As the depleted ranks of Juventus limp towards an increasingly realistic proposition of finishing third behind the red and blue sides of Milan, the visit of Lecce should be seen as a springboard to recovering the verve that had the Old Lady snapping at José Mourinho’s heels up until the recent slump in the club’s fortunes.
However, following two high-scoring draws against underdog opposition in recent weeks this may not be the simple task of turning up that it may have been seen as in the first half of the season. Following a 3-3 draw with Chievo in Turin and an equally galling 2-2 last week at bottom club Reggina, which saw the Bianconeri twice have to recover a goal deficit, Claudio Ranieri’s hope of securing a second place berth is starting to look like a forlorn memory.
Lecce, meanwhile, have begun the long and arduous road to salvation. Visiting Turin is not often seen as a good thing when in desperate need of points unless you are being entertained by Torino. But with Juventus now nine points off the pace and looking fatigued, Luigi De Canio will be grateful of even a point that builds on i Lupi’s 2-1 win over Catania ahead of the dogfight to remain a Serie A outfit for the 2009/10 season.
There is one fresh injury worry for the already blighted ranks of the Old Lady, as club physiotherapists Aldo Esposito and Luigi Pochettino look set to earn their money as the busiest men in professional football. Claudio Marchisio is likely to miss out after being withdrawn five minutes before half-time on Sunday afternoon with a thigh strain. The 23-year-old is not expected to be out for much longer than a week and is open to be replaced by Danish holding midfielder Christian Poulsen. Nicola Legrottaglie may also return, but this is dependent on his recovery from the flu virus he suffered last Friday.
A potential headache faces Ranieri ahead of the second-place decider away to Milan on May 10, with no less than five players on the brink of suspension. If Olof Mellberg, Amauri, Pavel Nedvěd, Tiago or Zdenek Grygera contrive to get on the wrong side of Sunday’s match official then Ranieri will be left with the bare essentials in a game which will really decide who can throw everything they have at derailing Inter’s ascent to a fourth consecutive Scudetto.
21 Grygera – 41 Ariaudo – 4 Mellberg – 28 Molinaro
16 Camoranesi – 18 Poulsen – 6 Zanetti – 11 Nedvěd
9 Iaquinta – 10 Del Piero
Luigi Di Canio can draw on the same side that earned him his first victory since taking over the Giallorossi hot seat from Mario Beretta at the start of March. Although Di Canio may opt to welcome back midfielder Luca Ariatti, who was left out in the victory at home to Catania, at the expense of Greek striker Dimitrios Papadopoulos. Adding Ariatti to the formation is likely to see Lecce line-up with a far more defensive 4-4-1-1 at the Stadio Olimpico, and look to catch the methodical Bianconeri with quick bursts.
Even with the conservative set-up and counter play, the Salentini will be hoping for at least one member of the team to add to the paltry scoring record which has seen just seen 31 goals in the previous 32 fixtures. The pressure is on former Chievo man Simone Tiribocchi to add to his eight goals this term by coming up with the goods against the usually scrupulous Juventus defence and fire the Giallorossi closer to safety on Sunday.
3 Polenghi – 14 Fabiano – 16 Esposito – 40 Giuliatto
8 Munari – 7 Zanchetta – 4 Edinho – 19 Ariatti
The time to change fortunes is quickly slipping through the fingers of all involved and Juventus need to start collecting points against the supposedly inferior teams if they are to at least finish second. Lecce provide a good chance to test and probe the set-up ahead of the trip to Milan next month, but with everyone clawing for survival or glory no game can be taken lightly when there is still so much left to play for.
On the other side of the coin, Lecce has been landed with an exceptionally difficult run-in if they are to ensure that they do not join Reggina in looking up at the big table from Serie B. However, if i Lupi are to survive at the expense of two from Chievo, Bologna and Torino then they realistically need to take a point back from their visit to Turin with trips to Napoli and Genoa and a visit from Fiorentina still to come between now and the final curtain on the 2008/09 season.
When the two clubs met in December, the Bianconeri notched a 2-1 win in the Stadio Via del Mare with a Sebastian Giovinco-inspired performance that saw a last gasp effort by Brazilian Amauri add to the Atomic Ant’s opener and cancel out Daniele Cacia’s 83rd minute strike that looked to have bagged a point for the Giallorossi.
Quite pertinently, Sunday’s clash is set to be played out behind closed doors as punishment for the sickening racism levelled at Inter striker Mario Balotelli by the Bianconeri tifosi during the 1-1 draw earlier in the month. How this will affect the outcome remains to be seen but it could help the visitors psychologically, with Juventus unable to call on home support to lift their ailing form.