Serie A title down to a three-way fight
All of a sudden there's a three-way fight for the Serie A title. AC Milan trails leader Inter Milan by just one point and AS Roma is only four points back. With nine rounds remaining, it hasn't been this close in the Italian league in eight years.
"It's not easy to make predictions. It's an unusual season," Milan coach Leonardo said. "(Milan) has a lot of desire, Roma has had a good run of positive results and is trying to keep going, but Inter still has the ball in its hands."
With nine rounds remaining back in 2001-02, it was even closer with only two points separating the top three teams and Juventus ending up edging Roma by one point for the title, with Inter finishing two points back.
Inter hosts last-place Livorno in Wednesday's midweek round, Milan visits Parma and Roma plays at Bologna.
Inter playmaker Wesley Sneijder is likely to sit out against Livorno due to a minor muscle problem, especially with two key matches to follow - Inter visits Roma on Saturday, then hosts CSKA Moscow in the opening leg of the Champions League quarterfinals four days later.
Livorno coach Serse Cosmi's job is on the line after a 3-0 loss to Atalanta last weekend.
Milan has more injury problems after forward Alexandre Pato was diagnosed with a muscle tear in his leg that will keep him out at least a month. Last week, defender Alessandro Nesta and David Beckham each had surgery.
Milan forward Marco Borriello has also had a series of physical problems, prompting Leonardo to recall 36-year-old striker Filippo Inzaghi to the starting lineup after a five-month absence for Milan's 1-1 draw with Napoli last weekend. Inzaghi scored a 26th-minute equalizer.
Will Inzaghi have another five months on the bench before he starts again?
"I hope not," he said. "I'm going to train with the same dedication that I always do and hopefully persuade the coach to play me. Otherwise, I'll wait for my turn like always. The good of Milan comes before everything else.
"At the beginning of the season, nobody would have bet on us to fight for the title down to the end."
In Leonardo's first year in charge, Milan had a difficult start to the season, as did Roma, which quickly replaced coach Luciano Spalletti with Claudio Ranieri, who now has Roma playing the most consistent football in Italy.
"The comeback is possible. Inter's the favorite but we believe in ourselves," Norway defender John Arne Riise said. "It's key for us to win in Bologna so we can play all of our cards against Inter.
"There are nine rounds to go and each one is going to be a final for us. I don't think Inter will be affected by the Champions League, they've got a sufficient squad to fight on every front. But we've got to believe in ourselves anyway."
Roma defender Juan is suspended for the Bologna match, but Philippe Mexes is returning, as are David Pizarro, Daniele De Rossi and Rodrigo Taddei. Captain Francesco Totti, meanwhile, is aiming to return against Inter this weekend.
Bothered by numerous injuries all season, including a right knee operation at the end of October, Totti has played in only 15 of 29 Serie A games.
Juventus remains two points out of the Champions League places after a 1-0 loss to Sampdoria on Sunday, which came just a few days after the Bianconeri were bumped out of the Europa League with a 4-1 loss to Fulham.
"It was a devastating week in terms of the results and for our morale," Juve captain Alessandro Del Piero said. "We've got to bounce back."
With Gianluigi Buffon still making his way back from a thigh problem, second-string goalkeeper Alex Manninger should return at Napoli on Thursday since No. 3 goalkeeper Antonio Chimenti broke his hand when he punched a table following the Sampdoria loss.
Also Wednesday, it's: Atalanta vs. Cagliari; Bari vs. Sampdoria; Catania vs. Fiorentina; Genoa vs. Palermo; Lazio vs. Siena; and Udinese vs. Chievo Verona.