Inter, Juve prepare for looming showdown

Inter Milan and Juventus, the top two teams in Serie A, are desperately trying to avoid talking up their looming table-topping clash.

Leaders Inter have a five-point gap to second-placed Juventus but already thoughts in both Milan and Turin are turning to the 'Derby of Italy', which should be an early 'title decider' in two weeks' time. First things first, though, both teams have relatively straight-forward matches to negotiate, as well as European commitments before that game comes around.

Champions Inter travel to Bologna on Saturday while Juve host Udinese and both will be more than aware of the dangers of looking too far ahead. Last time out Inter were held to a 1-1 draw at home to struggling AS Roma, just a few days after earning a crucial come-from-behind 2-1 victory in Ukraine against Dynamo Kiev in the UEFA Champions League.

Juve too have suffered before and after big European games this season - their first defeat, 2-0 at Palermo, came after a trip to Bayern Munich and their second, 3-2 at home to Napoli, was ahead of a trip to Maccabi Haifa.

But Italy captain and Juve centre-back Fabio Cannavaro insists talk of Inter is premature. "I've heard that many people are already talking about the match against Inter, personally I have decided not to touch it for another two weeks," he said.

"I'm interested in the games against Udinese and Bordeaux. The first should let us know that we can't let up in the league and the second should book us our place in the Champions League knock-out rounds. Fortunately after the international break we will welcome back important players such as (Alessandro) Del Piero, which is a good thing for us given that we need everyone."

Slip-up for chasers
Juve can't afford too many more slip-ups given they have also been held at home by Bologna and drew away to both Fiorentina and Genoa. While they did win their last match 5-2 away to Atalanta, they have rarely been convincing this season and if anything have been flattered by many of their results.

Despite their draw at home to Roma, Inter are in rude health, their only defeat this season coming away to Sampdoria, while they sit not only top of Serie A but also their UEFA Champions League group containing holders Barcelona. But Bologna come into the game off the back of an impressive 3-1 win over Palermo and few of their players will have been on international duty so they will be less fatigued than the champions.

The third team in the title race, AC Milan host Cagliari hoping to continue their recent improvement that has seen them win five of their last seven games and close the gap on Inter to seven points. But full-back Gianluca Zambrotta insists Cagliari will be no push-overs having won their last four matches.

"Cagliari are in great form and we know that Sunday's game won't be easy," he said. "We still have some time to study them and to prepare the best we can.

"Either way we've had a good week of training behind us and we're in the best possible condition for Sunday afternoon. We're playing in a way that allows us to create many opportunities, we're attacking with many bodies."