Balotelli a doubt as resurgent Milan host Juve
28 February 2014, 09:03
Milan - AC Milan could be without striker Mario Balotelli for the San Siro clash against Juventus Sunday when the Rossoneri will look to capitalise on the champions' midweek endeavours in the Europa League.
Juventus are unbeaten in their last 17 league games, a streak in which Antonio Conte's men have won 15 times and settled for draws only twice on their way to building a nine-point lead on second-placed Roma.
Roma, who have a game in hand, host Inter in Serie A's only Saturday game.
However Conte has regularly expressed fears that his side's ambitions in Europe could affect their bid for a third consecutive scudetto.
Juve qualified for the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday with a 4-0 aggregate victory over Trabzonspor, when Arturo Vidal and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo scored first-half goals to secure a 2-0 second-leg win.
Fernando Llorente (10) and Carlos Tevez (14), who have 24 league goals between them, were both rested meaning they should be relatively fresh for the visit to Milan.
Daniele Bonera, who returns to Milan's squad along with fellow defender Mattia De Sciglio, has acknowledged the pair's threat but said the Rossoneri mean to continue their resurgence from a disastrous start to the season.
"We know we have a long road ahead of us but we're not afraid of Juventus," Bonera told the Milan Channel.
"Tevez and Llorente are a good combo, the numbers speak for themselves. But we are starting to find a balance and we want to continue our recent run of good results."
Milan have lost only once in six games since Clarence Seedorf took over as coach but the Dutchman is set to be without Balotelli for a second successive game due to a shoulder injury suffered recently in a Champions League 1-1 draw at home to Atletico Madrid.
- Playing with a face mask -
Giampaolo Pazzini could be handed his second successive start, after last week's 2-0 win away to Sampdoria, but would play with a face mask to protect his nose after suffering a face injury last week.
On Saturday, title-challengers Roma will host Inter in a half-empty stadium.
Earlier this week a Roma appeal against extra sections of the Olympic Stadium being closed was rejected by Italy's top sports arbitration court.
The initial sanction closing both ends of the stadium for two home games was originally delivered after Roma's fans were charged with "territorial discrimination" having targeted Napoli with offensive chants.
Roma have already served one of those bans and made light of the comparative lack of fans after a 3-0 home win over Sampdoria by mockingly running in line to pay tribute to a tribune devoid of any fans.
Inter travel to the Olympic Stadium sitting fifth, but 11 points off the final Champions League qualifying spot held by third-placed Napoli having been held 1-1 at home by Cagliari last week.
Brazilian midfielder Hernanes should return to Walter Mazzarri's starting line-up, with on-form Mauro Icardi set to partner fellow Argentinian Rodrigo Palacio in attack with Diego Milito on the bench.
Napoli, who squeezed into the Europa League last 16 thanks to a 3-1 win over Swansea City, travel to struggling Livorno looking for the three points that would keep Fiorentina at bay and tighten their grip on a Champions League spot.
Fiorentina, who also qualified for the Europa League last 16 with a 4-2 aggregate victory over Danish outfit Esbjerg, sit fourth with a six-point deficit to Napoli ahead of their trip to Lazio.
Roma v Inter (1945 GMT)
Cagliari v Udinese (1130), Atalanta v Chievo, Genoa v Catania, Verona v Bologna, Sassuolo v Parma, Torino v Sampdoria (all 1400), Livorno v Napoli (1730), Fiorentina v Lazio, Milan v Juventus (1945)