The final week of Serie A's first half offers another classic fixture as two of the hottest and highest scoring teams clash with Juventus traveling to Italy's capital to face Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico.
Juve are just four points behind Inter while Lazio stand in seventh place and are looking up at a crowded group vying for a spot to qualify for next season's Champions League and UEFA Cup.
If Claudio Ranieri wants to keep his team in the title hunt, he will have to get a little creative this week with his defensive alignment as he is missing a couple key components of his backline.
While Gianluigi Buffon has returned to the lineup, center back Giorgio Chiellini will miss the Sunday's trip to Rome due to a lingering injury. Because of Chiellini's absence, youth team player Lorenzo Ariaudo, who filled in for Chiellini Wednesday in Juve's 3-0 win against Catania in the Coppa Italia, will likely get his first Serie A start.
Ranieri will also be without right back Zdenek Grygera who is serving a one-game suspension following a yellow card the Czech international received during las weekend's match against Siena. Olof Mellberg looks set to take his pace on the right.
In the midfield, Juve welcome back Claudio Marchisio, who has been out the past few weeks. He be paired with Momo Sissoko and will look to put in a fine performance the day before he turns 23.
Mauro Camoranesi, like Chiellini, has failed to recover to full fitness and will again be out of the squad due to injury. However, Camoranesi's backup Marco Marchionni has been quite productive this season when called into action and will again look to make an impact on the right wing.
Unlike the defense, the attacking corps remains the same as it has been the entire season.
Captain Alessandro Del Piero and Amauri have been one of the most prolific striking tandems this season and will be a key to help support Ranieri's make-shift defense. The Tinkerman will likely be able to have Vincenzo Iaquinta at his disposal after the stirker has missed the past few weeks due to a leg injury.
Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Buffon, Molinaro, Legrottaglie, Ariaudo, Mellberg, Nedved, Marchisio, Sissoko, Marchionni, Del Piero, Amauri
After being the best team in Serie A the first month of the season, the Biancocelesti have come back to earth a little bit and are on the outside looking in of a chance to play for European football.
The Aquilotti have put a Dec. 6 3-0 trashing against Inter behind them have collected the maximum amount of points in the past three games.
But to win this weekend, Lazio will have to put struggles at the Olimpico behind them. They have only claimed five wins in nine games in Rome this season this season and have not beaten Juve the past three times and five out of the past six at home.
The key to Lazio's form this season can be attributed to their talented trident. Goran Pandev, Mauro Zarate, and Tommaso Rocchi have worked wonders for manager Dello Rossi. Both Zarate and Pandev have recorded eight goals this season and will look to lead the offense against Juve.
However, while Lazip's offense is one of the best in Italy, the same cannot be said about their defense.
Lazio sport the highest goals against average of any team competing for a spot in Europe and with Amauri and Del Piero leading one of Serie A's top attacks and continuing to improve their connection every week, goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo could quite possibly be a busy man Sunday.
Injuries will not effect Lazio as much as they have with Juve. Midfielder Christian Manfredini will be out this weekend but Sebastiano Siviglia and Stephan Lichtsteiner look set to be at full fitness and allow Rossi to field a strong side as they look to slow down the Juventus Scudetto push.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-1-2): Carrizo, De Silvestri, Diakite, Rozenhal, Radu, Dabo, Ledesma, Meghni, Pandez, Zarate, Rocchi
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