Milan (AFP) – Antonio Conte warned Inter Milan need to bounce back from recent setbacks against Sampdoria on Saturday to keep pace with leading duo Juventus and Lazio, before their clash with the Serie A champions in Turin next week.
Inter dropped from first to third, three points behind champions Juventus, after losing 2-1 to second-placed Lazio last weekend, following an Italian Cup defeat to Napoli.
“It was a painful result,” said Conte of the loss in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.
“We’ve now got back up with the desire to bounce back and move forward.”
Claudio Ranieri’s Sampdoria are 17th, just one point above the relegation zone, and lost the reverse fixture in Genoa 3-1 in September.
Juventus can open up a six-point gap on Conte’s side with a win at rock bottom SPAL, before hosting Inter in their Allianz Stadium on March 1.
Lazio are just one point behind Juventus as they chase their first Scudetto since 2000, and can push their unbeaten run to 20 games at third-from-bottom Genoa.
Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus have lost their last two away matches and need a win against SPAL before their Champions League last 16, first leg trip to French club Lyon.
But despite their low ranking SPAL have shocked both Lazio and Atalanta this season.
Sarri could rest goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny before their European game allowing veteran Gianluigi Buffon to line out for a record 648 Serie A games.
Napoli travel to Brescia before hosting Barcelona in the Champions League next week in their Stadio San Paolo.
Gennaro Gattuso’s side have moved up to ninth, two points off the Europa League berths, after three wins in their last four games.
In the race for Champions League places, Atalanta are fourth, six points ahead of Roma, with the side from Bergamo hosting Sassuolo on a high after their stunning 4-1 European win over Valencia.
Roma, in fifth, have earned just four points from seven games, and desperately need a result at home against lowly Lecce.
“Not many people think we can qualify (for the Champions League) via the league but we still believe it’s possible,” said coach Paulo Fonseca.
“Right now the most important thing is that we get back to playing the way we were before, without adding any sort of pressure.
“We must regain our swagger and believe.”
Hellas Verona, in sixth, occupy the final Europa League berth, four points behind the side from the capital and equal on 35 points with Parma and AC Milan.
Verona host Cagliari, who have lost momentum and slipped to 11th, after a ten-match winless run going back to early December.
AC Milan travel to 13th-placed Fiorentina, as Torino, just below the Tuscans, host Parma trying to avoid a sixth consecutive defeat.
One to watch
Former Eintracht Frankfurt forward Ante Rebic has burst through with six goals in AC Milan’s last seven games in all competitions.
The 21-year-old joined the seven-time European champions on loan last September, but has only played 13 games, and scored for the first time with a brace against Udinese on January 9.
The arrival of his childhood idol Zlatan Ibrahimovic last month has boosted confidence in the team, said the Croatian international.
647 – Gianluigi Buffon’s matches in Serie A, one short of the all-time record
42 – Points between leaders Juventus and bottom club SPAL
10 – Cristiano Ronaldo’s successive games scoring streak
3 – Roma’s losing run
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Brescia v Napoli (1945)
Bologna v Udinese (1400), SPAL v Juventus (1700), Fiorentina v AC Milan (1945)
Genoa v Lazio (1130GMT), Atalanta v Sassuolo, Hellas Verona v Cagliari, Torino v Parma (all 1400), AS Roma v Lecce (1700), Inter Milan v Sampdoria (1945).
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