Leaders Milan face tough test at Perugia, no Del Piero for Juve

ROME: AC Milan's tough test at Perugia tomorrow gives Inter Milan the chance to leapfrog their local rivals at the top of the Italian First Division this weekend. 

Should league leaders Milan slip up in Umbria, where points are hard to come by, second-placed Inter can make first place their own with a home victory over struggling Reggina. 

But despite lying fifth from bottom in the league with just one away victory all season, Serie A's only southern club will be no pushover at the San Siro. 

PAVEL NEDVED:the Juventus striker believes the loss of Del Piero is massive blow to the title-holders.

Back-to-back victories against Lazio and Perugia respectively have moved the Calabrians within sight of mid-table safety, a change in fortunes that has not gone unnoticed by Inter's Uruguayan midfielder Alvaro Recoba. 

“They're a team who were in a very bad situation three weeks ago, but thanks to a couple of wins their confidence is sky high right now,” Recoba was quoted as saying on the club's official website. 

“Their coach (Luigi De Canio) has done well and certainly has the support of their great fans, so the match will be far from easy.”  

However, although Reggina won at Lazio a fortnight ago, Recoba believes tomorrow's visitors will be playing for a draw. 

“I don’t think they’ll come to Milan to win, I think they'll close up at the back and try to sneak a draw,” he said.  

“But they will have to make very few mistakes, because if they do Inter have players to punish them.” 

Only goal difference gives Milan the edge over Inter, who are level on 42 points with their neighbours, and Inter know only too well that on their day Perugia have the beating of any team in Italy. 

Last month they thrashed Inter 4-1 at their compact Renato Curi Stadium, albeit with the help of some curious decisions by Paolo Bertini, who was subsequently suspended by the referees’ association. 

Inter will be hoping Perugia – or a referee – can do them a favour by producing a similar performance against Milan. 

It will be the second time in the space of four days that Milan and Perugia have met after they fought out a 0-0 draw in the Cup semi-final first leg on Thursday. 

Today, third-placed Juventus host Empoli at the Delle Alpi Stadium without injured striker Alessandro Del Piero. 

The Juve captain is expected to be out of action for two months as a result of the thigh strain he suffered in last Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Atalanta. 

Juventus’ Czech Republic midfielder Pavel Nedved believes the loss of Del Piero is a massive blow for the title-holders. 

“Del Piero is irreplaceable,” Nedved said. “There is not another player with his qualities. The only way we can overcome his absence is for the squad to give everything and a bit more.” 

Meanwhile Lazio, in fourth, will be looking to bounce back from their Italian Cup defeat to city rivals AS Roma in midweek. Roma secured a valuable 2-1 away victory at the Olympic Stadium in a tense first-leg tie which was marred by crowd trouble. – AFP        

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