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Rampant Juve eye league record at ‘halfway stage’ Wounded Roma welcome Genoa

MILAN, Jan 10, (AFP): Champions Juventus travel to Cagliari expecting to reinforce their lead at the top of Serie A as the Italian top flight reaches the halfway stage this weekend. Juventus played second fiddle to early season pacesetters Roma for the first three months of the season but in the lead-up to the Christmas break, Antonio Conte’s men moved up a gear. And on their return from well-earned holidays last week, the Bianconeri hit three unanswered goals against Roma in Turin to put a dent in the Giallorossi’s title hopes. Heading into the 19th round of matches Juve (49 points) have an eight-point lead on Roma with Napoli, in third, a further two points off the pace. However as the pundits herald this season’s Juve as one of the best, Andrea Barzagli has called for calm. “We still have 20 games left,” said the Juventus and Italy defender.

“Eight points is a good advantage but there is still so much to play for until the end of the season.” Nevertheless, with Roma slipping up again and Napoli already 10 points behind, the pundits have been going Juve-crazy this week. Conte’s men have won 10 games on the trot since suffering the ignominy of a 4-2 defeat at Fiorentina, currently fourth, at the end of October — and some believe they could beat Inter Milan’s record 97-point haul from 2007, maybe even, in the process, breaking the 100-point barrier. Cagliari, meanwhile, will welcome the champions without Radja Nainggolan, the Belgian international midfielder who signed for Roma in midweek on a four-year deal. Nainggolan, who made his debut for Roma in Thursday’s Cup quarter-final (XX-XX) over Sampodoria, will prove a useful edition to Garcia’s side and is likely to slot straight in when the Giallorossi welcome Genoa on Sunday. But according to reports, his arrival has prompted American midfielder Michael Bradley to accept an offer to join Toronto FC.

AC Milan, meanwhile, trumped Roma in the transfer market stakes this week when Japan international star Keisuke Honda was officially unveiled by the club following his free transfer from CSKA Moscow. For outside observers, Honda — reportedly a target for several major clubs — could arguably have made a better choice. Milan are currently languishing in the bottom half of the table and face a daunting challenge to qualify for next season’s Champions League. The Japanese international midfielder will also play no part in Milan’s remaining Champions League campaign this season as he already featured in the competition for CSKA. However, when asked why he chose Milan, Honda insisted: “When I was a kid I watched football on television every week and Serie A was the most famous league in Japan. “My dream was to play for Milan and now that dream has come true.”

Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri did not say when Honda will make his debut but insisted the attacking midfielder is an important addition to the squad. Milan are currently 11th, 27 points behind Juve and 17 behind Napoli in the final Champions League qualifying spot. They travel to struggling top-flight new boys Sassuolo, needing no less than three points. While Milan can only get better, city rivals Inter are looking for the spark that will halt their slide down the table that has left them sixth place having been within sight of Napoli only a few weeks ago. Inter coach Walter Mazzarri has been growing increasingly frustrated with his side of late and after last week’s 1-0 defeat at Lazio, the home goalkeeper Etrit Berisha gave a stark appraisal of Mazzarri’s side. “To be honest, Inter are the most prestigious club I have faced in my career but they didn’t seem extraordinary to me,” he told Panorama Sport. Inter’s problems worsened on Thursday when they were dumped out of the Italian Cup at the last-16 stage 1-0 by Udinese.
 

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