Juventus' pursuit of Napoli on hold after snowed off game, Lazio continue surge in Serie A

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Sergej Milinkovic-Savic put in another eye-catching performance for Lazio.

Champions Juventus‘s Serie A game was snowed off on Sunday as Lazio moved third with a 3-0 win over Sassuolo at the expense of AS Roma who were beaten 2-0 by AC Milan.

Juventus are a point behind leaders Napoli, who play Cagliari in Sardinia on Monday, and had been looking to move top against Atalanta in Turin but for blizzard-like conditions which saw five centimetres of snow pile up before kick-off.

“It’s possible to play in these conditions, but it would not be a spectacle worthy of the top flight. There is also the issue of potential harm to the players,” said Juventus director Beppe Marotta.

Ciro Immobile and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic continued their goal-scoring sprees to lift Lazio into third, as Patrick Cutrone and Davide Calabria gave AC Milan their first win in the Stadio Olimpico in six years.

Roma – who had been on a three-match Serie A winning streak – slipped to fifth behind Inter Milan who beat bottom side Benevento 2-0 on Saturday, with AC Milan just outside the European places in seventh.

“Obviously it’s a wake up call,” said Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco, of the defeat which came just days after throwing away a lead to lose 2-1 to Shakhtar Donetesk in the Champions League.

“We cannot be happy with this result, nor our season overall. We completely lost our way after the first goal.”

Cutrone broke through after the break, with defender Calabria adding the second after 74 minutes.

Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma – celebrating his 19th birthday – did well to parry an early Cengiz Under strike, and also cleared a close range Patrik Schick effort over the bar.

“It’s an important win, one that will make a difference,” said Cutrone, crediting coach Gennaro Gattuso with transforming the team.

“We are really united now and proving we are a great team. The coach really cares about the squad and we’ve come together under him.”

AC Milan play Lazio in the Stadio Olympico in the Italian Cup semi-final on Wednesday before next weekend’s derby against Inter Milan. Gattuso’s side are also through to the Europa League round of 16 where they meet English side Arsenal.

IMMOBILE ON TRACK FOR GOLDEN BOOT

Earlier Lazio and Sassuolo finished a bad-tempered clash with 10 men with in-form Serb Milinkovic-Savic scoring a brace to bring his tally to 11 goals this season.

Lazio doubled their lead amid controversy, with a penalty awarded following consultation with the video assistant referee (VAR) after the ball struck Federico Peluso’s hand.

Immobile stepped up to slot home after half an hour to give him six goals in Lazio’s last three games – 32 this season and a league leading 23 in Serie A.

Ciro Immobile extended his lead in the capocannoniere race.

Ciro Immobile extended his lead in the capocannoniere race.

The 28-year-old scored a double last week to get Lazio back to winning ways after a three-match losing streak, and hit a hat-trick in a 5-1 rout of Steaua Bucharest in Europa League action on Thursday.

“I’m sure he’ll win the Golden Boot, he deserves it for how he works every day,” said coach Simone Inzaghi of Immobile.

“The important thing is that we continue to perform like today.

“We had played three games in a week, now we have three more. We have little time to recover, but when you have goals (the) fatigue in your head disappears faster.”

Both sides played the final half an hour with 10 men as tempers flared with Domenico Berardi and Adam Marusic both shown straight red cards after consultation with the VAR.

Berardi was sent off for a bad tackle on Stefan Radu while Marusic saw red for elbowing Brazilian defender Rogerio.

Sassuolo are now just three points above the relegation zone.

Elsewhere, Sampdoria continued their push for Europe with a 2-1 win over Udinese to stay sixth, equal on 44 points with AC Milan.

Fiorentina got their second win in two months with 1-0 win over Chievo, while Verona ended their three-match losing streak 2-1 at home to Torino.

In the battle against relegation, SPAL snatched a 3-2 win at Crotone to close the gap between the pair to one point.

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Gonzalo Higuain injury cannot stop Juventus against Torino and other talking points

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Gonzalo Higuain has become the latest Juventus star to be sidelined.

Juventus bounced back from their Champions League collapse against Tottenham with a 1-0 derby victory at Torino.

The visitors, who surrendered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at home to Spurs in the first leg of their last-16 clash in midweek, sealed victory thanks to Alex Sandro’s 33rd-minute tap-in. But their joy was tempered by star striker Gonzalo Higuain limping off injured on 15 minutes after a collision with Il Toro goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu.

Here are the main talking points as the six-time successive Serie A-champions kept the pace with leaders Napoli:

OLD LADY’S INJURY CURSE

Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri must wonder what he’s done to anger the football gods.

