Rome: Juventus face a potentially tricky trip to Udinese on Sunday looking to reinforce their seven-point lead of Italy`s Serie A as the battle for the third and final Champions League spot moves up a gear.
Juve scraped into the semi-finals of the Italian Cup on Wednesday when a last-gasp Alvaro Morata strike secured a 1-0 win away to plucky league strugglers Parma.
It was a far from pretty display by Massimiliano Allegri`s men, but Juve could be in for more of the same on Sunday when they face the northerners, now coached by former Inter handler Andrea Stramaccioni.
Udinese are on a three-game unbeaten run and are also unbeaten in their past five league games away from home.
With an away trip to Napoli and then Lazio visiting the Friuli Stadium in the following weeks, Stramaccioni has stressed the need to show that same kind of resolve on Sunday.
"We have to stay focused for the three difficult games coming up," said Stramaccioni.
"But at home, we should be making life difficult for every one, and that includes Juventus.
"Obviously, it`s a difficult game but we`ve already shown we can play on a par with anyone."
Juventus, who are expected to be without Arturo Vidal after the Chilean suffered a right knee problem against Parma, beat Udinese 2-0 in Turin in their second game of the campaign.
They travel north looking to make it 12 unbeaten games in a row, having last dropped points in a 1-1 draw with Inter at the New Year.
Roma would be forgiven for hoping Udinese do them a favour.
Rudi Garcia`s men were held for the third match in succession last week in a 1-1 draw at Fiorentina which saw Dutch midfielder Kevin Strootman limp off after 34 minutes.
Having only returned from an eight-month lay-off due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury in his left knee in November, Strootman is set for several more weeks on the sidelines.
Strootman, 24, will undergo keyhole surgery on Friday to remove "a mass of fibrous tissue" in the same knee, according to a club statement.
The battle for third place, meanwhile, has moved up a notch with Sampdoria, AC Milan and Inter adding last-minute reinforcements for the second half of the campaign.
Napoli moved up to third on Monday to sit two points ahead of Lazio and Sampdoria.
Rafael Benitez`s team face Chievo away on Sunday.
Chievo will take heart from Genoa`s performance in a 2-1 defeat to Napoli on Monday when controversy surrounded both of Gonzalo Higuain`s goals.
Higuain appeared offside as he scored Napoli`s opener then scored from the spot following a dubious penalty decision.
Lazio, one of the league`s form teams, will be expected to cruise to victory at home to second-from-bottom Cesena having swept aside AC Milan twice this week, once in the league and then in the Cup quarter-finals.
Rivals Sampdoria face a tougher task away to Torino, when Cameroonian Samuel Eto`o will be looking to make an impact on his debut following his arrival from Everton.
Eto`o said: "Sampdoria weren`t built to be in third position, but thanks to the team and the coach (Sinisa Mihajlovic) we`re in contention. Our objective is to finish third."
Inter and fellow strugglers Milan are both 23 points off Juve`s pace and with a 10-point deficit on Napoli as their dismal campaigns continue.
Inter travel to Sassuolo looking to make amends for their shock 1-0 defeat to Torino last week, while Milan -- winless in five consecutive games -- host Parma desperate to stop the rot after a week in which Filippo Inzaghi`s coaching position came in for heavy scrutiny.
Milan signed Roma striker Mattia Destro on Thursday on a six-month loan deal and the Italy international said: "We really want to do well and to show that Milan are a great side, starting from this Sunday.
"This is a big occasion for me, I can`t wait to get out there and play."
Fixtures (times GMT)
Genoa v Fiorentina (1700), Roma v Empoli (1945)
Sassuolo v Inter (1130), Atalanta v Cagliari, Cesena v Lazio, Chievo v Napoli, Palermo v Verona, Torino v Sampdoria, Udinese v Juventus (all 1400), Milan v Parma (1945)