Rome: AC Milan desperately need a win to revive their hopes of direct qualification for the Champions League. Juventus haven't beaten Milan in Serie A since 2011 and want to demonstrate their supremacy as they march toward a second consecutive Italian title. With their last two meetings decided by questionable decisions from the referee, Sunday's match in Turin is attracting extra hype.
With six rounds remaining in the Italian league, Juventus hold a comfortable 11-point lead over Napoli. Milan are third, a further four points behind. The top two finishers gain direct entry to the Champions League, while the third-place finisher enters the last round of playoffs for the top European competition. Milan are hoping Mario Balotelli will be cleared to play after an appeal is heard on Friday on his three-match suspension for insulting an official. Balotelli already sat out a 1-1 draw with Napoli last weekend.
Milan beat Juventus 1-0 in November after a suspect penalty from Robinho, and the teams drew 1-1 in the second-half of last season after Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari had a goal disallowed despite replays showing it was clearly over the line.
"This time we're hoping we can kick the ball in a bit harder," Milan attacking midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng said. "But the match with Juventus is special no matter what, so there's no reason to add extra hype."
Boateng had to exit in the first half against Napoli after getting his ankle bruised.
"I'm fine," he said. "At first I thought it was worse but I'm better and hope to be available against Juve. We want to finish second and to do so we've got to win in Turin."
Milan striker Stephen El Shaarawy is also expected back in the lineup after being benched at the start against Napoli, although midfielder Mathieu Flamini, who has scored in Milan's last two matches, which were both draws, is suspended. After getting eliminated from the Champions League by Bayern Munich last week, Juventus bounced back with a convincing 2-0 win at Lazio on Monday.
Arturo Vidal scored both goals against Lazio, earning headlines labeling him as "King Arthur" and declarations from Juventus management that he is not for sale, despite reports saying he could command as high as a 30 million euro ($40 million) transfer fee now. While Milan had a rough start to the season, they have earned the same number of points as Juve since the ninth round. And with Balotelli's arrival in January, Milan are shaping up as Juve's top challenger for next season.
So Juventus would like nothing better than to force Milan to play Champions League qualifying in August, thus complicating the Rossoneri's preparations for next season. Juventus last beat Milan in Serie A in October 2011. Also this weekend, Napoli host Cagliari and struggling Inter Milan faces Parma. Injury-depleted Inter were eliminated from the Italian Cup semi-finals by Roma on Wednesday to mark the Nerazzurri's third consecutive defeat. In their last three matches, Inter have been outscored 9-5.
Still, Inter president Massimo Moratti said on Thursday that coach Andrea Stramaccioni's job is not at risk.
"I don't have doubts on Stramaccioni," Moratti said. "I can't put together an analysis for someone who has had available only a third of what he should have."
Against Roma, the list of Inter players injured and unavailable included Diego Milito, Antonio Cassano, Rodrigo Palacio, Yuto Nagatomo, Joel Obi, Gaby Mudingayi, Walter Gargano and Dejan Stankovic. Also Sunday, Catania host Palermo in the always-heated Sicilian derby, which concluded with the death of a policeman in clashes in 2007.
Palermo captain Fabrizio Miccoli will likely miss the match due to a left leg muscle injury. In November, Miccoli scored the opening goal in Palermo's 3-1 win in the first derby this season. Also this weekend, it's: Genoa vs. Atalanta; Udinese vs. Lazio; Bologna vs. Sampdoria; Fiorentina vs. Torino; Roma vs. Pescara; and Siena vs. Chievo.