Juventus desperate to halt slump against Udinese

DANIELLA MATAR Associated Press Published:

MILAN (AP) -- Defending champion Juventus will be desperate to halt a slump which has slashed its lead in the Serie A when it hosts in-form Udinese on Saturday.

Juventus led by an impressive eight points at the start of the year, but a home loss to 10-man Sampdoria and a draw against Parma means it is just three points ahead of second-place Lazio, which faces Palermo.

Third-place Napoli faces Fiorentina, which is also having a poor run, while Roma faces Inter Milan for the first of three matches between them in 10 days.

"Now we have to concentrate more and rediscover our edge because Lazio and Napoli are on our heels," Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci said. "But we still have an advantage and we will need hunger and humility to increase the gap again.

"Against Sampdoria we had the wrong approach in the second half and it was an important lesson for us. Against Parma we were more careful, but that's football for you: there are times when you don't get the results and don't come away with the points."

Claudio Marchisio is back in training following a knee injury and could return, but key defender Giorgio Chiellini is out, as is Simone Pepe and Nicklas Bendtner.

Udinese has had an impressive start to the year, beating Inter and Fiorentina and scoring three goals in both matches, with Antonio Di Natale notching two goals in each.

It is Francesco Guidolin's 500th Serie A game as a coach.

"You don't need to be in a top club to be considered a good coach," Guidolin said. "I felt bitter in the past when I saw younger colleagues passing me by, but I've felt at home since I came back to Udine.

"Breaking this record with Udinese makes me even prouder."

Goalkeeper Zeljko Brkic is out after breaking his finger in the previous match, which gives Daniele Padelli a chance to stake his claim.

By the time Juventus kicks off, Lazio could be level with the Serie A leaders after taking on Palermo earlier in the day.

Striker Miroslav Klose has been ruled out with a thigh injury and joins Alvaro Gonzalez and Ederson on the sidelines.

"Juve is the strongest side in the league and the favorite to win it in the end," Lazio midfielder Lorik Cana said. "If they play as they can they are almost untouchable. However, we can compete with everyone, on all fronts.

"We're playing them in the Italian Cup, I think we can do it. They remain favorites in the league, but we'll continue with our heads held high."

Lazio has won nine of its past 10 games in all competitions, while Palermo has lost six of its past seven.

Napoli would be level on points with Lazio if not for a two-point penalty it received for match-fixing after its former goalkeeper confessed to arranging the result of a game three seasons ago.

It is currently appealing against that and should hear the outcome before it faces fifth-place Fiorentina on Sunday.

Fiorentina is going through a poor run of results. It lost its first two league games of the year before going out of the Italian Cup with a 1-0 loss to Roma on Wednesday.

Roma, which has also lost its past two league games, will be hoping that result boosts it when it takes on fourth-place Inter. It also faces Inter home and away in the Italian Cup semifinals this month.

AC Milan hosts Bologna with Giampaolo Pazzini, who has been struggling lately, hoping for a similar game to earlier in the season, which saw him score a hat trick.

Elsewhere on Sunday, it's: Atalanta vs. Cagliari; Chievo Verona vs. Parma; Genoa vs. Catania; Pescara vs. Torino; and Siena vs. Sampdoria.