Milan - Inter Milan host struggling Lazio looking to tighten
their grip on Serie A before preparing for the "hard times" of trying
to win a first title since 2010 when action resumes in the New Year.
Roberto Mancini's men are among several teams testing Juve's
bid for a record-equalling consecutive fifth title and hold a four-point lead
over both Fiorentina and Napoli ahead of the final game of 2015 at the San Siro
Juventus have jumped up to fourth place six points adrift
with a streak of six consecutive league wins that has consigned their
disastrous start to the campaign to distant memory.
With Roma a further point off the pace in fifth after a
series of setbacks that has heaped the pressure on French coach Rudi Garcia,
the Serie A leaders have plenty of reason for festive cheer.
Come what may on Sunday, Inter will still be top on January
6 when they travel to Empoli after the two-week break.
But while Mancini has congratulated his players' efforts,
the coach who won seven titles including three consecutive league trophies in
his previous spell at the club (2004-2008) is taking nothing for granted.
- 'Still a long way' -
"We're happy with the way things have gone so far but
there's still a long way to go this season," Mancini said after Inter
cruised into the quarter-finals of the Italian Cup with a 3-0 rout of Serie B
side Cagliari on Tuesday.
"We laid some good foundations last year, now things
are going better. But it takes time to build a great team and we have to keep
"There will be hard times ahead but we're delighted to
be top at Christmas."
Also read: Jovetic leaves City for Inter Milan on loan
Fiorentina handed Inter a footballing masterclass with a 4-1
win at the San Siro in September but two defeats in the space of four days have
left La Viola in dire need of a morale-boosting win at home to Chievo.
Paulo Sousa's men, who meet Tottenham in the next round of
the Europa League, exited the Cup at the last 16 stage midweek following a 1-0
defeat to Serie A strugglers Carpi, the defeat coming after Sunday's 3-1
humbling at Juventus.
"I'm angry and disappointed, it wasn't the result we
were expecting but when you play in a competition like this it can
happen," said Sousa, who will be without Italy left back Manuel Pasqual
after he suffered a thigh injury in midweek.
With Inter and Fiorentina both expected to prevail, Napoli
can ill afford to slip up on their first away trip since a stunning 3-2 defeat
at Bologna a fortnight ago.
Maurizio Sarri's men are also bona fide title challengers
and with 14 goals in his league account Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain is
expected to finish top of the pile in 2015.
Napoli can ill afford another slip-up, but Atalanta's
ever-popular Dutch midfielder Marten De Roon said Atalanta have other plans.
"There's only one way to repay the fans at Christmas,
with a win against Napoli," said De Roon, who joined the club from
Heerenveen last summer.
"It would be amazing for the club and the fans."
The festive cheer could be in short supply in the capital,
meanwhile, with both Roma coach Garcia and Lazio counterpart Stefano Pioli
under increasing pressure.
Roma host Genoa on Sunday looking for their first league win
in three games, only days after a shock Cup exit to second division Spezia.
Frenchman Garcia has been officially backed by the club
although reports suggesting World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi is in the
frame to replace him will gather momentum with another setback.
Although defeat to Inter would unlikely seal Pioli's fate,
Lazio face the league leaders looking for their first win in eight games.
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