Maradona led Napoli to its only two Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990 while Omar Sivori helped Juventus to the “scudetto” in 1958, ’60 and ’61.
SURPRISING SASSUOLO: Sassuolo was promoted to Serie A for the first time in its 91-year history and the central Italian club is making the most of the occasion.
While the Serie B champion has only nine points from 11 matches and is third from bottom, Sassuolo has produced some memorable performances that give it confidence entering this weekend’s match at unbeaten Roma.
Last weekend, 19-year-old Domenico Berardi scored a hat trick to help Sassuolo beat 10-man Sampdoria 4-3.
Another young forward, 22-year-old Simone Zaza, scored the equalizer when Sassuolo earned its first points in the top division with a 1-1 draw at Napoli in the fifth round.
Juventus shares the rights for both Berardi and Zaza.
Sassuolo is owned by Giorgio Squinzi, who also controls the Mapei building materials company, which formerly sponsored a pro cycling team for 10 years.
ROMA’S INJURIES: When Roma’s 10-match winning streak to open the season ended last weekend with a 1-1 draw at Torino, it put a spotlight on the club’s injury problems at forward.
Captain Francesco Totti has been out for several weeks with a hamstring injury and won’t return until later this month at the earliest.
Ivory Coast forward Gervinho also has a leg muscle injury but is hoping to speed up his recovery against the club’s will so he can play for his country in a crucial World Cup playoff vs. Senegal next week.
Meanwhile, forward Mattia Destro is preparing to return later this month after letting his left knee fully heal from surgery. Destro was operated on in January and played sporadically at the end of last season then took more time off after further pain and swelling.
Without Totti, Gervinho and Destro, Roma has been relying on Marco Borriello, Alessandro Florenzi and Adem Ljajic in attack.
Roma’s 25 goals are second only to Inter’s 27, while the Giallorossi have conceded a league-best two.
BALOTELLI BENCHED: Mario Balotelli was surprisingly left on the bench for the first half of struggling AC Milan’s 3-1 loss at Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Struggling with his form plus some minor injuries, bans and suspensions lately, coach Massimiliano Allegri decided to use Kaka and Robinho instead in attack.
“When a player is coming off some bad performances it’s normal to put him on the bench for a match,” Allegri said. “Mario needs to improve in the context of the squad. He’s young (23) and he’s starting for the first time in his career. Before coming to Milan, he was always a reserve — he was very young when he was with Inter and he didn’t start at (Manchester) City.”
Milan visits Chievo Verona this weekend and desperately needs a win to get back into the top half of the table. The Rossoneri have won only three of 11 matches in the league.
BARBARA BERLUSCONI: Barbara Berlusconi is taking on an increasingly important role with the club that her father Silvio owns and over the last week has been clashing with AC Milan’s longtime CEO and vice president Adriano Galliani.
Last weekend, Barbara Berlusconi declared that with the club languishing in the bottom half of the table it needs to “change its corporate philosophy.”
Barbara Berlusconi reportedly complained that over the last two years Milan has spent poorly in the transfer market.
After the 2011-12 season, Milan sold off nearly all of its top players — highlighted by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s and Thiago Silva’s departures to Paris Saint-German — and there were few big acquisitions this past offseason besides Kaka, who rejoined the Rossoneri after an injury-plagued spell at Real Madrid.
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