Roma poised to take stranglehold on second place should Napoli slip up
Conte ‘relaxed’ ahead of Juventus clash with Benitez’s Napoli
MILAN // Leaders Juventus are “relaxed” for their visit to third-placed Napoli on Sunday without suspended striker Carlos Tevez, according to coach Antonio Conte.
A 2-1 win over Parma on Wednesday thanks to a Tevez double was Juve’s 15th consecutive win at home and restored their 14-point lead over Roma to bring a third consecutive title even closer to Turin.
Tevez was cautioned during the win, meaning he will miss the trip to San Paolo because of a one-match suspension.
But with several strikers at his disposal, including Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, Sebastian Giovinco and Fabio Quagliarella, Conte was not too concerned.
“Carlos isn’t available but someone will take his place,” the Juve coach said. “We are feeling relaxed, especially after a win over an excellent Parma side.”
For South American fans of Serie A, Tevez’s absence is regrettable as it would have pitted the Argentinian against compatriot Gonzalo Higuain.
Unlike Tevez, Higuain seems to have cemented his place in Alejandro Sabella’s Argentina side for the World Cup, although Tevez, who has never been called up during Sabella’s time in charge, was defiant.
“It’s not up to me to pick up the phone and convince him. If I don’t get picked, I’ll go to the seaside with my family,” Tevez said.
Nevertheless, Sunday’s clash is still likely to produce fireworks, according to Marcello Lippi, who has preceded Conte and Rafael Benitez as coach of both clubs.
“Considering the way both coaches will approach the game, I’m sure sparks will fly,” Lippi told the Ultimecalcionapoli.it website.
“Juventus have shown they are virtually unbeatable, but it will be an open game and the result could go either way.”
Juve’s only league defeat this season came in October when Fiorentina fought back from a two-goal deficit to stun the champions 4-2 in Florence.
Since then, Conte’s side has dropped points only twice, during draws away to Lazio and Verona.
Despite sitting six points behind Roma, who also have a game in hand, Napoli believe they can fight their way into contention for runner-up spot and the second automatic Uefa Champions League qualifying place.
Benitez began preparations for Sunday’s clash by resting Higuain and several other players during a 4-2 win away to Catania on Wednesday, when the Argentine’s deputy, Duvan Zapata, scored twice.
With one eye on Juve’s commitments elsewhere – they face Lyon away in the first leg of the Europa League quarter-finals on April 3 – Benitez said this weekend could signal a turnaround.
“Our aim is to keep on targeting Roma in second,” Benitez said.
“We just have to concentrate on our own jobs, keep on winning and see what happens. After the Juve game, we’ll have only one match a week and things should ease up.”
Roma coach Rudi Garcia has likely taken note, but the Frenchman leads his side to struggling Sassuolo, who have lost nine of their past 11 encounters, looking for a fourth consecutive win.
Sassuolo are one of a handful of sides, along with Catania, Livorno, Bologna and Chievo, battling to beat the drop.
The fight for European places, meanwhile, continues apace with a handful of sides all in contention for the two Europa League spots awarded to the fourth- and fifth-place finishers.
With fourth-placed Fiorentina 10 points adrift of Napoli and only three ahead of Inter – held to a scoreless draw at home to Udinese on Thursday – Vincenzo Montella’s side will have to be focused for a tricky trip away to resurgent Sampdoria.
Inter sit only one point ahead of Parma, who could move up to fifth with at least a draw away to Lazio on Sunday. Inter are not in action until Monday, when they travel to Livorno.
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