Inter Milan host Roma on Saturday with both sides looking to get their seasons back on track after bumpy starts which have left them off the pace in the Serie A title race.
Five points behind unbeaten front-runners Napoli and Atalanta, Inter have a huge few days coming up with the visits of both Jose Mourinho’s team and then Barcelona on Tuesday, hugely important for their chances of making the Champions League knockout stages.
Inter have already lost four times in nine games across Serie A and Europe and their last outing – slumping to a 3-1 defeat at surprise package Udinese – led to questions about coach Simone Inzaghi’s future.
However both vice-president Javier Zanetti and CEO Giuseppe Marotta denied this week that Inzaghi’s job was at risk.
“We’ve always had faith, when things aren’t going right you need to keep that bond between everyone,” Zanetti said on Sunday.
Making Inzaghi’s job harder is the continued absence of injured Romelu Lukaku, who hasn’t played since August and whose muscle problems have already caused him to miss six matches.
And last season’s 140-million-euro ($133.9 million) loss announced on Wednesday has increased rumours that they will be forced to sell Milan Skriniar to Paris Saint-Germain, either in January or at the end of the season.
Roma meanwhile sit just above Inter in sixth and go into the weekend with a point to prove after unconvincing results in the lead-up to the international break.
A home defeat to Atalanta two weeks ago was Roma’s second loss of the campaign and the latest match in which a team which has netted only eight times in seven matches failed to capitalise on chances created.
The form of striker Tammy Abraham in particular has been a worry, missed opportunities and bitty displays coming in stark contrast to the talismanic role he had at the end of last season.
Roma will also have to do without Mourinho, who won’t be on the sidelines at the club where he won a historic league, cup and Champions League treble in 2010 after a pitchside rant at officials against Atalanta cost him a one-match ban.
Leaders Napoli kick the weekend off against Torino hoping to stay ahead on goal difference from Atalanta, the only other unbeaten team left in the league ahead of their home clash with Fiorentina.
Loitering one point back in third are Udinese, who are hunting a sixth straight win at struggling Verona on Monday night.
History will be made this weekend when a woman referee takes charge of a Serie A match for the first time.
Having refereed in the third-tier Serie C last season Maria Sole Ferrieri Caputi will be in charge for Sassuolo’s home clash with Salernitana, who after scraping to safety last season have got off to a positive start this time around.
The 31-year-old was praised on Thursday by Italian politician Giorgia Meloni, who is expected to become Italy’s first far-right prime minister since Benito Mussolini after leading a right-wing block to electoral victory last weekend.
Player to watch: Paulo Dybala
Dybala should return to action at the San Siro, the stadium that looked set to be his new home after Juventus announced in March that they were letting him go in the close season.
Instead the Argentina forward was wooed by Mourinho and is likely to play a part in Roma’s attempt to give long-time Lazio man Inzaghi another bloody nose.
His presence would be good news for Mourinho, whose team has a whole different air about it when the 28-year-old is on the field.
2 - Napoli and Atalanta are the only two unbeaten teams left in Serie A.
5 - Udinese’s impressive winning run, which has them a point behind the leaders.
Fixtures (times GMT)
Napoli v Torino (1300), Inter Milan v Roma (1600), Empoli v AC Milan (1845)
Lazio v Spezia (1030), Lecce v Cremonese, Sampdoria v Monza, Sassuolo v Salernitana (all 1300), Atalanta v Fiorentina (1600), Juventus v Bologna (1845)
Verona v Udinese (1845)