The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
5 things to know about Serie A before this weekend's Juventus-AC Milan and Inter-Roma matches
ROME - Juventus has produced only draws in its biggest matches of the season thus far — including the Champions League. The Bianconeri hope to break the trend Sunday against an AC Milan squad without suspended Mario Balotelli.
Also this weekend, Roma's perfect start to Serie A will be tested at the San Siro against an Inter Milan team that has had an almost equally impressive turnaround from last season.
Here are five things to know about this weekend's Italian league matches:
STUTTERING JUVENTUS: Inter in Serie A, FC Copenhagen and now Galatasaray in the Champions League. Juventus has drawn all three games and doesn't yet look like the dominant force it was in the Italian league the past two seasons. The Bianconeri even needed a controversial goal to edge Torino 1-0 in a derby last weekend, and an own goal to beat Chievo Verona the week before. Injuries have played a part, and things don't look any better in that department with both Mirko Vucinic and Stephan Lichtsteiner coming off with physical problems during Wednesday's 2-2 draw with Galatasaray. Defender Andrea Barzagli was also seen limping at the final whistle. Antonio Conte's squad will certainly be looking forward to the upcoming break for national team play but it needs to make a statement first against Milan.
LAST-MINUTE MILAN: Two goals in the final four minutes to rescue a 2-2 draw at Torino. Two goals in the last nine minutes to beat Celtic 2-0. Two more in the dying seconds to squeak out a 3-3 draw with Bologna last week. Then a penalty from Mario Balotelli in the fourth minute of injury time to earn a 1-1 draw at Ajax in a frantic finish to a Champions League match Tuesday. Injury-depleted AC Milan has been leaving it all to the end lately, as evidenced by Balotelli scoring all five of his goals this season in the second half. Against Juve, Balotelli will be serving the third match in his three-game ban for insulting the referee. But he'll be back next week with Italy, as national team coach Cesare Prandelli says he won't exclude the striker on the basis of his code of ethics, since the ban expires Sunday — a day before the Azzurri gather.
RUDI RULES: New coach Rudi Garcia has revolutionized Roma's lineup with six new players and the effect has paid off with six straight wins to open Serie A. It's quite a turnaround from last season, when Roma finished sixth, 25 points behind champion Juventus. The key new players are: goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis, right back Maicon, centre back Mehdi Benatia, midfielder Kevin Strootman and forwards Adem Ljajic and Gervinho. Roma hasn't just been winning, it's been dominating, with 17 goals scored and one allowed. Last weekend, the Giallorossi routed Bologna 5-0. Roma fans have turned from pre-season pessimism and bewilderment over Garcia to full-on praise. "There's been too much talk about me," Garcia said. "I hope there are compliments at the end of the season, too." Compliments would be welcome after Roma's next two matches, too, which come against Inter and Napoli. Thus far, the Roma's only real test was beating Lazio 2-0 in the capital's derby.
MAZZARRI'S MOVES: If Roma's turnaround has been remarkable, Inter's is nearly just as impressive. Ninth last season, Inter looks completely different under new coach Walter Mazzarri, who managed Napoli to second-place last season. Mazzarri's mid-match moves have been key: Mauro Icardi came off the bench and scored against Juventus, Diego Milito was sent on in the second half of a 7-0 rout of Sassuolo and added two goals to herald his return from a seven-month injury layoff, and Icardi came on again to score in the second half of a 1-1 draw with Cagliari last weekend. Inter has won four, drawn two and lost none after being defeated 16 times in 38 matches last season.
LEANING HEAVY ON HIGUAIN: Napoli's first loss this season, a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal in the Champions League on Tuesday, came with Gonzalo Higuan sitting in the Emirates Stadium tribune after deciding he couldn't push his strained thigh through any more pain. Arsenal scored twice in the opening quarter-hour and Napoli's attack was lifeless. Higuain has scored four goals in seven matches since transferring from Real Madrid to take over Napoli's centre forward position from the departed Edinson Cavani. "Clearly when you buy a player like him you can't have another of the same level," Napoli coach Rafa Benitez said. "I tried a few solutions (such as Goran Pandev) but it wasn't easy after falling behind so quickly." Benitez is hoping Higuain returns Sunday against a promoted Livorno side that is mid-table.
Follow Andrew Dampf at http://twitter.com/AndrewDampfAP
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