Injuries and illnesses which had already sidelined the likes of versatile Croatia forward Mario Mandzukic, France dynamo Blaise Matuidi and Colombia winger Juan Cuadrado struck again within the first three minutes when Higuain was fairly cleared out by Sirigu.

The €90 million (Dh410.2m) man seemed in immediate pain, hobbling around the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino turf until he was mercifully hooked soon after. A spell on the sidelines for the Argentina centre forward will produce particular melancholy because of his return of eight goals in the previous five games, compared to zero in the prior five.

This added to the test of Juve’s mental fortitude after a team with 15 clean sheets out of 16 imploded against Spurs. They stoically passed, winning a ninth-successive league game for the first time since May 2016.

It was not all bad news for the Bianconeri. Compatriot Paulo Dybala featured as a second-half replacement, ending his spell out with a hamstring issue since January 6.

With a double-header against competitive Atalanta in the league and Coppa Italia, visit of Lazio and the second leg against Spurs up next, Juve need both their Argentine front men fit and firing on all cylinders to continue their march.

ALLEGRI STAYS SWEET FOR SAMI

There were raised eyebrows when the team sheets showed that club stalwart Claudio Marchisio had only been granted a berth on the substitutes’ bench.

The dogged skills of Stefano Sturaro were instead favoured in the 4-3-3 formation utilised to match the hosts.

Understandable, despite Il Toro gaining a pathetic one point from their last seven derby clashes.

Germany centre midfielder Sami Khedira remained in the XI even though injury had curtailed his involvement in the uncharacteristic collapse versus Tottenham. The ex-Real Madrid man’s prominence is a mystery for certain Juve fans who wonder, what does he offer?

It is seven matches since he completed a tackle in Serie A and three since an interception was made, according to whoscored.com. His pass accuracy against Torino was 96.7 per cent, yet he produced no key passes.

Living on reputation, or does he perform a role only Allegri sees?

Torino defender Cristian Ansaldi lL) vies with Juventus' German midfielder Sami Khedira.

Torino defender Cristian Ansaldi vies with Juventus’ Germany midfielder Sami Khedira.

BELOTTI IS NOT BACK TO HIS BRILLIANT BEST

Trepidation would have been felt by Juve last week when Torino predator Andrea Belotti charged from his own half at Udinese and scored a stupendous first goal of 2018, in the process, apparently, casting aside this season’s repeat injury woes.

Yet when it came to facing Giorgio Chiellini and Daniele Rugani on Sunday, he looked well short of the marksman who struck 28 times in 38 matches last season.

A lack of assuredness was best shown early on when Chiellini was robbed by Joel Obi. But with Juve’s retreating, one-man defence in danger mode the Nigeria midfielder’s pass comically slipped right under Belotti’s feet.

In this fixture in 2016/17, the 24-year-old converted a wonderful header in an eventual 3-1 loss. This time, he had just one off-target shot and a paltry 19 touches.

SANDRO CAN WING IT

Allegri’s resourcefulness has been tested in recent weeks.

With options out wide depleted, Brazil left-back Sandro was pushed up onto the wing and the recent 4-2-3-1 ditched. It is testament to the 27-year-old’s ability how effortless he made this change.

Instincts of a striker were on show to loiter on the goal line and convert a searching cross from early substitute Fernando Bernardeschi – himself an injury doubt.

Only Miralem Pjanic and compatriot Douglas Costa (four) completed more dribbles than him (three). Only Chiellini and Dybala (three) drew more fouls (two).

Performances like this reinforce why he is so coveted.

Juventus' Brazil star Alex Sandro (2nd r) celebrates after scoring.

Juventus’ Brazil star Alex Sandro (2nd r) celebrates after scoring.

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Juventus look to leave European pain behind and other Serie A talking points

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Juventus will need to recover from their Champions League pain.

Key matches at the top and bottom await today as Serie A’s 16th round of matches continues.

Upon their return to domestic action, leaders Napoli host lowly SPAL and champions Juventus have the derby with Torino to look forward to. There are also key points to play for elsewhere, especially when relegation rivals Benevento and Crotone meet.

Here are the talking points:

Torino v Juventus (15:30)

There is no time for the Old Lady to wallow in misery after the shock of the midweek capitulation to Tottenham in the Champions League’s round of 16.

A heated trip to their Turin neighbours awaits on Sunday – a game they cannot afford to drop points in with leaders Napoli hosting third-bottom SPAL.

