Race on in Italy to peg back Inter

ROME: It will be a case of damage limitation this weekend for Inter Milan's Serie A title rivals.

The reiging four-in-a-row champions went four points clear of the pack on Thursday following a thrill-a-minute 5-3 win over Palermo.

And the worry now for Inter's rivals and neutrals alike is that the gap could keep on growing if the leaders don't slip up soon.

Inter travel away to newly-promoted Livorno on Sunday in a game they will be expected to win comfortably, even if they do ring the changes to keep some players fresh ahead of a long trip to Ukraine to tackle Dynamo Kiev in midweek.

Livorno may have won two straight games since Serse Cosmi took over from Gennaro Ruotolo just 10 days ago with the club rock bottom and winless, but beating Inter will be a whole different proposition for the team with the worst attack in the league.

Inter's main rivals have a 24-hour start on the champions to try to put some pressure on them and provoke a slip.

AC Milan and Juventus host Parma and Napoli respectively on Saturday -- Inter play on Sunday -- but come into their matches in vastly differing states of morale.

Juve are on a high after climbing to second in the table following Wednesday's 5-1 thrashing of Sampdoria, who had been above them at kick-off.

That victory convinced Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon that his Juve team are back to their best.

"Scintillating? No, I'd call it a nuclear explosion," he said about the performance against Samp.

"That's the quality we have and we knew it. We wanted to win and to do so convincingly.

"We've always performed against the big teams, but unfortunately it's the other matches that make the difference.

"We need to try to stop dropping points in those to give ourselves a chance of reaching our goals."

Napoli are one of the teams who probably fall into the category of other matches for Juve and they will be buoyed by their stunning late comeback against Milan on Wednesday when they snatched a 2-2 draw despite reaching 90min at 2-0 down.

It meant they remained unbeaten under coach Walter Mazzarri and they showed enough against Milan to suggest they will be more than a handful for Juve, as long as they can tighten up at the back, where they did look vulnerable.

Milan had been on course for a fourth straight win but the two dropped points now leaves them nine points behind Inter and knowing that they can afford few such banana skins if they are to have any hope of winning the title this year.

If truth be told, Napoli deserved their draw and Milan's luck finally ran out after three games in a row where they fought back from 1-0 down to snatch narrow victories.

They host a newly-promoted team but one holding a Champions League qualification berth and with a lot to defend on Saturday night.

At the bottom Marco Baroni takes over Siena for the first time following the sacking of Marco Giampaolo as the Tuscans host Lazio, whose own coach Davide Ballardini is surely perilously close to the boot after they slumped to 15th with Wednesday's 1-0 home loss to Cagliari.

Meanwhile, Samp will be hoping to bounce back from their Turin humiliation at home to Bari while Palermo and Fiorentina will both look to boost their Champions League qualification hopes as they host Genoa and Catania respectively.



AC Milan v Parma, Juventus v Napoli


Cagliari v Atalanta, Chievo v Udinese, Fiorentina v Catania, Livorno v Inter Milan, Palermo v Genoa, AS Roma v Bologna, Sampdoria v Bari, Siena v Lazio