The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
5 things to know about Serie A, with Napoli-Inter and Milan-Roma scheduled this weekend
ROME - After a difficult week in Europe that saw only one Italian club advance in the Champions League, there are two key Serie A matches this weekend.
Third-place Napoli meets fourth-place Inter Milan on Sunday and AC Milan — the only Italian club to reach the knockout phase of the Champions League — hosts second-place Roma on Monday.
In other matches, league leader Juventus hosts promoted Sassuolo and fifth-place Fiorentina faces Bologna in a regional matchup.
Here are five things to know ahead of this weekend's matches:
Napoli beat Premier League leader Arsenal 2-0 but was eliminated on goal difference, becoming the first club to exit the Champions League with 12 points under the current format.
"Exiting in this way should make us more confident for the league," Napoli coach Rafa Benitez said. "We have nothing to be ashamed about.
"This should give us a boost mentally and character-wise, having won a match in this atmosphere."
Napoli is hoping that captain Marek Hamsik (bruised foot) and goalkeeper Pepe Reina (right thigh injury) return soon from injury.
Inter has drawn its last three matches.
Juventus is still seething about its loss to Galatasaray on a ruined field in Istanbul after a match that was split over two days due to snow.
But the two-time Serie A champions could have a nice consolation prize in dropping down to the Europa League: the final in the second-tier competition will be played at the Juventus Stadium in May.
"The final in Turin is a goal," Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini said. "But first we've got to think about the league and the Italian Cup. We need to do what Chelsea did last season — they exited the Champions League broken but then they won the trophy."
AC Milan will have to hold up the dignity of Serie A as the only Italian club to reach the knockout stage of the Champions League.
It's the first time since 32 clubs began taking part in the top European competition in 1999-2000 that only one Italian squad reached the last 16.
Milan is ninth in Serie A and has won only four of 15 matches domestically but the Rossoneri's performance in Europe has been another story — highlighted by a 0-0 draw with Ajax on Wednesday despite playing most of the match with 10 men after captain Riccardo Montolivo was sent off.
Mario Balotelli was also applauded for his play Wednesday. While the striker did not score, he helped out in defence and was a physical presence — following up his two-goal performance in last weekend's draw at Livorno.
Roma captain Francesco Totti is ready to play again after sitting out since October with an injured right hamstring.
It's perfect timing for Roma, with Monday's game at the San Siro a key test of the Giallorossi's title chances.
Roma opened the season with a record 10 straight wins but then drew four matches during Totti's absence before getting back in the winning column last weekend with a 2-1 victory over Fiorentina.
Roma trails Juventus by three points and faces its Turin rival immediately after the winter break.
ARGENTINE FOR ITALY
Argentina-born defender Gabriel Paletta is available to play for Italy's national team.
"If Prandelli wants me I would be happy to play for Italy," said the 27-year-old Paletta, who is appealing to Italy coach Cesare Prandelli because he can play in either a three- or a four-man defence.
Paletta holds dual citizenship and could provide Prandelli with a bench option behind the Juventus trio of Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonuccci.
Paletta is in his fourth season with Parma.
Parma, tied for ninth with AC Milan, hosts Cagliari on Sunday.
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