The challenge for head coach Max Allegri is to reinvigorate a side who had kept 15 clean sheets in 16 matches in all competitions, prior to giving up a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 on Tuesday.

Statistically, everything is in Juve’s favour. Torino have managed just one point in their last seven derbies.

But with Italy centre forward Andrea Belotti sensationally getting back among the goals in last week’s 2-0 win over Udinese and Il Toro boasting a seven-match unbeaten stretch, a Juve team feeling the bite of injury could be in for a tough afternoon.

They will need to show the usual grit and hope the goals of Gonzalo Higuain and the returning Paulo Dybala see them through.

Andrea Belotti (c) has been back among the goals for Torino.

Andrea Belotti (c) has been back among the goals for Torino.

Prediction: 0-2

Napoli v SPAL (18:00)

Napoli have been brazen about their scorn for the Europa League and Thursday’s clash with RB Leipizg was an exhibition in this stance.

A sparsely attended San Paolo Stadium was populated by a Napoli team in the round of 32 for whom goalkeeper Pepe Reina, centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, right-back Elseid Hysaj, captain Marek Hamsik and roving forward Jose Callejon were the only recognisable starters.

A 3-1 loss was embraced as the Serie A-pacesetters channel their commitments upon the domestic quest.

But this tunnel vision has invited a pressure of its own. There are no second prizes as a cherished first Serie A-crown since 1989/90 since the glory days of Diego Maradona is relentlessly chased.

Belgium forward Dries Mertens, he of 15 goals and six assists, will be back and hopeful of terrorising third-bottom opponents who are without victory in seven Serie A-games.

SPAL also have the third-worst defensive record in the competition and have conceded 15 times in their last six run-outs. A 4-0 home loss to AC Milan last-time out makes an upset seem a total long shot.

Dries Mertens was rested for the Europa League.

Dries Mertens was rested for the Europa League.

Prediction: 5-0

Benevento v Crotone (18:00)

Walter Zenga’s personal rehabilitation and his rescue job at Crotone will be put to the test in the relegation six-pointer at Benevento.

Zenga, 57, had endured several disasters in the dugout at Sampdoria, Al Shaab and Wolverhampton Wanderers prior to receiving the call from the Serie A-debutants.

The ex-Italy No1 has added an air of resilience, detailed by three-successive 1-1 draws. But the time has come to turn those stalemates into three points if they are to motor away from the drop zone.

“A challenge is always a challenge. I want to do well today and in future,” Zenga told RMC Sport.

“I am here because Crotone called me, so why shouldn’t I have accepted?

“There are 14 games to go and we mustn’t think that we’ve achieved anything yet.

“We are improving, but the most important thing for me is the work we do during the week. I hope our attitude never changes.”

Benevento had a historically bad start to the campaign, but troubled fourth-placed Roma in spells of last week’s 5-2 loss.

Winter freebies Bacary Sagna – who debuted in the capital – and Sandro have added experience and steel.

Roberto De Zerbi’s men need all the help they can get in this respect, conceding an incredible 56 times thus far in the 2017/18 top flight.

Prediction: 1-1

Walter Zenga has embraced the challenge at Crotone.

Walter Zenga has embraced the challenge at Crotone.

Players to watch

Manuel Locatelli

AC Milan’s resurgence will be put to the test in the absence of suspended Ivory Coast midfielder Franck Kessie, who has started every Serie A game this season since making the move from Atalanta. Locatelli will likely be the man to slot into his spot in midfield.

If he does, this will only be the third top-flight start handed to the Italy Under-21 star this term.

Manuel Locatelli (l) needs to embrace his rare chance to start for AC Milan.

Manuel Locatelli (l) needs to embrace his rare chance to start for AC Milan.

Federico Chiesa

The forward has been a rare bright spot in a trying season for La Viola.

But those supporters will be sitting uneasy after a revealing interview in Corriere dello Sport in which he replied “I don’t know” when quizzed about his future.

Chiesa will need to be back to his best against Atalanta after scoring just once in his last 11 matches in all competitions.

Federico Chiesa (l) has been dropping hints about his future.

Federico Chiesa (l) has been dropping hints about his future.

Paulo Dybala

A huge injection of class has been experienced by Juve this week after forward Paulo Dybala returned to training.

The Argentina international has not played for the Bianconeri since January 6 because of a hamstring problem but has returned to full training and could feature. Dybala has 14 top-flight goals this term and should terorrise Torino.

Paulo Dybala at Juventus training.

Paulo Dybala at Juventus training.

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