International

Higuain returns for Napoli

2015-02-27 11:39
Gonzalo Higuain (Getty Images)

Milan - Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain returns from a one-match suspension as Napoli look to boost their Champions League qualifying bid away to Torino this weekend, when struggling title hopefuls Roma host runaway leaders Juventus.

Napoli booked their place in the last 16 of the Europa League thanks to a 5-0 aggregate victory over Trabzonspor on Thursday having dominated the first leg in Turkey 4-0.

But a place in Europe's premier club competition is the target for Rafael Benitez's side and a win at Torino would close their three-point deficit to second-placed Roma ahead of their clash clash against champions Juventus at the Stadio Olimpico.

Roma's chances of stopping Juventus from claiming a fourth consecutive scudetto have faded significantly in a remarkable six-week period that has seen the Giallorossi held to six draws in seven league games.

And Benitez's side are ready to capitalise.

He said prior to Thursday's win: "We respect all our opponents, but I think we've sent an important signal to Roma."

In their recent purple patch Napoli suffered defeat just twice over nine consecutive games on their way to collecting 23 points from a possible 27.

A 2-0 home win over Sassuolo last week came courtesy of goals from Higuain's deputy, Duvan Zapata, and Marek Hamsik but the Argentine is set to return for Sunday's trip and what could be a tight game at Torino's Stadio Olimpico.

On the same night Napoli progressed in Europe, Torino were one of five clubs joining Benitez's men in the competition's last 16 after beating Athletic Bilbao over two legs to join Fiorentina, Inter and Roma in the Europa League's next phase.

In the league Torino are unbeaten since a 2-1 derby defeat to Juventus at the end of November but Giampiero Ventura's men are looking for their first win in three games having been held at home by Cagliari and earned a 1-1 draw at Fiorentina last week.

City rivals Juventus, meanwhile, will look to make it two wins from two over the Giallorossi this season, although Massimiliano Allegri's men will be without midfielder Andrea Pirlo.

Pirlo has been diagnosed with a calf strain after hobbling off Juve's 2-1 Champions League win over Borussia Dortmund in midweek and is expected to be out for 20 days.

Given the weight Pirlo adds to Juve's already impressive game, Roma may well welcome the news.

Roma are desperate for a league win and one against Juve would boost the morale that was flagging badly before Thursday's 2-1 win over Feyenoord in Rotterdam gave the Italians a 3-2 aggregate victory over the Dutch.

Garcia was coy over Roma's title aspirations, but he can now look forward to facing Juventus with some renewed confidence.

"It's not the moment to talk about the scudetto: there's a game to win against Juve," he said.

"To win here in this stadium was difficult, but in doing so we rediscovered our game: the Roma game. Today we showed great intensity as a collective... and we need to keep this up."

Tensions between the clubs in the wake of a bad-tempered 3-2 win for Juve in Turin in the first half of the season have since calmed, but are likely to resurface at a game that could give Juve a 12-point lead and virtually end Roma's title hopes.

Inter, 1-0 winners over Celtic for a 4-3 aggregate victory over the Scottish champions, host on-form Fiorentina on Sunday four days after the Florence side beat Tottenham 2-0 for a 3-1 aggregate victory in the Europa League.

Inter sit eighth, 22 points behind Juventus and 10 points behind Napoli in the third and last Champions League qualifying spot, with Fiorentina four points ahead in fifth.

AC Milan, meanwhile, welcome back French defender Philippe Mexes after a three-game ban for the visit to Chievo on Saturday when Filippo Inzaghi's fallen giants are looking for a second consecutive win.

Fixtures:

Saturday

Chievo v AC Milan

Sunday

Cagliari v Verona, Atalanta v Sampdoria, Cesena v Udinese, Genoa v Parma, Palermo v Empoli, Sassuolo v Lazio , Inter v Fiorentina, Torino v Napoli 

Monday

Roma v Juventus 

Read more on:    napoli  |  serie a  |  gonzalo higuain  |  soccer
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