Inter to test Roma as Napoli wait in wings
Roma's newly-acquired Serie A title credentials face their first serious test when Rudi Garcia's team visit in-form Inter Milan on Saturday.
In the final weekend of league action before a break for World Cup qualifiers, second-placed Napoli host promoted Livorno while champions Juventus host Milan in one of two potentially gripping late games on Sunday.
When former Lille coach Garcia took over Roma at the start of the season the initial aim was to start strongly and erase the memory of a seventh place finish last season.
However, the French coach and Roma have gone one better, grabbing the league's attention after winning all of their first six games to top the table with a two-point lead over Napoli and champions Juventus.
Inter sit fourth, a further two points back, having enjoyed a positive start to the campaign under former Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri.
As matches go, it could be the highlight of the weekend -- Roma have hit the net 17 times and conceded only one while Inter have scored 16 and shipped only three.
Despite having home advantage, Inter were held to a 1-1 draw by Juventus three weeks ago and Mazzarri's men dropped more points in a shock 1-1 draw away to Cagliari last week.
Roma have also seen nine different players hit the net this season and Inter centre-back Hugo Campagnaro said they deserve respect.
"They're a great team and have scored a lot of goals while conceding very few. They deserve our respect," Campagnaro told Sky Sport Italia.
"We'll have to be on top of our game."
It appears there is little reason for Garcia to make major changes and his only injury doubt following a 5-0 rout of Bologna last week concerns Serbian striker Adem Ljajic.
But the Frenchman should not be sweating.
Former Arsenal striker Gervinho hit a brace last week and, following a shaky start, seems to have now settled in well.
Defeat for Roma would allow Napoli to snatch top spot, if they overcome league new boys Livorno.
It would offer Rafael Benitez's men a crumb of comfort after their 2-0 Champions League defeat to Arsenal in midweek, before which Gonzalo Higuain failed a late fitness test.
Although Higuain is expected to return for Sunday's afternoon game, Napoli were quick to dispel suggestions the Azzurri have become dependent on the Argentinian, who with three goals is Napoli's second-top scorer after Marek Hamsik.
"Of course he's a really important player for us but we can win without him," said defender Paolo Cannavaro.
"We beat Genoa (last week) without Higuain."
Juventus and Milan, meanwhile, could both do with a boost although the latter are in arguably greater need having slipped to ninth place at 10 points adrift of Roma.
Milan will hope to capitalise on Juve's fragile mental state after the champions were shellshocked by a 2-2 Champions League draw at home to Galatasaray.
However the odds are against Massimiliano Allegri's injury-ravaged side, who will be without striker Mario Balotelli as he continues to serve out a three-match ban.
In Sunday's other late game high-flying Fiorentina, fifth at seven points off the pace, face a daunting trip to Lazio without injured trio Mario Gomez, Giuseppe Rossi and Ukrainian midfielder Oleksandr Iakovenko.
Their absences did not stop Vincenzo Montella's men from battling to a 2-1 Europa League win away to Dnipro on Thursday, when Lazio battled to a 3-3 draw away at Turkish side Trabzonspor.
All weekend matches, meanwhile, will be preceded by a minute's silence to mark the death of an estimated 300 asylum seekers whose boat caught fire and sank off the coast of Lampedusa in Italy on Thursday.
Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta called the incident "an immense tragedy" and the government declared a national day of mourning on Friday and a minute of silence to be held in all schools.
Chievo v Atalanta (1600), Inter v Roma (1845)
Parma v Sassuolo (1030), Bologna v Verona, Catania v Genoa, Napoli v Livorno, Sampdoria v Torino, Udinese v Cagliari (all 1300), Juventus v Milan, Lazio v Fiorentina (both 1845)