Once 'sure' of the title, Roma now more concerned with holding on to 2nd as Juventus visits



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ROME — What a difference a few months — or even just days — can make in a football season.

It was Oct. 17 when Roma coach Rudi Garcia proclaimed that he was "sure" the Giallorossi would win Serie A — his belief strengthened by glaring refereeing errors in a 3-2 loss at Juventus earlier that month and only a one-point deficit to the three-time defending champions at the time.

Four days later, Roma was routed 7-1 at home by Bayern Munich in the Champions League for one of the club's most embarrassing performances in its history.

And now Roma has drawn six of its last seven matches in the Italian league to fall nine points behind entering Monday's rematch with Juventus at the Stadio Olimpico.

"It could be match point for Juventus on Monday," Roma sporting director Walter Sabatini said. "We've got to focus on defending second place."

With Napoli only three points behind, Roma's hold on a direct Champions League spot is starting to look weak.

Another alarming factor is Roma's inability to win at home lately, with five consecutive draws.

Meanwhile, Juventus might approach the game with one eye on the second leg of its Champions League match with Borussia Dortmund, having edged the German side 2-1 in the opening leg Tuesday in Turin.

In Sunday's matches: Napoli visits Turin; fourth-place Lazio goes to Sassuolo; and Inter Milan hosts Fiorentina aiming for a fourth consecutive win.

In Saturday's lone game, AC Milan visits Chievo Verona.

Here are a few things to know about this weekend's Serie A matches:


WIZARD INJURED

Juventus will be without midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo for 20 days.

The 35-year-old passing wizard tore a muscle in his right leg during the first half of the match against Dortmund.

The club hopes to have Pirlo back for the second leg against Dortmund on March 18, meaning he would miss three Serie A games — against Roma, Sassuolo and Palermo — plus the first leg of the Italian Cup semifinals against Fiorentina on March 8.


UP FOR AUCTION

Financially struggling Parma is falling apart piece by piece.

With last weekend's home match against Udinese postponed indefinitely because Parma couldn't afford to pay for security and electricity, it remains uncertain if the last-place club will be able to travel to Sunday's game at Genoa.

The players have not been paid all season and a bankruptcy hearing has been set for March 19.

Meanwhile, the benches from inside Parma's changing room at the Tardini Stadium have been put up for auction at a price of 2,000 euros ($2,250) apiece.

With no funds for the team bus, players have offered to drive to Genoa themselves.

Other clubs are debating whether to step in and help Parma finish the season.


RED, BLACK AND BLUE

AC Milan's injury problems in defense have worsened.

Adil Rami has been diagnosed with a right calf problem, joining the likes of Cristian Zapata, Ignazio Abate, Mattia De Sciglio, Pablo Armero and Cristian Zaccardo on the Rossoneri's unavailable list.


GATES REOPENED

After 99 days and six matches of violence-related limitations, Atalanta fans will finally have full access to Sunday's match against Sampdoria.

Most areas of the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia have been off limits since clashes during a loss to Roma in November.

Fans attacked police with small homemade bombs containing nails and other metal bits, which resulted in injuries to six police officers and damage to three police vehicles.

Atalanta was two points above the relegation zone after the Roma match and things haven't improved much in the intervening months, as the Bergamo squad is now three points above the drop.

"We're pleased but regrets remain over the three months during which we've had to play in a surreal atmosphere," Atalanta general director Pierpaolo Marino said. "For Sunday we want tons of fans hungry for football to come to the stadium and behave correctly."


Andrew Dampf can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

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