Roma, Lazio and Napoli fighting for 2nd place in Serie A
ROME (AP) — With Juventus having sealed its fourth successive Serie A title last weekend, attention turns to the three-way battle for second place and the final direct Champions League berth.
With four matches remaining, Roma is second with a one-point advantage over city rival Lazio. Napoli is five points behind Roma in fourth.
After a difficult stretch, Roma is showing signs of a resurgence with two straight wins.
“We control our own destiny,” Roma goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis said ahead of Saturday’s visit to struggling AC Milan. “We’re focusing on the Milan match now, that must be won, and then we’ll go game by game.”
Roma and Lazio meet in a derby in the penultimate round, and Lazio has a tougher remaining schedule.
Lazio hosts Inter Milan on Sunday then visits sixth-place Sampdoria before ending the season at Napoli.
Roma’s other two remaining fixtures are at home against Udinese and Palermo.
While third place carries a spot in the last playoff round to enter the Champions League, Napoli’s best chance of admission might come by winning the Europa League.
Elsewhere in the 35th round, it’s: Juventus vs. Cagliari on Saturday; Chievo Verona vs. Hellas Verona; Cesena vs. Sassuolo; Palermo vs. Atalanta; Udinese vs. Sampdoria; Empoli vs. Fiorentina; and Parma vs. Napoli on Sunday; and Genoa vs. Torino on Monday.
Here are a few things to know about this weekend’s matches:
A NEW GATTUSO
Juventus midfielder Stefano Sturaro is being likened to former Italy standout Gennaro Gattuso after his gritty performance against Real Madrid in the opening leg of the Champions League semifinals Tuesday.
Making his first start in the elite competition, Sturaro’s last-second intervention deflected a header from James Rodriguez off the crossbar. He was also active on the other end, forcing turnovers with suffocating defensive coverage and even threatening goalkeeper Iker Casillas with a long shot just three minutes into the match.
“He’s similar to (Gattuso),” Italy under-21 coach Luigi Di Biagio said. “For both of them people say they just run a lot. But that’s not true. Stefano knows how to play. He reads the game and he’s got decent feet. ... He could play in a big club for 15 years, and I think he’s ready for the (senior) national team.”
The 22-year-old Sturaro started the season on loan with Genoa but was called back by Juventus in February and made his debut with the Turin club in March.
Paul Pogba, another key Juventus midfielder, could return this weekend from a thigh injury that has kept him out since March 18.
Stefano Pioli is assured of coaching Lazio for another season.
Pioli was a contentious choice when he was hired after last season and he rejected a two-year deal in favor of a one-year contract that would automatically renew if Lazio qualified for Europe.
With Torino getting beat by Empoli on Wednesday, Lazio is now assured of finishing at least sixth and gaining the last Europa League spot.
At this point, though, the Roman club’s aspirations are clearly higher.
Pioli’s current deal pays him 600,000 euros (nearly $700,000) per year but Lazio is reportedly ready to offer him a new two-year contract worth 1 million euros ($1.1 million) per season.
DECISIVE DE ROSSI
Roma has lost only one match this season in which midfielder Daniele De Rossi played — at Inter Milan last month.
De Rossi and company go back to the San Siro this weekend facing Milan and looking to extend a two-match winning streak that has seen Roma outscore the opposition 5-0.
With three calf injuries and lapses in form, it’s been a difficult season for De Rossi, who was recently left off Italy’s national team.
The highest paid player in Serie A at 6.5 million euros ($7.3 million) per season, De Rossi’s contract expires in 2017 and there have been reports that he’s considering a move to Major League Soccer in the United States.
Andrew Dampf can be followed at www.twitter.com/asdampf