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Buffon set for Juventus return, Lazio prepare for Milan double header


Milan (AFP) – Gianluigi Buffon is set to make his long-awaited return for Juventus as in-form Lazio travel to AC Milan for the first of their double header in Serie A action this weekend.

Veteran goalkeeper Buffon returns against Chievo on the weekend he turns 40 after struggling with a calf injury since the 1-0 win over Napoli on December 1.

In his absence Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny has impressed, conceding just one goal in seven Serie A games as the Turin side continue their push for a seventh straight Serie A title.

Juventus are just one point behind leaders Napoli after 21 games with Maurizio Sarri’s side hosting Bologna on Sunday.

Massimiliano Allegri will be counting on bringing home all three points against Chievo, in 13th, and without a win in two months.

“Playing these kinds of games is always difficult,” said Juventus’ Moroccan defender Medhi Benatia.

“If you face Inter or Roma, the coach does not even need to talk. Everyone is focused and ready to give their best. 

“In games like the one on Saturday you can be led to think that it is easier to get a positive result, but that’s not true. 

“It will be a battle and we will have to be ready on both a physical and mental level.”

The Italian championship looks increasingly like a two-horse race between Napoli and Juventus.

But Lazio, although seven points behind Juventus in third, have been picking up steam.

The Romans play AC Milan at the San Siro on Sunday in the first of a double header with the teams clashing again in the Italian Cup three days later.

Lazio are the Serie A’s top scorers with 56 goals, including 13 in their last three games.

By contrast Milan are stuck in seventh position 15 points behind Lazio, despite the high ambitions and cash injected by their Chinese owners last summer.

“Lazio were a surprise for many people. We are up there now and they’re starting to talk about us a little more,” said coach Simone Inzaghi. 

“At the start of the season, nobody expected this. Some said we’d finish in 10 th place.”

– Dzeko decisive –

Behind the leading trio Inter Milan and Roma have lost pace in recent weeks.

New Brazilian signing Rafinha is expected to make his debut as Inter look to get back winning at SPAL.

Luciano Spalletti’s side have failed to record a victory since December 3 with just four points from their last six games.

Inter are fourth and in the final Champions League position for next season but are increasingly under pressure.

Roma — fifth two points behind Inter — will play Sampdoria for the second time in the week after a 1-1 draw in Genoa last Wednesday.

The Romans are also faltering with just two points from their last four games.

Edin Dzeko grabbed a late equaliser in Genoa and coach Eusebio De Francesco will again be counting on the Bosnian ace despite continuing talk of a move to Chelsea.

“As long as I have the player I will play him,” said De Francesco. “Dzeko is a decisive player and he’s the one who scored the most goals for my team.”

Elsewhere tailenders Benevento travel north to Torino, mid-table Fiorentina host second-from-bottom Verona and Cagliari travel to Crotone.

Fixtures (1400GMT unless stated)

Saturday

Sassuolo v Atalanta (1700), Chievo v Juventus (1945)

Sunday

SPAL v Inter Milan (1130), Crotone v Cagliari (1400), Fiorentina v Verona, Genoa v Udinese, Napoli v Bologna, Torino v Benevento, AC Milan v Lazio, Roma v Sampdoria (1945)

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