Juventus take siege mentality to Milan battle

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The Independent Football

The English and German titles have been decided, and Barcelona and Lyon can secure the Spanish and French leagues this weekend, but in Italy the domestic championship continues to enthrall. All season Milan and Juventus have jousted at the summit but, tomorrow, one of them could take a significant step towards glory when they meet at San Siro.

With three subsequent rounds to play, nothing will be decided but the loser, if there is one, will struggle to recover. Milan, in theory, should approach the game brimming with confidence after reaching the final of the Champions' League but in practice they are staggering towards the double. In recent weeks they have suffered unexpected defeats in Serie A and they were fortunate to edge past PSV Eindhoven in Europe in midweek having been outplayed in both legs.

Juventus were able to rest during the week but otherwise are in equally bad humour. A siege mentality has developed fuelled by the league's refusal to reduce a three-match ban handed down to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which will keep him out of tomorrow's game, and controversy over television pictures of Fabio Cannavaro on an intravenous drip during his time at Parma. Cannavaro's lawyer said the drip contained a substance not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. It is nevertheless an unfortunate development given Juventus are already embroiled in a doping scandal after the club doctor was found guilty of administering EPO to players.

With Ibrahimovic absent, Fabio Capello is expected to partner David Trezegeut and Alessandro Del Piero in attack. The pair scored 81 goals to lead Juve to back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003 but injuries have limited them to just five appearances in harness this season.

Milan are at full strength with Paolo Maldini expected to start, despite being kicked in the head against PSV. "I feel better and I think I'll be OK," he said. "I don't remember anything about the incident - just the doctor checking me over then feeling sick and dizzy in the changing rooms."

If the pair finish the season level on points the title will be decided in a two-legged play-off next month.

In Spain, Barcelona could seal their first title in six years tomorrow. That, though, would require Real Madrid to lose at home to Racing Santander tonight and Barcelona to win at Valencia. Were the results reversed the margin between the teams would be down to three points with three matches to play.

Real will have Zinedine Zidane, Michel Salgado and Walter Samuel back from suspension, while David Beckham appears to have recovered from an inflamed toe and will play. Barcelona recall Xavi after suspension and Edmilson could return after seven months out with a knee injury.

In France, with Lyon champions if they defeat Ajaccio tomorrow night, the focus is on Champions' League qualifying. Lille, Monaco and Marseille contest the final two places.

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