Juventus eyes Serie A record at halfway stage

Juventus eyes Serie A record at halfway stage

MILAN - Agence France-Presse
Juventus eyes Serie A record at halfway stage

Juventus players celebrate a victory in Serie A. The two-time defending champion leads the standings comfortably, running eight points ahead of its nearest rival. Pundits say the club could be on course to break Inter’s points record. AFP photo

Defending champion Juventus travels to Cagliari expecting to reinforce its lead at the top of Serie A as the Italian top flight reaches the halfway stage this weekend.

Juventus played second fiddle to early season pacesetter Roma for the first three months of the season but in the lead-up to the Christmas break, Antonio Conte’s men moved up a gear.

And on its return from well-earned holidays last week, the Bianconeri hit three unanswered goals against Roma in Turin to put a dent in the Giallorossi’s title hopes. Heading into the 19th round of matches Juve (49 points) has an eight-point lead on Roma with Napoli, in third, a further two points off the pace. However as the pundits herald this season’s Juve as one of the best, Andrea Barzagli has called for calm.“We still have 20 games left,” said the Juventus defender. “Eight points is a good advantage but there is still so much to play for until the end of the season.”

Nevertheless, with Roma slipping up again and Napoli already 10 points behind, the pundits have been going Juve-crazy this week. Conte’s men have won 10 games on the trot since suffering the ignominy of a 4-2 defeat at Fiorentina, currently fourth, at the end of October -- and some believe they could beat Inter Milan’s record 97-point haul from 2007, maybe even, in the process, breaking the 100-point barrier.

Cagliari, meanwhile, will welcome the champions without Radja Nainggolan, the Belgian international midfielder who signed for Roma in midweek on a four-year deal. Nainggolan, who made his debut for Roma in the Cup quarterfinal 1-0 over Sampodoria on Jan. 9, will prove a useful edition to Garcia’s side and is likely to slot straight in when the Giallorossi welcome Genoa on Jan. 12. But according to reports, his arrival has prompted American midfielder Michael Bradley to accept an offer to join Toronto FC.

AC Milan trumped Roma in the transfer market stakes this week when Japan international star Keisuke Honda was officially unveiled by the club following his free transfer from CSKA Moscow. For outside observers, Honda, a target for several major clubs, could arguably have made a better choice. Milan is currently languishing in the bottom half of the table and faces a daunting challenge to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Childhood dreams

Honda said: “When I was a kid I watched football on television every week and Serie A was the most famous league in Japan. My dream was to play for Milan and now that dream has come true.” Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri insisted the attacker is an important addition to the squad.

Milan is currently 11th, 27 points behind Juve and 17 behind Napoli in the final Champions League qualifying spot. They travel to struggling top-flight new boys Sassuolo, needing no less than three points.

While Milan can only get better, city rival Inter is looking for the spark that will halt its slide down the table that has left the team sixth place having been within sight of Napoli only a few weeks ago. Inter coach Walter Mazzarri has been growing increasingly frustrated with his side of late and after last week’s 1-0 defeat at Lazio, the home goalkeeper Etrit Berisha gave a stark appraisal of Mazzarri’s side.
“To be honest, Inter are the most prestigious club I have faced in my career but they didn’t seem extraordinary to me,” he told Panorama Sport.

Inter’s problems worsened on Jan. 9 when it was dumped out of the Italian Cup at the last-16 stage 1-0 by Udinese.