Juventus have a trip to Sicily to begin what will no doubt be a massive week in terms of their season. Last week’s draw with lowly Sampdoria coupled with Inter’s derby win, left Claudio Ranieri’s side nine points adrift of the league leaders with just 14 games to play. Many have written off any kind of title race from now til the end of the season but you will hear no such whispers amongst the Bianconeri camp. They have to keep winning, knowing it only takes a couple of slip-ups from the Nerazzurri and they could be back in with a shot. Ranieri will be drumming this into his players – any chance to close the gap on their rivals HAS to be taken. Arguably, il Biscione will barely drop nine points from now til the end the campaign so the Old Lady will just about need maximum points from their remaining games in order to prevail come May. A tough order.
Saturday’s visit to the Barbera will be one of their trickiest. Palermo have won nine of their eleven games there this season and they certainly have no trouble finding the back of the net when on home turf – stark contrast to their goal scoring prowess on the road. The Rosanero already boast the impressive scalp of Milan at the Barbera, beating the Rossoneri a convincing 3-1 win back in November, while Euro-chasers Roma, Genoa and Napoli have also been dispatched. Interestingly, although Palermo has only won twice away from home all season and struggled to score goals, they did beat Juve at the Stadio Olimpico di Torino back in October 2-1 and will be looking to complete a rare double over the fallen giants of the Italian game.
The Rosanero also welcome back former striker Amauri who hit two goals for le Aquile in this very fixture last term culminating in a stunning 3-2 victory over his present employers. The Brazilian hitman netted in last week’s draw with Samp continuing his successful first season with the Turin giants – 12 league goals has seen him become an integral part of Ranieri’s plans following his big money summer move. However, noises coming out of the Bianconeri camp are that the former Rosanero favourite may well be rested with the crunch tie at Chelsea in midweek, with his replacement most likely to be fans favourite Vincenzo Iaquinta. The former Udinese man has endured a difficult 18 months in Turin but the Bianconeri tifosi are very fond of their Italian striker knowing his substitute appearances at the very least might just prove crucial for their season. The majority feeling in Turin is that Iaquinta hasn’t been given a fair crack at his time with the Serie A giants – first of all being overlooked in favour of David Trezeguet in his first season, while Amauri has shot to first choice this campaign leaving Iaquinta limited first team opportunities. The 29-year-old might just be offered more first team chances from now til the end of the season with the games coming thick and fast and the prospect of many more Champions League matches to come.
Another player hoping to upset his former employers is Fabrizio Miccoli. The pint-sized striker endured a difficult spell in Turin and after limited opportunities he was deemed surplus to requirements. But he has scored goals wherever he’s been and the ‘pocket bomber’ will be out to show the Old Lady what he’s capable of. With eight goals thus far this season, he has been a fundamental part of le Aquile’s success this season forging an exciting partnership with Uruguayan forward Edison Cavani.
The central midfield pairing of Fabio Liverani and Antonio Nocerino has offered them plenty of quality and guile if not any goals, while Mark Bresciano and Fabio Simplicio have more than made up for that shortcoming with an impressive ten goals between them already this season.
Palermo look set for another mid table finish – a decent return for a club of its size. But looking at the quality they have in their side, you could argue that they should perhaps be aiming a little higher. The squad doesn’t quite possess the strength in depth their rivals have and their leaky defence has to improve if they are to challenge the likes of Fiorentina and Roma and make up those valuable few places in the top half of the table. But the Rosanero sold some big names last summer, with the likes of Amauri, Andrea Barzagli and Christian Zaccardo all departing so Davide Ballardini will be content with their season to date. Six points off fourth spot (and Champions League qualification) – a distant dream but European football at the Barbera next season is very much a realistic ambition and one Ballardini will be desperate to achieve.
Juventus are set to welcome back Giorgio Chiellini while Ranieri seems likely to ‘tinker’ with his midfield as Momo Sissoko and Claudio Marchisio are expected to start. Meanwhile, Mauro Camoranesi battles with Marco Marchionni for the right-sided berth and Alessandro Del Piero may be rested along with Amauri, so David Trezeguet may be handed a rare start as he continues his comeback from injury.
Jose Mourinho’s Inter kick off a few hours before this match on Saturday evening and that game at the Dall’Ara may well have an effect on the match down in Sicily. Juventus could be 12 points adrift of top spot by the time they kick off or with the prospect of narrowing the gap to just six points. If the Nerazzurri do fail to win at Bologna, expect the Old Lady to come out with real fire in their belly for an exciting clash with le Aquile.