Juventus, Napoli target morale-boosting wins
Champions Juventus hope to end a rollercoaster week on a high with a win away at Cagliari on Thursday, while Napoli bid to return to winning ways at home to bottom of the table Parma.
Juventus and Italian Cup holders Napoli play thir respective league fixtures two days before the rest of Serie A because of their Italian Super Cup final fixture in Doha on December 22.
Both Juventus and Napoli would dearly love to head to Qatar on the back of a win apiece -- the former to maintain their place atop the table and the latter to end a four match winless run.
Juventus`s 1-1 draw at home to high-flying Sampdoria last weekend allowed closest challengers Roma, 1-0 winners at Genoa, to close the gap on them to just a point.
Juventus had a more enjoyable experience on Monday at a Gala evening in Milan, where former coach Antonio Conte -- now the Italy boss -- won the coach of the year award and midfielder Andrea Pirlo took his third consecutive player of the year accolade.
However, the champions suffered a blow on Tuesday when coach Massimiliano Allegri was handed a one-game touchline ban for `stepping out of the coach`s enclosure and insulting a match official` during Sunday`s draw with Samdoria.
Allegri is now expected to watch from the stands at Cagliari`s Sant`Eliastadium, but the champions can ill afford to lose the game and wishing to have their coach in the dugout they have lodged an emergency appeal against the ban.
"Juventus are to lodge an urgent appeal against the one-match touchline ban handed to Massimiliano Allegri during Sunday`s home encounter against Sampdoria," said a club statement on Tuesday.
Juventus will definitely be without defender Leonardo Bonucci, who is suspended after being booked against Sampdoria and triggering an automatic one-game suspension.
But even in Allegri and Bonucci`s absence, Juventus would be expected to account for Cagliari and stretch their lead over Roma to four points ahead of the latter`s tough weekend clash at the Stadio Olimpico with a resurgent AC Milan.
Cagliari have won only twice this season and the Sardinians are on a seven-game winless streak that means beating a well-oiled Juventus side who recently booked their ticket for the last 16 of the Champions League would be a tall order.
The Sardinians` coach is wily veteran Zdenek Zeman, who has spent long enough in Serie A -- over 30 years -- to know what it will take to beat the 30-times champions.
"So many teams have tried to beat them (Juventus), and so few have succeeded: we will try too," Zeman said Sunday after his side`s scoreless draw away at Parma.
Napoli`s need for a win is just as desperate.
Rafael Benitez`s men slumped to seventh, their lowest position in the table this season, after a 2-0 defeat at Milan on Sunday where Napoli`s characteristic grit and fight was conspicuous by its absence.
Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain was visibly frustrated, and Benitez admitted after the game: "It`s normal he got angry. Everyone is disappointed at how the game went. We`re lacking in confidence."
Napoli are winless in four games, and although a win against a Parma side struggling for their top flight survival would help boost morale, Benitez has admitted a third place finish and Champions League qualification for next season is now hanging by a thread.
"It will be difficult," said the Spaniard. "We will have to fight for every point from here until the end."