by Michael Slaughter

Despite the fact that not so long ago, it looked as though the scudetto could have been going to one of four different clubs, half of them have fallen away as we head into the home straight leaving just Milan and Juventus to fight it out. Although this weekend the top two are coming up against much lesser opposition, it might not be plain sailing for the two most successful clubs in Italian football history.

Despite still being unbeaten this season, Juventus have had a slump in form at the worst possible time. Out of the last 6 games, Juve have won just 1 and drawn the rest, which for a team looking to win their first league since 2003 simply isn’t good enough. The calibre of sides they have failed to beat can’t instil confidence in the players or fans for the rest of season either, as except for Milan, they have drawn against teams from 10th place downwards. On Wednesday, Juve came up against a resilient Bologna team who took the lead reasonably early on, and worked hard to earn themselves a point after Vucinic levelled the score in the second half. But it was the same old story for Juve who couldn’t break down a strong defence, leading to their 13th draw of the season and third 1-1 draw in a row. They have now fallen 2 points behind leaders Milan, and if Juve are to keep up they are going to need to pick up the pace against Genoa this weekend. Genoa themselves are in a bit of rut, having not won in five and although they’re in no danger of being relegated, a strong finish to the season could see a top half finish. But if Juve are going to snap out of their recent poor form, it’ll have to be without the help coach Antonio Conte, who was sent to the stands against Bologna after venting his frustrations at the fourth official after Juve were denied a penalty in the 70th minute and has now been handed a one match ban after criticising the standard of refereeing in Italy again. Conte said, “The more we get denied penalties, the more pissed off we will be”. Juve will also be without centre-back Leonardo Bonucci after getting himself sent off last week with a rash challenge whilst he was already on a yellow. But with no massive injury concerns, Juve must hope that they can get a win against a team who have been really struggling to keep clean sheets recently and get back to winning ways, because although they may not have lost this season, coming second despite being unbeaten will count for nothing come May.

Milan aren’t home and dry yet in the league, especially with the likes of Roma, and a Milanese derby still to come.

AC Milan, on the other hand, are sitting on top of Serie A, and despite their mid-week slip-up against Arsenal, did enough to get through to the quarter-finals of the Champion’s league and find themselves in pole position to retain their title. With Ibrahimovic hitting top form with a magnificent hat trick last weekend against Palermo, goals have certainly not been a problem for the Rossoneri, who have scored 10 in the last 4 games. On top of that, this weekend they are coming up against the fourth worst defence in the league, so I don’t think I’m being too harsh in expecting a lot more goals from Milan on Sunday. Lecce have really struggled this season, and with games fast running out, they are third from bottom, and four points from safety. But a recent turn around in fortunes sees them unbeaten in 5, with crucial wins over fellow strugglers Siena and Cagliari. But a win away at the league leaders might just be a step too far for a team with such a leaky defence, and who have only won one game against in teams in the top half of the table all season. Milan aren’t home and dry yet in the league, especially with the likes of Roma, and a Milan derby still to come, but having played all their fixtures against the rest of the top five, they certainly have the advantage and a much easier run-in then Juve who still have to play against Lazio and Napoli, who will no doubt be fighting hard for the last Champion’s place.

Elsewhere, even though Cesena and Novara are essentially relegated already, as they are both 12 points from safety, they could still have a say in who goes down with them, as Cesena are playing 16th placed Siena this weekend. A result for the sea-horses (Cesena for those who don’t know your obscure Italian nicknames) could certainly make things much more interesting as we come towards the end of the season. Novara have a much tougher task as they host Champion’s league chasing Udinese, and seeing as they have only kept 3 clean sheets all season, you’d certainly fancy the little Zebras to put on a display against and keep up the pressure on Lazio, who currently hold 3rd place. The Rome club have a slightly harder task against an in form Bologna team who have only lost one of their last ten games, and who will no doubt be buoyed by the their mid-week 1-1 draw with Juventus.

While there aren’t any massive fixtures this weekend in Serie A, there is still plenty to keep an eye on as the top two try to hit form before it’s too late. Juventus may appear to have hit the wall recently with a run of lacklustre performances against lesser teams, but you get the feeling that this can’t last if they are to keep up their title charge and prevent a Milan team playing some glorious football from retaining the title. As we approach the final stage of the season, there is still no telling as to whether Juventus can finally rise from the ashes of relegation in the wake of the 2006 Calciopoli scandal and win their first legitimate title in 9 years or whether the experience of this Milan team will shine through to continue the recent dominance of the Milan clubs over Serie A.