AC Milan's players (Photo: Reuters)
Napoli and Inter are each coming off wins in the Champions League that resulted in injuries for key forwards. Napoli striker Edinson Cavani is out with a twisted ankle, while Inter striker Giampaolo Pazzini is still hoping to play with a nearly identical injury.
Injury-plagued Milan is also coming off a win in Europe that saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic play for the first time in 2 1/2 weeks, while Juve was idle midweek since it didn’t qualify for Europe this season.
Juventus and Udinese are level with eight points each at the top of the standings but the Turin powerhouse has the lead on goals scored.
Udinese hosts Bologna this weekend, while Roma faces Atalanta, which would be in the lead if not for a six-point penalty from the Italian match-fixing scandal.
With three wins and a draw, Atalanta has the best record in Italy but is still four points behind Juve and Udinese.
Napoli is among six squads one point behind, while Milan is three points behind and Inter trials the leaders by four points.
Cavani scored a hat trick in a 3-1 win over Milan earlier this month and has also found the target in each of Napoli’s opening two matches in the Champions League—a 1-1 draw at Manchester City and Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Villarreal.
Meanwhile, Inter has won twice since Claudio Ranieri replaced Gian Piero Gasperini as coach last week, including a 3-2 victory over CSKA Moscow.
“It’s going to be a very difficult match for us, but not because of Cavani’s absence,” Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis said. “Inter has a great coach and their situation is different now from when Gasperini was in charge.
“Ranieri is a great coach, and it’s not just by chance that he has finished second with Juventus, Roma and Chelsea. I’m happy that Inter has seen the light at the end of the tunnel again, but I’m hoping the light goes out on Saturday,” De Laurentiis added.
With Cavani out, Goran Pandev could be thrust into a rare starter’s role, having recently transferred from Inter. De Laurentiis is hoping the Macedonia striker scores at the San Siro.
“That would be nice and it would show Inter that it made a mistake not to have faith in him the last two years,” the film producer said.
Milan is hoping that captain Massimo Ambrosini or Kevin-Prince Boateng return from injury, with fellow midfielders Gennaro Gattuso and Mathieu Flamini still out with eye and knee injuries, respectively.
Brazil forwards Alexandre Pato and Robinho are also still out, likely leaving the attack to Ibrahimovic and Antonio Cassano again.
“We’re fairly exhausted,” Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said.
A large part of Juve’s early season success has been attributed to midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who transferred from Milan in the offseason. With a long list of new players, Juve coach Antonio Conte has somehow developed a cohesive unit.
“Juventus has a big advantage by not playing in Europe,” Allegri said.
Also this weekend, it’s: Novara vs. Catania; Cesena vs. Chievo Verona; Fiorentina vs. Lazio; Lecce vs. Cagliari; Palermo vs. Siena; Parma vs. Genoa; and Udinese vs. Bologna.