Suddenly, Italy's derby is top-of-the-table clash


ROME (AP) -Inter Milan has just replaced Napoli as the top challenger to Juventus in Serie A and the timing couldn't be better with Italy's derby scheduled this weekend.

Inter takes an eight-match winning run in all competitions into Saturday's showdown in Turin, while Juventus enters on a 49-game league unbeaten streak.

Juventus has won its last three meetings with Inter in a match known as the derby d'Italia - Italy's derby - but Inter is on the rise with a trio of in-form strikers: Antonio Cassano, Rodrigo Palacio and Diego Milito.

"Our biggest weapon is the group collective," Inter's 36-year-old manager Andrea Stramaccioni said. "I'm going to prepare this match like I always do. We know we're facing the Italian champion. ... This is the chance to show our worth."

Having finished just sixth last season, this campaign has marked a sharp turnaround for Inter. The only times Inter had longer winning streaks came under Roberto Mancini in 2007-08 (13 matches) and 2006-07 (11).

Juventus is four points ahead of Inter, with Napoli six points back after losing 1-0 at Atalanta on Wednesday.

"It's never a normal match with the Nerazzurri," said Juventus assistant coach Angelo Alessio, who has been filling in on the touchline while manager Antonio Conte serves out a four-month ban for match-fixing stemming from when he led Siena two seasons ago.

Juventus' newly signed 19-year-old midfielder Paul Pogba scored an added-time winner in a 2-1 win at Bologna on Wednesday, and continues to gain praise for his enormous potential after transferring from Manchester United.

With fellow midfielders Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal unavailable, Pogba played the entire 90 minutes against Bologna, but with both of those players back, he could return to the bench against Inter.

"I'm not thinking about the match with Inter. I just want to enjoy this victory over Bologna," said Pogba, adding that he hopes to follow in the footsteps of former France greats at Juve like current UEFA president Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane.

Fabio Quagliarella, who scored Juve's opening goal against Bologna, also hinted he might not play vs. Inter as Conte continues to use a revolving crew of strikers. Quagliarella paired with former Arsenal forward Nicklas Bendtner against Bologna, but Mirko Vucinic and Sebastian Giovinco or Alessandro Matri could face Inter.

"Conte likes to keep switching it up," Quagliarella said.

Juve is closing in on the all-time best Serie A unbeaten streak of 58 matches, set by AC Milan in 1990-91, 91-92 and 92-93.

Elsewhere this weekend, Napoli hosts Torino; fourth-place Lazio visits Catania; and struggling AC Milan hosts Chievo Verona with coach Massimiliano Allegri just barely hanging onto his job.

Napoli has struggled without injured forward Edinson Cavani in its last two matches, and is lacking some force in attack following Ezequiel Lavezzi's transfer to Paris Saint-Germain.

"Let's add things up at the end of the season," said Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri, who is considering a year-long sabbatical at the end of this campaign due to stress. "We've got seven more points than at this point last season."

Another struggling club is Roma, which was beaten 3-2 at Parma on Wednesday for its second consecutive loss, opening up 65-year-old coach Zdenek Zeman and his pure attacking style to criticism.

"We're all behind the coach. It's us that are doing only 50 percent of what the coach is asking for," Roma captain Francesco Totti said.

Roma hosts Palermo on Sunday.

Also this weekend, it's: Parma at Pescara; Udinese at Bologna; Cagliari at Fiorentina; Atalanta at Sampdoria; and Genoa at Siena.

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