Milan: AS Roma’s hopes of maintaining their challenge to Serie A title favourites Juventus face a test Saturday when they host Atalanta missing four key players.
Rudi Garcia’s men lie in second place eight points adrift of Juve but will be without forwards Mattia Destro, Alessandro Florenzi, Miralem Pjanic and defender Mehdi Benatia for a match in which they cannot afford to drop points.
All three forwards picked up one-match bans after being cautioned in last week’s 3-1 win away to Cagliari, in which Destro scored his maiden Serie A hat-trick.
But while Florenzi and Pjanic will return away to Fiorentina next week, Destro will have to wait until April 17 to see whether he will be available for the trip to Florence.
The 23-year-old, Roma’s top scorer on 13 goals, was also handed a three-match suspension on Monday after league officials reviewed a clash with Cagliari’s Davide Astori in which the defender received a slap to the face as well as a caution for retaliation.
Destro escaped punishment, until being handed the three-match ban on Monday.
Roma have appealed with Garcia claiming that trial by television has gone too far.
“It was trial by slow motion,” the Frenchman told Gazzetto dello Sport.
Roma’s appeal will be heard on April 17, and Garcia added: “Logically, we should win it. Football is a contact sport, players toy for position on the pitch and these things happen.”
Benatia, meanwhile, is facing a month on the sidelines with a muscle strain and should be replaced by Rafael Toloi.
The enforced absences also mean a likely start for veteran playmaker Francesco Totti while Garcia reshuffles for the visit of a side desperate to make amends for a shock 2-0 defeat to relegation candidates Sassuolo last week.
Previously, Atalanta had been on a six-match winning run that has put them among several teams vying for a Europa League place.
Davide Brivio comes in for suspended defender Cristiano Del Grosso, while coach Stefano Colantuono has doubts over Chilean midfielder Carlos Carmona after he suffered a knock last week.
With champions Juve not in action until Monday’s trip to Udinese, four days after sealing their place in the Europa League last four with a 3-1 aggregate win over Lyon, the fight for Europe and indeed Serie A survival dominate Sunday’s fixtures.
Napoli’s hopes of an automatic Champions League spot virtually evaporated after a shock 1-0 defeat away to Parma last week.
Rafael Benitez’s men remain third but are now 12 points adrift of Roma and host a resurgent Lazio side pushing their claim for a Europa League spot.
Lazio coach Edy Reja is wary of Napoli but says his side fully intend on going for a win.
“People probably believe we have little chance of claiming all three points in Roma, but we’re going there aiming to play an open game,” said Reja.
“We can’t just sit back – we have to try and win.”
Inter, in fifth, occupy what is normally the league’s last available Europa League place.
But with fourth-placed Fiorentina facing Napoli in the Italian Cup final on May 3, this season’s sixth-place finisher will be in line to claim the extra spot in Europe’s second-tier club competition.
Only five points separate Inter from 11th-placed city rivals AC Milan, who have recently injected some life into their ailing campaign by winning their past three encounters.
On paper, Clarence Seedorf’s side should account for rock bottom Catania, who appointed Maurizio Pellegrino on Monday following the departure of Rolando Maran, sacked for the second time this season after last week’s 2-1 reverse to Torino.
But Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani said Milan are taking nothing for granted.
“It’s going to be difficult against Catania – they have to win to save themselves,” Galliani said.
“They’re desperate for points and have just appointed a new man – they’re fighting for their lives.”