No Margin for error for Juve as refreshed Inter threaten to pull away


FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Serie A - Juventus v Crotone - Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy - February 22, 2021 Juventus' Cristiano Ronaldo reacts REUTERS/Massimo Pinca

(Reuters) - Juventus go into Saturday's trip to Hellas Verona knowing any further slip-ups could leave them with a mountain to climb in the Serie A title race, with a refreshed Inter Milan hitting top form at the right time.

Andrea Pirlo's side are chasing a 10th successive title this season, but for the first time in recent memory, they have a real fight on their hands to finish the campaign at the Serie A summit.

Inter Milan are top of the standings for the first time in the second half of a season since 2010 -- when they won the Treble under Jose Mourinho. They lead the way on 53 points, four clear of rivals AC Milan and eight ahead of third-placed Juve.

Without any European football or other domestic competitions to contend with, Inter often have a week between games, and that extra rest is helping ease their injury list, giving Antonio Conte the kind of selection problems a coach likes.

The next task, having beaten Juve, and Milan twice, in all competitions over the past month and a half, is to maintain their form, starting with victory over Genoa on Sunday.

"I fear the next two games against Genoa and Parma," Conte said after Sunday's 3-0 derby win over Milan. "That's when we must prove we have taken a further step to remain on top of the Serie A table.

"These two games will tell us a lot about what we can achieve."

With that eight-point gap, Juve cannot afford more slip-ups, and have the opportunity at least to put pressure on Inter at Verona, playing one day earlier than the league leaders.

The champions' victory over Crotone on Monday, inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo's two goals, was their first win in four games in all competitions, and Pirlo knows his side must keep Inter in sight.

"All those behind Inter are antagonists and we are one of them," he told reporters after the Crotone win. "We will fight until the end."

Elsewhere on Sunday, Milan face a tough trip to AS Roma. Stefano Pioli's side were top of the standings for much of the season, but opened the door for Inter with a surprise defeat to Spezia two weeks ago.

Sunday's derby defeat saw them lose further ground to Inter, and another loss against a Roma side with top-four aspirations could be damaging.

(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Toby Davis)

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