Napoli hopes hanging as Serie A reaches boiling point
Napoli's dwindling Serie A title hopes are hanging on a win over Udinese on Wednesday before this weekend's top-of-the-table clash against Juventus which could seal a seventh-straight title for the champions.
The Italian league is approaching its epilogue with two rounds of matches this week but the final word on who will lift the Scudetto could be decided on Sunday evening, at the end of the big match between Juventus and Napoli at the Allianz Stadium.
Six points separate the six-time reigning champions from second-placed Napoli with six games to go after AC Milan's Gianluigi Donnarumma's last-gasp save denied Napoli a win at the San Siro on Sunday.
But Napoli believe they can throw open the championship again by garnering maximum points against Udinese and Juventus as they target a third title after 1987 and 1990.
"There are still 18 points up for grabs," insisted Napoli captain Marek Hamsik.
"The gap between us and Juventus is getting big, but we must keep believing until it's no longer mathematically possible."
A Napoli win over 13th-placed Udinese would put pressure on Juventus who have big games to come against historic rivals Inter Milan and Roma, who are both fighting for Champions League places.
Juventus travel Wednesday to Crotone in the sole of the Italian peninsula to face a side who are battling for survival, third from bottom of the table.
But Sassuolo and Spal have both recently shown Napoli and Juventus that it is possible to earn a draw even if you have 50 points fewer.
- 'Decisive week' -
"It's the decisive week but before thinking of Napoli we have to beat Crotone," said French midfielder Blaise Matuidi, who said he was expecting "a difficult game, very difficult".
"We will have to stay very alert because even against Spal everyone said we would win. But this time we will not be taken by surprise," he warned.
For Matuidi it would be a first title with the Turin side "but for Juventus it would be the seventh consecutive Scudetto, an exceptional goal, crazy".
Below the top two teams the scramble for the two remaining Champions League places heats up.
Roma and Lazio, third and fourth on 61 points, play Genoa and Fiorentina respectively.
Inter Milan are fifth and after three games without a win or scoring a goal have no choice but to take three points at home against Cagliari on Tuesday to push for a Champions League place for the first time since 2012.
"Winning is our only objective, even if I don't know how many points will be needed to qualify for the Champions League," said coach Luciano Spalletti.
"There are only six games left, we all have to find new solutions and can't wait for someone else to come up with them.
"The other players have what it takes to score goals, besides (Mauro) Icardi and (Ivan) Perisic."
AC Milan in sixth still believe in their Champions League destiny despite being eight points adrift of fourth place ahead of their trip to Torino.
Fixtures (1845 GMT unless stated)
Inter Milan v Cagliari
Benevento v Atalanta (1600GMT), Crotone v Juventus, Fiorentina v Lazio, Verona v Sassuolo, Napoli v Udinese, AS Roma v Genoa, Sampdoria v Bologna, SPAL v Chievo, Torino v AC Milan
© 2018 AFP