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Football: Juve in Chievo test as Milan awaits Super Mario

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Juventus' three-point lead over Napoli at the top of Serie A could come under threat this weekend when the champions make a potenially challenging trip to Chievo missing striker Mirko Vucinic and coach Antonio Conte.

Vucinic was one of several players cautioned for aggressive behaviour, and handed a one-match ban, towards the match referee after he refused to award an apparently valid penalty claim in the final minute of a 1-1 draw with Genoa.

Also missing on the Verona club's touchline following bans will be defender Giorgio Chiellini (one match) and Leonardo Bonucci (two) as well as Conte (two).

In midweek, Juve were knocked out of the Italian Cup semi-final by Lazio, who sit third in Serie A, six points off the lead, following a late winner by Sergio Floccari at the Olympic Stadium.

Along with the news that influential midfielder Claudio Marchisio is likely to be sidelined for a week to 10 days after "taking a knock to his left hip", according to Juve, Chievo may have good reason to believe in an upset.

Chievo are certainly not title contenders but they stunned Lazio in Rome last week, beat an impressive Atalanta side 1-0 in their first match of 2013 and took three points from Roma in mid-December.

In midweek Chievo also acquired goalkeeper Samir Ujkani from Palermo and defenders Mario Sampirisi and Nikolaos Spyropoulos from Panathinaikos as well as Argentine striker Augustin Hauche on loan from Racing Club.

The possiblity of Juve dropping more points will not be lost on Napoli, who closed the gap to three with a late winner against Parma last week courtesy of Uruguayan Edinson Cavani.

The win had special significance for Walter Mazzarri's side, said Slovakian midfielder Marek Hamsik.

"It was a tough game, but we got the three points in the end and they were so important," said Hamsik.

"After Saturday's result (for Juve)... it was vital we won."

Cavani, who had been linked to a number of top clubs in the lead-up to Thursday's winter transfer deadline, may well add to his league-leading tally of 18 goals when Napoli host Catania.

But victory is far from a done deal against a side that has accounted for Fiorentina, Genoa and Roma in their last three games and sit seventh at only 14 points behind Juve, who signed French striker Nicolas Anelka in midweek.

Juve's traditional rivals, Inter and AC Milan have been comparatively busier in the transfer market as they go plan for a final assault on the title and the European places.

Inter, in fourth, at nine points adrift, notably signed Dinamo Zagreb's teenaged midfield star Mateo Kovacic and former Fiorentina midfielder Zdravko Kuzmanovic, who joined from Bundesliga side Stuttgart.

Andrea Stramaccioni's men travel to lowly Siena having failed to win in their last three outings.

City rivals Milan may have had their worst start to a league campaign, but the capture of former Inter striker Mario Balotelli should paper over those cracks.

Milan host Udinese in Sunday's late game when it is expected Balotelli will begin putting his troubled spell at Manchester City behind him.

He is widely expected to be paired up front with fellow Italy international Stephan El Shaarawy, who, with 15 goals, is second to Cavani in the scoring charts.

"I have wanted to play for Milan for a long time, but I was with other teams," said Balotelli, whose arrival in Milan on Wednesday night led police to use tear gas to calm the hundreds of fans who turned up to welcome the striker 'home'.

Fixtures (times GMT)

Friday

Roma v Cagliari (1845)

Saturday

Torino v Sampdoria (1600), Napoli v Catania (1845)

Sunday

Chievo v Juventus (1030), Fiorentina v Parma, Genoa v Lazio, Palermo v Atalanta, Pescara v Bologna, Siena v Inter (all 1300), Milan v Udinese (1845)

jd/dj

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130131/football-juve-chievo-test-milan-awaits-super-mario