Champions Juventus host surprise Serie A leaders Chievo on Saturday hoping to kick-start their season while Mario Balotelli is eyeing his first start for AC Milan when they face Inter in the Milan derby.
Juventus’s start to the fledgling season has been anything but positive, Massimiliano Allegri’s men slipping to two consecutive defeats to sit in the unfamiliar reaches of the table’s bottom four.
Given Juventus, the four-time consecutive champions, have never succumbed to two opening defeats, the vultures are already circling above Turin.
“Something has changed,” former AC Milan and Inter player Andres Guglielminpietro told La Gazzetta delloSport.
“Juventus underwent major changes during the summer. In Italy right now, a lot of the big teams have started the season on a level footing, and with the belief they can win the scudetto.”
Only months after Juventus capped a rare league and Cup double-winning season by progressing to the Champions League final, where they were beaten by Barcelona, the champions are certainly stuttering as they adapt to life without three players who proved crucial in recent campaigns — Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Carlos Tevez.
Juventus lost to chief rivals Roma a fortnight ago and with Inter Milan and AC Milan threatening to challenge this season, the pundits can smell an upset.
Allegri has been quick to allay fears, and Brazilian midfielder Hernanes believes recent setbacks were a blip.
“There won’t be any talk of a transition season,” Allegri said in midweek. “For us, the season starts now.”
“Juventus is still the team to beat, they’ve maintained a solid base and we’re still the strongest team in Italy,” said Hernanes, who was signed from Inter two weeks ago.
“We have to forget what happened in the last two games and make sure we collect all three points on Saturday.”
A win against the Flying Donkeys, who have yet to beat Juventus in the league, is considered a pre-requisite ahead of Tuesday’s visit to Manchester City for their first Champions League group game of the season.
Allegri has already been given a boost, Spanish striker Alvaro Morata returning to training on Thursday after a flu scare. If fit, he would be free to partner Argentinian Paulo Dybala, allowing Allegri to rest Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic and keep some powder dry for Tuesday’s outing.
It is early days yet but after Roma’s win over Juve, Inter host Milan on Sunday night hoping to add lustre to their positive start to the season by beating their city rivals for the first time in three outings.
Inter striker Stevan Jovetic, on loan from Manchester City, has hit four goals in two games for the Nerazzurri, but coach Roberto Mancini is sweating on the fitness of newly-signed Brazil defender Joao Miranda after he suffered a suspected knee ligament injury in a friendly with the United States.
Liverpool misfit Balotelli re-joined Milan on a season-long loan deal several weeks ago in a bid to transform a career that has dipped dramatically since Italy’s doomed 2014 World Cup campaign.
He has yet to feature in a league game under Milan coach Sinisa Mihajlovic, but fellow striker Luiz Adriano believes Balotelli’s arrival has given the Rossoneri a boost.
“Mario’s a great player and has come here to give us an important boost. The squad needs everybody and he will help us a lot,” said the Brazilian, who signed for Milan recently after eight successful season with Shakhtar Donestk in UKraine.
He added: “I’m very curious to see what it will be like on Sunday. When I played in the derby in Ukraine, Shakhtar against Dinamo Kiev, the whole country shut down.”
Roma, meanwhile, travel to newly-promoted Frosinone, based in the outskirts of the Italian capital, with coach Rudi Garcia expected to tinker with his formation with creative midfielder Miralem Pjanic sidelined by a calf injury.
Fixtures (times GMT)
Frosinone v Roma, Fiorentina v Genoa (1700), Juventus v Chievo (1945)
Verona v Torino (1130), Sassuolo v Atalanta, Sampdoria v Bologna, Empoli v Napoli, Palermo v Carpi (all 1400), Lazio v Udinese (1700), Inter Milan v AC Milan (1945)
– Agence France-Presse