Serie A: Buoyant Inter turns attentions to rival Juve in double derby weekend

On a big Serie A Sunday, Inter Milan, on a high from its dramatic advancement to the Champions League quarterfinals, takes on fierce rival Juventus and the Rome derby also has an impact on the top-four race.

Simone Inzaghi's team caps off the weekend's matches with the "Derby d'Italia," a fiery match between Italy's traditionally biggest two clubs that is as hotly contested and far more poisonous than Inter's battle for local bragging rights with AC Milan.

It could be key in a tight tussle for spots in next year's Champions League competition. Five Italian clubs are fighting for three places, league leader Napoli off in the distance and seemingly cruising to the title. Inter is 18 points behind Napoli in second place and separated by just three points from fifth-place Roma, which is two points and two places behind Lazio ahead of an intriguing capital city clash that tees up Sunday's main event.

Defeat at Spezia on Friday looked certain to damage Inter's top-four hopes, but all of its rivals then dropped points, including Atalanta, which is six points away from the Champions League places and hosts Empoli on Friday. Inter has been inconsistent this season, but the team has shown up in the biggest games, as in Wednesday's goalless draw at Porto that secured them a place in the round of eight of the Champions League for the first time since 2011. The 1-0 aggregate win over the Portuguese club temporarily silenced the critics who after the Spezia loss suggested Inzaghi's time at Inter would be up.

"I've been in soccer a long time and I know both where the criticism comes from and whom I should listen to," Inzaghi said. "Sunday, we have an important match, but right now I want to enjoy the moment, we deserve it."

Juventus enters the game at the San Siro in the uncharacteristically low position of seventh and 10 points behind fourth placed AC Milan, which plays at Udinese on Saturday. Juventus would be ahead of Inter in second if not for its 15-point penalty inflicted in January by the Italian soccer federation for illicit transfer activity. The club is hoping to overturn the ruling but has to wait weeks until it knows its fate. In the meantime, Juve has been slowly climbing back up the standings with five wins in its last six league matches.

Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri has repeatedly cited the number of points his team has earned "on the field," a phrase used often by fans when talking about the number of league titles the team has won. Officially, Juve has 36 titles, but supporters believe the two taken away in the aftermath of the infamous 'Calciopoli' match-fixing scandal should be counted. French midfielder Paul Pogba, who has played just 35 minutes since returning from Manchester United in the summer, remains out due to injury.

Player to watch: Paulo Dybala

The clearest demonstration of how important Paulo Dybala has become to Roma came last weekend, when the Argentine forward came on at half-time with his team down a man and two goals to Sassuolo. He pulled a goal back with a fabulous first-time strike and went so close to leveling the score with a delicate long-range chip that was just under hit. Roma ended up losing 4-3, but everything good about the team's play went through him, and if it is able to win the derby and boost its top-four hopes, it will need its star player on top form.

Friday: Sassuolo vs Spezia, Atalanta vs Empoli
Saturday: Monza vs Cremonese, Salernitana vs Bologna, Udinese vs AC Milan
Sunday: Sampdoria vs Verona, Fiorentina vs Lecce, Torino vs Napoli, Lazio vs Roma, Inter Milan vs Juventus

© Agence France-Presse

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