Serie A: Juve favourites for Turin derby, Roma host Inter
Champions Juventus host Torino in the `Derby della Mole` on Sunday looking to reinforce their lead over title rivals Roma, who host Inter Milan in what will be Roberto Mancini`s second game in charge of the Nerazzurri.
Following a morale-boosting Champions League win over Malmo, Juventus returned to Turin on a high on Thursday with renewed hope of qualifying for the last 16 of the competition for the first time in two years.
Having won all five home games in Serie A this season, Massimiliano Allegri`s side are expected to claim three points against a Torino side that was whistled off the pitch at the Stadio Olimpico following a 1-0 home defeat to Sassuolo last week.
Indeed Torino`s last victory over the Bianconeri goes back to the 1994-95 season, when they beat their city rivals home (3-2) and away (2-1), and they last hit the back of the Juventus net in February 2002 when the sides drew 2-2.
Since then Juventus have won 12 and drawn four Turin derbies and are likely to again deploy the 4-3-1-2 formation that outclassed Lazio 3-0 away last week.
Defender Simone Padoin, sent off for the final 20 minutes in Rome, sits out a one-match ban for Sunday allowing Patrice Evra to return to the fray.
Central defender Leonardo Bonucci has applauded the move away from a 3-5-2 tactical system which he believes has allowed Juve to spread their wings in Europe.
"Our tactical changes have made us stronger and more enterprising in Europe," Bonucci said after Wednesday`s win in Sweden.
"Sometimes it means we find ourselves on a one-on-one situation in defence, but it gives us more options in attack. Now we have the derby and, as always, only victory matters."
Roma will host Inter without Vasilis Torosidis (calf), who has joined a casualty list already missing fellow defenders Maicon, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Leandro Castan.
Rudi Garcia`s side could welcome back Dutch midfielder Kevin Strootman, who came on as a late substitute away to CSKA Moscow in midweek but copped some of the blame for the Russians` last-gasp leveller.
The 1-1 result, along with Manchester City`s shock 3-2 win over Bayern Munich, left Roma`s last 16 hopes hanging in the balance -- although club bosses responded by letting players off the leash long enough to visit a Moscow strip club.
"After the result in Manchester the team needed a little distraction and they did so in a spirit of friendship and togetherness," explained sporting director Walter Sabatini.
Whether Roma`s few hours of freedom has defused enough tension to create a competitive edge for meeting Inter on Sunday remains to be seen.
Inter travel to the capital a week after holding city rivals Milan to a 1-1 draw and only three days after Thursday`s 2-1 Europa League win over Dnipro which secured their ticket to the last 32 of the competition.
It was Mancini`s 50th birthday on Thursday but his focus is firmly on getting Inter back to winning ways and reducing the 14-point gap to Juventus.
"We will need some time, but our objective is to get back to winning as much as possible and quickly," Mancini said. "We`re aiming for a third place finish."
Napoli, nine points adrift of Juve and six behind Roma, also qualified for the Europa League`s round of 32 thanks to a scoreless draw at Sparta Prague.
However Rafael Benitez`s men face another daunting trip on Monday to Sampdoria, who are only a point adrift and unbeaten at home in six games.
Milan return to the San Siro on Sunday looking for their first win in six games when they host Udinese.
A run of four draws and one defeat has left Pippo Inzaghi`s men in seventh place 13 points behind Juve but only four behind Napoli in the closest Champions League qualifying spot.
Fixtures (all 1300 GMT unless stated)
Sassuolo v Verona (1700), Chievo v Lazio (1945)
Cagliari v Fiorentina, Cesena v Genoa, Empoli v Atalanta, Milan v Udinese, Palermo v Parma, Juventus v Torino (1700), Roma v Inter (1945)
Sampdoria v Napoli (2000)