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Italian title race may be over but battle for 3rd is very much on as Lazio hosts Fiorentina


MILAN — With the Serie A title race all but over, the battle for third place is heating up.

Only three points separate third-place Napoli, Lazio and Fiorentina, while several other teams could come back into contention for the final Champions League spot if those sides start slipping up.

Inter Milan is one of those teams. Its inconsistency has left it 10 points off third but a win at Napoli on Sunday would put the team coached by Roberto Mancini right back in the mix.

However, Napoli is full of confidence following a positive 1-1 draw at Lazio in the first leg of the Italian Cup semifinals, which helped it put aside the misery of last weekend's 1-0 league defeat at Torino.

Not content with settling for third, Napoli — which is also in the last 16 of the Europa League — is targeting second and is four points behind Roma.

"Sunday will be difficult," said Napoli forward Manolo Gabbiadini, who scored in Rome on Wednesday. "We have matches every three days and we have to be good. We won't give up on second spot, we believe in it."

Lazio entertains Fiorentina on Monday, with the capital side a point above its opponent.

Sampdoria, which is six points behind Napoli, kicks off the weekend with a home match against relegation-threatened Cagliari. Saturday's other match sees AC Milan host Hellas Verona.

Genoa is three points behind Samp but with a game in hand and visits in-form Empoli on Sunday.

Here are some things to know about this weekend's games:


Mohamed Salah may have been dubbed the Egyptian Messi back in his homeland, but he was little known to Fiorentina supporters when he joined from Chelsea in January.

However, the 22-year-old Salah has been a revelation since his move to Italy.

Salah made only 19 appearances in his year at Chelsea, scoring two goals. He has doubled that tally in only six games for his new club and scored again in Fiorentina's 1-0 win at Inter Milan last weekend, its first victory at San Siro in 15 years.

That prompted the league to write on its official social media sites "he runs, he dribbles, he scores and he makes goals. One goal every 65 minutes in Serie A. A phenomenal impact."

PHOTO: Lazio’s Miroslav Klose lies ont he pitch after being injured during an Italian Cup semifinal first leg soccer match between Lazio and Napoli, at Rome's Olympic stadium, Wednesday, March 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)
Lazio’s Miroslav Klose lies ont he pitch after being injured during an Italian Cup semifinal first leg soccer match between Lazio and Napoli, at Rome's Olympic stadium, Wednesday, March 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Chelsea is paying Salah's salary at Fiorentina up until the end of the season, when the Italian side can take him on loan for another season or buy him outright for 20 million euros ($22 million).

"The aim of a coach is also to improve players," Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Montella said. "He has integrated himself perfectly and we are completely happy."


Juventus has its fourth straight Serie A title all but sewn up.

Last weekend's 1-1 draw at Roma left Juve nine points clear with an advantage in the head-to-head record, too, and it would take a collapse of colossal standards to fail to win the league now.

And the bookmakers agree, with Snai not allowing any more bets on who will win Serie A and instead opening a new wager on who will pick up the most points in the remaining 13 matches — with Juve still favorite.

Roma can close the gap, provisionally at least, as it visits relegation-threatened Chievo Verona on Sunday and Juventus hosts Sassuolo a day later.

Sassuolo and Italy striker Simone Zaza will be eager to make his mark. Juventus sold its share in Zaza in the offseason but ensured the deal included the right to buy the 23-year-old forward outright at the end of the season or in successive years for an increased price.

"If I score a goal which helps us get points at Juventus Stadium I might even shave off my beard, but I'm not promising anything. It would just need to grow back quickly," Zaza said. "Juve are keeping an eye on me, fine, but this is not Zaza's match against Juve, that would be a lack of respect toward my teammates."


Nobody knows yet whether Parma will play its scheduled home match against Atalanta on Sunday or whether it will have a third straight Serie A game postponed indefinitely.

Parma, which has been sold twice this season, is on the brink of financial failure and wages have gone unpaid for months. A bankruptcy hearing has been scheduled for March 19.

Parma's home match against Udinese was postponed because the club couldn't afford to pay for security and electricity, and the players asked for last weekend's match at Genoa to be rescheduled, too.

Bailiffs have also stripped the club's training ground as well as removing vehicles.

The other Serie A clubs are debating whether to step in and help Parma finish the season, while the president of the Italian football federation said he has come up with a plan with Parma Mayor Federico Pizzarotti to ensure the team plays Sunday.

The situation will become clearer on Friday following a meeting between all 20 top-flight clubs.

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