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Serie A: Lazio and Napoli looking to close in on second-placed Roma

Roma seems unable to get out of their slump and fell to an eighth draw in nine league matches last weekend at Chievo Verona.

Associated Press

Updated:March 14, 2015, 7:28 AM IST
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Serie A: Lazio and Napoli looking to close in on second-placed Roma
Roma seems unable to get out of their slump and fell to an eighth draw in nine league matches last weekend at Chievo Verona.

Milan: It was not so long ago that Roma was aiming to catch Juventus at the top of the Serie A table. Now Rudi Garcia's men are looking over their shoulders as Lazio and Napoli threaten to take over second spot.

Napoli missed the chance to close the gap to Roma to two points when it threw away a two-goal advantage to draw 2-2 at home to Inter Milan last weekend. That allowed Lazio to catch it in third place when it humiliated Fiorentina 4-0.

Roma seems unable to get out of their slump and fell to an eighth draw in nine league matches last weekend at Chievo Verona.

The result saw it fall 11 points behind Juventus and even Garcia acknowledged after the match he is concerned about his players, saying he couldn't recognize his team.

Roma defender Federico Balzaretti, who is one of several players out with a long-term injury, believes the team's drop in form is due to mental problems, not burnout during a long season.

"I think it's a mental issue," Balzaretti said. "If it's physical your legs deteriorate during the game, but in this month we've done better in the second halves than the first."

Napoli visits Hellas Verona on Sunday, while Lazio travels to in-form Torino on Monday. Last weekend's loss at Udinese snapped a 12-match unbeaten streak for Torino.

Fiorentina and Sampdoria will be looking to keep up the pressure on Lazio and Napoli, as both teams are four points off third spot in the race for the final Champions League spot. Both teams play on Monday. Fiorentina hosts AC Milan and Samp visits Roma.

Here are some things to know about this weekend's games:

TURNOVER FOR JUVE

Juventus can open up - provisionally at least - a whopping 14-point advantage over Roma if it beats Palermo on Saturday.

The defending champion kicks off the weekend fixtures in Sicily, while Roma brings the round to an end when it hosts Sampdoria on Monday.

Coach Massimiliano Allegri is likely to rest some players ahead of the second leg of the Champions League last-16 tie against Borussia Dortmund next week.

That means that midfielder Simone Pepe, who has struggled with injuries over the past two and a half years, could make his first start in three seasons.

"I'm an extra weapon, I can do my part," Pepe said. "I've been training for eight months, I feel good. My legs are getting back to what they were before and I'm ready, as all the others are, to make my contribution. The coach knows he can count on those who are on the bench too.

"We need to keep our focus because Palermo have gone a long time without losing a home game and we must try to stretch our advantage over Roma."

One change is enforced with Paul Pogba suspended and Stefano Sturaro will almost certainly make his debut in place of the Frenchman. Fellow midfielder Andrea Pirlo is still injured.

ZEMAN'S BACK

Cagliari has an old face back at the helm for Saturday's relegation six-pointer at home to Empoli.

The Sardinian club fired Gianfranco Zola as coach after less than three months in charge and rehired Zdenek Zeman last week.

Zeman had been fired in December but the club had failed to climb out of the bottom three and is four points from safety.

"I'm here for the fans and to save us," Zeman said.

Empoli has crept away from the drop zone following a six-match unbeaten streak and is nine points above Cagliari.

NIANG ON FIRE

M'Baye Niang is enjoying a resurgence at Genoa after moving on loan from AC Milan.

The 20-year-old has scored three goals in his last three Serie A appearances, after scoring none in the previous 36.

"At Milan I had no luck," he said in a recent interview. "I do not get distracted though. I am working to become a champion. My dream is to win the Ballon d'Or. I will do everything to succeed and if I will stop halfway, well I will have tried it anyway."

Genoa still has hopes of qualifying for the Champions League. It is eight points off third spot but has a game in hand. They host Chievo Verona on Sunday.

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