Inter rivals go head to head in title chase

ROME: Serie A title pretenders Juventus and Sampdoria will have 24 hours to make up some ground on leaders Inter Milan on Wednesday.

The champions do not play until Thursday, by which time Sampdoria could have replaced them at the top if they win.

The problem for the Genoa-based club is that they face a tough away trip to Juventus, although on current form there is little to fear from the Turin giants.

Until a week ago, Juve had not won for a month and five games, but although they have managed two wins since then, neither was convincing.

Their 1-0 victory over Israeli minnows Maccabi Haifa was achieved only after some tense final moments against a team already reduced to 10 men.

And their success by the same score at Siena on Sunday was earned only through a dead ball, with Amauri heading home Brazilian compatirot Diego's free-kick.

Since then Juve have found out that striker Vincenzo Iaquinta will be out for more than a month, putting more pressure on an under-performing team already missing Alessandro Del Piero.

More than once this season Juve have also been thankful to Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon for earning them a result.

Worse still, Sampdoria come into this game in rich goal-scoring form having destroyed Bologna 4-1 on Saturday.

Antonio Cassano was at his scintillating best at the weekend and although he didn't score, and has struggled to find the net himself this season, he was at the centre of everything creative from Sampdoria.

Buffon for one is wary of the team directly above them in the table - Sampdoria sit second, two points behind Inter and two ahead of Juve.

"We came home from Siena with an important victory but we have to improve as quickly as possible," he said.

"We've got nine crucial days now that will shape our season, both in the league and in Europe.

"We have to try to be attentive, concentrated and also confident.

"(Sampdoria) are one of the most in-form teams of the moment, and right now they're playing the most attractive football in Italy."

Meanwhile improving AC Milan face a tough test away to another side currently on the right path, Napoli.

The southerners have won both games since former Sampdoria coach Walter Mazzarri took over from former Italy boss Roberto Donadoni.

Milan, though, are on a three-match winning streak and on each occasion have had to come from a goal down to do so.

However, vice-president Adriano Galliani insists they will work on their recent slow starts.

"I spoke with the president (Italy Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi) after the match in Verona (a 2-1 win over Chievo) and he told me the team is making him suffer too much," said Galliani.

"I asked his forgiveness and promised they'd make him suffer less in future."

All jokes apart, Milan have been somewhat fortunate to come away with three victories from games that could easily have ended all square, or even in defeat.

And it is only a matter of time before their tendency to concede early goals comes back to hurt them.

Inter are another team coming up against form opponents in Palermo, whose win over Udinese on Sunday left them fourth and believing they can challenge for a Champions League qualification position this season.