5 things to know about the Italian league
MILAN (AP) — The highlight of this weekend’s Serie A matches is undoubtedly Inter Milan’s visit to Juventus in what is sure to be a heated derby d’Italia match.
There is also the Genoa derby on Sunday, while second-place Roma hosts Parma looking to take advantage of any more slip-ups from Juventus.
Here are five things to know about the Italian league ahead of this weekend’s matches:
LLORENTE ON SONG
The last time Juventus hosted Inter Milan the visitors ended the Bianconeri’s impressive streak of 49 games unbeaten with a 3-1 victory.
Inter cannot stop Juventus’ pursuit of a record this time after the two-time defending Serie A champion was held to a 1-1 draw at Lazio last weekend, ending its run of consecutive wins at 12 — five short of Inter’s record.
Fernandon Llorente scored his fifth goal in six matches last week as he continues to impress following a difficult start to the season after his transfer from Athletic Bilbao.
“At first it was a new way of working for me and I needed a bit of time,” Llorente said. “But slowly, slowly you get used to it, improve and get on the same wavelength as your teammates.
“It was an important change for me, leaving my home country and coming to a new city and new environment. ... Now, however, I’m enjoying one of the best moments of my career.”
DERBY D’ITALIA SPICE
Matches between Juventus and Inter Milan are known as the derby d’Italia — Italy’s derby — and are normally a heated affair.
However, there will be extra spice to this weekend’s match after the collapse of a swap deal involving Inter’s Fredy Guarin and Juventus’ Mirko Vucinic.
Everything had been agreed between the two clubs and Vucinic had cleared his locker and bid his teammates farewell before Inter president Erick Thohir pulled the plug on the deal at the last minute.
Juventus general director Giuseppe Marotta launched an angry tirade at Inter’s “lack of respect” following the decision and it has left the Milan club looking shambolic in its transfer dealings.
Second-place Roma will be hoping to close the gap on Juventus still further this weekend when it hosts Parma on Sunday.
Roma beat Hellas Verona 3-1 last weekend to move six points behind Antonio Conte’s side.
The capital side has been in impressive form of late, scoring 10 goals and conceded just one in winning its past three league matches, and also knocked Juventus out of the Italian Cup.
“Is the title race re-opened? I hope so,” Roma coach Rudi Garcia said. “Juve isn’t unbeatable but it’s a very strong team as it already has 56 points from 21 games. Their points tally so far is incredible.
“It doesn’t just depend on us: we’ll do what we have to do, and if they start to slip up we have to be ready to start cutting back the deficit.”
Napoli lost more ground in the title race as it looks increasingly like being a two-horse battle for the scudetto.
Rafa Benitez’s team was held to a 1-1 draw at home by relegation-threatened Chievo Verona. It was Napoli’s second successive draw and left it 12 points behind Juventus and six behind Roma.
However, it knocked out holder Lazio in the Italian Cup on Wednesday to progress to the semifinals and it is also in the Europa League, after being eliminated from the Champions League.
“We have been involved in Europe and will be again, but we have a talented roster and we will try to do our best on all three fronts,” Benitez said.
Napoli visits Atalanta on Sunday.
AC Milan has been busy this January as it attempts to turn its season around.
Clarence Seedorf has won his first two league matches in charge after replacing Massimiliano Allegri, while the club has also been active in the transfer market, with Adel Taarabt set to join fellow new signings Keisuke Honda, Adil Rami and Michael Essien.
“I am honored to be able to play at the best club in the world,” Taarabt said. “I spoke with Seedorf and we are both happy. I am an attacker and I like to play behind the strikers.
“I do not know (Mario) Balotelli personally, but I know very well who he is and I am pleased to be able to play with him.”
Milan hosts Torino on Saturday.