5 things to know about Serie A round
MILAN (AP) — Juventus and AC Milan players have to put their crunch Champions League ties to the back of their minds when they travel to lowly teams this weekend in the Serie A.
Serie A-leading Juventus visits Bologna before going to Galatasaray, where the winner will advance to the Champions League knockout stage. Milan, 20 points behind Juventus, visits Livorno before hosting Ajax in its final winner-take-all group match. Third-place Napoli, which hosts Arsenal next week in another need-to-win match, plays Udinese at home on Saturday. Here are five things to know about this weekend’s Italian league matches.
PIRLO DEPENDANT? Juventus will be without key playmaker Andrea Pirlo until 2014 after the Italy international damaged knee ligaments against Udinese. When he left the game, Juventus clearly struggled to create opportunities before snatching a 1-0 win. Antonio Conte’s team, which has a three-point lead over Roma at the top of the table, travels to relegation-threatened Bologna on Friday. ”(Paul) Pogba can cover that role, and well,” Conte said. “He’s essentially an inside midfielder and he can show all his talents to the best in that position. But, if necessary, and he works on it, I’m convinced he can be a very good understudy to Pirlo.”
Juventus needs a point at Galatasaray next week to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League.
POGBA PRIZE: Paul Pogba has kept on improving since his arrival at Juventus, and this week he won the Golden Boy award for the best under-21 footballer in Europe. The 20-year-old Pogba has impressed since his arrival from Manchester United in 2012 and is also a key part of the France senior squad. “I am happy and proud to have won this prize,” Pogba said. “I dedicate it to my family and friends. I thank Manchester United and Juventus for making me grow a lot, but I am no one. I have not done anything. From now I will start trying to win the Ballon d’Or.”
INSIPD INTER: Inter Milan hosts Parma in shaky form. It has drawn its past two league games and almost suffered a humiliating cup exit as it nearly let slip a three-goal halftime lead against Serie B side Trapani before winning 3-2. Coach Walter Mazzarri called last week’s performance against Sampdoria his worst since taking charge and he was again unhappy after the Italian Cup match. “This game should make us reflect on things,” he said. “It’s a question of careless moments you can’t let happen to you. In the first half we were all focused and did well. Then our concentration dropped. These are things we have to work on. Parma is yet another chance to test ourselves, since we’ll be facing a solid and well-organised team. We’ll be able to see how the team has digested the negative performance against Sampdoria.” Inter remains fourth, 10 points behind Juventus.
ROMA ROLL ON: Roma is still the only unbeaten side in Serie A after a last-minute equaliser rescued a 1-1 draw against Atalanta. But the capital side, which started the season with 10 wins in a row, has drawn its past four games and sits three points behind Juventus in the table. On Sunday, Roma hosts Fiorentina, which beat Hellas Verona 4-3 on Monday in a thrilling match.
“Fiorentina is good to watch, they play well, it’s a technical and dangerous team,” Roma midfielder Miralem Pjanic said. “We have to be careful but it will be a good match. We’re doing well, looking also at how we finished the game against Atalanta, the squad kept pressing. We have desire, but our opponents are starting to learn our talents and defects.”
BEST OF BALOTELLI: Mario Balotelli is showing signs of being back to his best after a recent dip in form. The Milan striker scored in the 3-0 Champions League victory over Celtic and the 3-1 Serie A win in Catania. That win saw Milan move up to eighth. “Only in difficult moments do you see real men,” Balotelli said. “It is our duty to prove ourselves now. We owe it to ourselves, the club and the Rossoneri fans. “It is a delicate time, but our challenge is to emerge with heads held high and get back to winning ways by always playing up to Milan standards. I want to be the team’s leader again. After some mistakes, it is time to score goals, without ever stopping.”