Serie A: Pressure on Inzaghi as Juve look to tighten lead
The coaching future of former AC Milan star Filippo Inzaghi could hinge on the ailing Italian giants` home fixture with Verona on Saturday, as Juventus look to tighten their grip at the top of Serie A.
Two days before Juventus host Sassuolo looking to reinforce their nine-point lead over Roma - in action away to Chievo on Sunday - Milan host Andrea Mandorlini`s visitors in full crisis mode.
Despite avoiding defeat in their past two games, a win against relegation-threatened Cesena and a scoreless draw last week away to Chievo have done little to appease Milan`s detractors.
The injury list is growing, too, with captain Riccardo Montolivo and fellow midfielder Nigel De Jong expected to be sidelined for Saturday after suffering thigh injury knocks last week.
Milan are already 24 points behind Juventus and 11 behind Napoli in the third and last Champions League qualifying place, prompting an emergency visit to the club`s Milanello training ground by joint CEO Adriano Galliani in midweek.
Galliani was said to have left unimpressed with Inzaghi`s explanations for the club`s current mediocrity, with some reports suggesting the former Rossoneri striker could be sacked if Milan fail to beat Verona.
Verona have conceded defeat to Milan on their last two visits to the San Siro but veteran striker Luca Toni is in fine fettle having scored the winner in a precious 2-1 away defeat of Cagliari last week.
Milan defender Luca Antonelli warned: "The match against Verona will be tough. Toni is deciding matches at the moment."
Antonelli is under no illusions about Milan`s work load if they are to return to European competition next season: "From here to the end there will be thirteen finals for us, we`ll do everything we can to get back into Europe."
Juventus host Sassuolo on Monday looking to maintain their charge towards a fourth consecutive title, but the visitors will be buoyed after Fiorentina beat the champions 2-1 in the first leg of their Italian Cup semi-final on Thursday to end the Bianconeri`s 42-game unbeaten run at home.
Juve drew 1-1 away to injury-hit Roma last week to further underline their status as champions-in-waiting and could end the weekend with an even bigger cushion if the Giallorossi fail to account for Chievo in Verona.
Like Milan, Roma are counting the costs of a growing injury list and with defenders Vasilis Torosidis and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa both serving one-game suspensions English defender Ashley Cole could be in line for a rare start.
Now with seven draws from their last eight league outings, Roma are desperate to get back to winning ways.
"We can`t lose focus because this season is far from over," said Roma`s French coach Rudi Garcia, whose side beat Feyenoord over two legs to qualify for the last 16 of the Europa League last week.
"We still have everything to give in this championship race, plus we still have the Europa League to play for. There`s no quitting now."
Defeat in Verona would allow Napoli to close to within a point of Roma, providing Rafael Benitez`s men account for Inter Milan at the San Paolo in Sunday`s late game.
Napoli`s bid for a second place finish was kept in check by a shock 1-0 defeat to Torino last week, the Partenopei`s second reverse in three games.
Benitez`s fury lasted until his side snatched a late leveller away to Lazio in the first leg of their Italian Cup semi on Wednesday.
Inter`s recent resurgence was ended by a clinical Fiorentina, who won 1-0 at the San Siro last week, but Croatian playmaker Mateo Kovacic says the Nerazzurri, who sit only one point ahead of city rivals Milan, have not thrown in the towel.
"It`s been a tough season, but there are still three months to go. We still have a chance to be successful," said Kovacic.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Sampdoria v Cagliari (1700), AC Milan v Verona (1945)
Cesena v Palermo (1130), Chievo v Roma, Empoli v Genoa, Parma v Atalanta, Udinese v Torino (all 1400), Napoli v Inter (1945)
Lazio v Fiorentina (1800), Juventus v Sassuolo (2000)