- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

MILAN (AP) - At the start of the year, Roma appeared certain to push Juventus all the way in the Serie A title chase.

A lot has changed in less than two months.

Roma was hit by a serious injury crisis, while others were away at the African Cup of Nations, and the team has struggled since.

The club has won only one of its past six matches and would have slipped further behind Juventus following a draw at home to last-place Parma last weekend had not the defending champions been surprisingly held 2-2 at Cesena.

As it stands, Roma remains seven points behind Juventus and needs to get back to winning ways soon, starting at Hellas Verona on Sunday.

“I prefer to look forward,” Roma coach Rudi Garcia said. “We owe our fans something, we are failing them and we want to win. However, I always see the glass as half full and I see Roma second in the standings, five clear of third and in the hunt for the Europa League.

“We have two competitions to play and we’ll give our all in both. I don’t think about the players who are unavailable, there’s no point.”

Verona has won only one of its past six matches, losing the other five.

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

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LOSING SIGHT OF GOAL

Juventus has faltered of late, according to its usual high standards.

The defending champions still lead Serie A, but would have been further ahead of Roma had they not drawn two of their past three matches - including at Cesena, which is second from last.

Juventus hosts another relegation-threatened side in Atalanta on Friday and has to avoid looking ahead to next week’s Champions League match against Borussia Dortmund.

“At the moment it seems almost as if we have lost sight of one of our aims,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m talking about everyone: myself, the players, the club and the fans.

“You shouldn’t take it as given that Juventus has the title in its pocket, because you have to win the matches on the pitch and the game against Cesena is an example - it seemed as if everything was easy, but in fact it wasn’t.”

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SERIOUS TROUBLE

Parma’s financial crisis could have more serious repercussions for all of Serie A with reports that Sunday’s match against Udinese is at risk.

The players have gone unpaid all season, while the club has had three different owners and is facing the prospect of bankruptcy.

Reports in Italy say that Parma has only 40,000 euros ($45,000) in the bank and cannot afford to pay police and stewards at Stadio Tardini, meaning this weekend’s match would be unable to go ahead.

The Lega Serie A may step in to ensure Parma can complete the rest of the season’s schedule.

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GENOA DERBY

Sampdoria hosts Genoa in an eagerly-anticipated Derby della Lanterna on Saturday, with both teams level on points and vying for European places.

Both sides have struggled lately, although Genoa is starting to turn things around following an impressive 1-0 win at Lazio and an emphatic 5-2 rout of Hellas Verona.

Sampdoria had lost only one match this season before the winter break, but has lost three more since the start of the year.

“We’re coming into the match in the best possible mood,” Genoa captain Nicolas Burdisso said. “We’re getting the results and the table looks very good. We’ve been playing well for a while, but this is an extra special match.

“The derby is amazing, so different from all the others. You feel it for the whole week, everyone is waiting for it, it’s a championship within a championship. There’s a great feeling on the pitch and I always try to give my best to make the fans happy.”

A win would see either team move provisionally level on points with fourth-place Fiorentina.

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INZAGHI ON THE BRINK?

AC Milan has assured coach Filippo Inzaghi his job is safe until the end of the season, but another poor performance at home against Cesena could be the end for the former Rossoneri player.

Milan has won only one of its past eight league matches and was held to a 1-1 draw at San Siro by relegation-threatened Empoli last weekend. It faces another struggling team in Cesena, which will be full of confidence following a surprising draw against Juventus.

“We are going through a difficult time, we have to stick together and try to change the situation,” Milan midfielder Michael Essien said. “We are trying to do our best to change the situation. These moments happen in football, we cannot let our heads drop.

“Inzaghi asks us to be positive, to stay together, to work hard in training and win games. We hope to change the situation soon and make our fans smile again.”


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