Serie A set for thrilling title finish
Inter Milan have the lead, Roma have the momentum, but third-placed AC Milan cannot be discounted as the Serie A title race heads for a thrilling conclusion.
Inter have seemingly the easiest game of the weekend at home to lowly Bologna while Roma and Milan face tricky trips to Bari and Cagliari respectively. But Inter are the only ones to have played in midweek meaning fatigue could be a factor while their preparation has been hit by a number of crucial suspensions.
Captain Javier Zanetti, Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o and Brazilian defenders Maicon and Lucio are all out, but at least teenage striker Mario Balotelli has made his peace with the club and is available again. Zanetti will miss his first league game after 127 consecutive Serie A appearances.
But he believes that if his team can repeat their performance in Wednesday's UEFA Champions League 1-0 success over CSKA Moscow, then they can get back to winning ways following a run of just two victories in their last nine Serie A matches, including last weekend's 2-1 reverse at Roma.
"Against Bologna I won't be there but with this resolve (shown against CSKA) we'll soon start winning again," he said. "We dominated in Rome but unfortunately we didn't get the three points."
Inter have managed only 11 points out of a possible 27 in the last month and a half while Roma are on a 21-match unbeaten run in the league and have shaved 13 points off the lead Inter held over them in November. The gap is now at one point and Roma are the form team in Serie A, even without talisman Francesco Totti, although he is now fit to return.
That leaves coach Claudio Ranieri with a difficult choice to make for the trip to Bari - stick with a winning team and leave Totti on the bench, or bring the fans' idol back into the starting 11. They have arguably the toughest game this weekend of the top three against a Bari side that have proved awkward opponents all season, particularly at home, and are in contention for European qualification. They have won nine of their 15 home games and conceded only 12 goals, having held Inter to a draw and beaten Juventus.
Milan also face a very difficult test with a trip to Sardinia and unlike Roma, they are in dire form and have a number of absentees. Milan have not won in their last three games, which is why they sit three points behind neighbours Inter, and they are still missing the likes of David Beckham, Alessandro Nesta and Pato.
Milan utility man Ignazio Abate believes his team can still finish top of the pile, although he is expecting a real challenge from mid-table Cagliari. "Cagliari have already achieved their minimum objective, they're a team without pressure and they're also young and run a lot," he said.
"On top of that they're well organised tactically, it won't be easy. There's three teams separated by three points, that's not much and we believe. We have to reach May without any regrets. We've done well this season and against all odds."