Balotelli returns to boost Milan's European hopes, Juventus await title

Updated: 26 April 2013 10:34 IST

Now with a seven-point deficit to Napoli following their 1-0 defeat at Juventus last week, AC Milan face a potential banana skin at home to Catania as they look to secure at least third place, which offers a Champions League place through preliminary qualification.

Balotelli returns to boost Milan's European hopes, Juventus await title

Milan:

Mario Balotelli will return from suspension to boost AC Milan's Champions League hopes when it hosts Catania in Serie A on Sunday.


Balotelli's ban for picking up his fourth booking of the season was extended to three matches after he insulted a match official. It was later reduced to two on appeal.

Without him, Milan has scored only one goal and is in danger of missing out on third place and a spot in the Champions League qualifying round.

Fiorentina is one point behind Milan following two straight victories. It travels to Sampdoria.

Juventus, which has an 11-point lead at the top of the standings, can secure the title if results go its way. If Napoli loses at last-place Pescara, Juventus would need only a point at city rival Torino.

Balotelli has 10 goals in 11 games for club and country in 2013 since his move from Manchester City.

"Mario is world class," goalkeeper Marco Amelia said. "He is above average, and it is great to have him here and now to have him back for crucial games.

"We are still ahead of Fiorentina and we will try to defend our third place because we owe it to ourselves, especially after the start we had this season. We have to return to winning ways against Catania on Sunday, we have to show desire in order to take home all three points and keep Fiorentina at a safe distance."

Catania has drawn its last three games and slipped to ninth.

Milan also has slim hopes of overtaking Napoli for the second direct entry into the Champions League. A last-minute goal gave Napoli a 3-2 win over Cagliari last weekend to move seven points clear after Milan's loss to Juventus.

"We have to continue like this with maximum focus right until the end," Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri said. "Milan is a great team and they could win all the matches. So we have to be very careful and keep our concentration for every game from now until the end of the season."

Pescara has picked up only two points in 14 matches and is eight points off 17th-place Siena and safety. Siena travels to Roma, which drew at home to Pescara last weekend.

If Pescara can pull off a shock against Napoli, Juventus can clinch its 29th Serie A title. A point could be enough as Juventus has the better head-to-head record.

"I don't want to think about when or against whom the decisive victory could come," Juventus coach Antonio Conte said. "I'm only interested in finishing the title race quickly.

"After that, we can celebrate and relax following a very demanding season. We know all about Torino's desire to beat us and about the hidden dangers that await us in Sunday's derby."

Inter Milan's slim hopes of Champions League qualification have all but disappeared. It sits six points off third and travels to struggling Palermo looking instead to cement its bid for a Europa League spot.

Inter is a point behind Roma and two ahead of Lazio and Udinese. Lazio visits Parma on Monday, while Udinese faces Cagliari.

Palermo has given itself hopes of survival after two wins and two draws to be only a point from safety. It is level with Genoa, which travels to Chievo Verona.

Elsewhere, it's Atalanta vs. Bologna.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Saturday

Atalanta v Bologna, Cagliari v Udinese (both 1600), Pescara v Napoli (1800)

Sunday

Chievo v Gerona, Palermo v Inter, Parma v Lazio, Roma v Siena, Sampdoria v Fiorentina, Torino v Juventus (all 1300), AC Milan v Catania (1800)



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