Inter's run threatened by Palermo visit

January 20, 2006

ROME, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Inter Milan's pursuit of Serie A leaders Juventus runs into a potential stumbling block when they host Palermo at San Siro on Saturday (kickoff 1930 GMT).

Inter last suffered a Serie A defeat in October, when they went down 3-2 against AS Roma.

Unbeaten since then, Roberto Mancini's men have put together a sequence of eight wins and three draws to earn 27 points, one more than Juventus over the same period.

Juve's 1-1 draw with Chievo on Wednesday gave them 53 points from 20 matches and allowed Inter to close the gap to eight points.

However, Juan Sebastian Veron said Inter are refusing to look too far ahead.

'An eight or a 10-point gap is pretty much the same thing. We just have to keep working hard and winning matches. Anything is possible at this stage of the season,' the midfielder was quoted as saying by La Gazzetta dello Sport on Thursday.

Veron's caution is well justified. Inter lost 3-2 in Palermo early in the season and their unbeaten run includes some less impressive performances, particularly in 2006.

They were made to work hard for victories against relegation candidates Treviso and Cagliari and a 0-0 draw with mid-table Siena.

Palermo have more quality in their side than these three teams, especially since the arrival of Italy striker David Di Michele, who scored twice in eight minutes on his debut to give the Sicilians a 4-2 win over Parma on Wednesday.

Mancini is missing two first-team regulars.

KILY IN

With striker Obafemi Martins playing in the African Nations Cup, Mancini is expected to field Julio Cruz, who scored in the 1-0 win at Treviso on Wednesday, alongside Adriano in attack.

Dejan Stankovic is out through suspension and should be replaced by Kily Gonzalez on the left of midfield.

Any kind of slip-up against Palermo will almost certainly be punished by Juve, who face a relatively easy game against Empoli.

The tiny Tuscan club, who lost 4-0 to the league leaders in September, have earned just two points in their last seven games.

Milan, third on 43 points, will also start as firm favourites for a win when they travel to Siena, though having lost four of their last five away matches they will probably be taking nothing for granted.

Filippo Inzaghi is expected to partner Andriy Shevchenko from the first minute after grabbing the winner in Milan's 1-0 victory over Ascoli on Wednesday.

Fourth-placed Fiorentina need to rediscover their pre-Christmas form in their game against Messina to avoid losing touch with the top three.

The twice Italian champions have won just one of their four matches so far in January and lost 3-1 to Sampdoria on Wednesday to drop three points behind Milan.

Their recent results have left their fans looking anxiously over their shoulders at fifth-placed Livorno (36 points), who host Treviso, and sixth-placed Roma (33 points), who can notch up their fifth consecutive victory by beating Udinese away.