Ranieri can give Roma the edge in Serie A title race, says Lippi

The Italy coach, Marcello Lippi, believes
Internazionale's exertions in Europe could work against them in their pursuit of a fifth straight Scudetto. Roma, he says, are the team to beat.

"I see Roma as favourites because they are one point ahead and they depend on themselves, not on others," Lippi said. "Roma has had an extraordinary season and much of the merit is down to coach Claudio Ranieri.

"Since taking over earlier in the campaign, Ranieri has led Roma to an impressive run and he is the symbol of this Roma side. He has brought experience and knowledge."

Roma beat Lazio 2-1 in the Rome derby last weekend to reclaim first place with four games remaining. The Giallorossi host Sampdoria on Sunday night on the back of six straight victories. They are riding a 24-match unbeaten run in Serie A.

Lippi has been equally impressed by Inter, who followed up last Friday's impressive win at Juventus with a 3-1 home triumph over Barcelona in the Champions League first-leg semi-final on Tuesday.

"I think Inter are favourites to win the Champions League," said Lippi. "They are aware of their quality and have gained a confidence that they didn't have in previous years.

"They are still alive in all competitions and perhaps this might give Roma the edge in the Scudetto."

Inter host relegation-threatened Atalanta tomorrow with all eyes set on the Nerazzurri's controversial striker Mario Balotelli.The striker threw his Inter jersey on the pitch after coming on as a second-half substitute against Barça but is set to play this weekend.

Milan go into the final four weeks of the season in third place and seven points behind league leaders Roma. The Rossoneri have won just one of their last six games and hope to end Palermo's unbeaten run at La Favorita this season.

Palermo lie fifth in the standings, two points adrift of fourth place and the final Champions League spot, currently held by Sampdoria.

Struggling Juventus have not given up hope of a last-four finish. The Bianconeri, after last week's 2-0 defeat to Inter, are in seventh place and six points behind Samp.

Napoli, who will welcome back Paolo Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica from suspension for Sunday's match against Cagliari, are sixth and hold the last European qualifying spot.

Fiorentina trail six points behind Napoli and head into Sunday's game against Chievo looking to revive their European ambitions. Bologna will be under pressure to beat Parma knowing that a defeat could see them fall to the relegation zone.

The Rossoblu have claimed just two points in the last seven games and hold the last position of safety, two points clear of 18th-place Atalanta. The Udinese coach, Pasquale Marino, will be desperate for his side to produce the same performance that saw them beat Roma in the Coppa Italia this week when they host Siena in a relegation battle on Sunday. The Friuli outfit edged Roma 1-0 but failed to progress to the Coppa Italia final having lost 2-0 in the first leg in Rome. Udinese lie five points clear of the drop zone with four games remaining.

Lazio must put behind them the painful 2-1 loss against Roma and concentrate on beating Genoa on Sunday if they are to take a step towards Serie A survival. The Biancoceleste lie three points clear of the drop zone.

Rock-bottom Livorno go into Sunday's match against Catania knowing that anything but a win could see them relegated to the second division. Last weekend's 2-0 loss at Chievo marked their second straight defeat and left Livorno 10 points from safety with four games remaining.

The Juventus captain Alessandro del Piero will see out his contract until the end of next season, ending media speculation he would quit in May to play in Major League Soccer.

"Yes, it's true. This summer I'm going to America. On holiday. Then however, I will definitely come back," the 35-year-old forward wrote on his official website yesterday.

Juventus are seventh in Serie A after one of their worst seasons in the top flight, while Del Piero has struggled for form and fitness, meaning an Italy comeback at June's World Cup looks highly unlikely.

In Spain, Raul will take stock of his career at Real Madrid at the end of this season. The striker's contract expires next year and speculation about his future has mounted in recent months. The 32-year-old Spaniard has played mainly as a substitute in the second half of the season with Gonzalo Higuain, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema taking preference in attack.

"Right now I'm not going to retire," Raul said yesterday. "I'd like to see out the year left on my contract. We'll see what happens at the end of the season. I want to keep playing football."

The former Spain striker has started just eight games and scored four goals in La Liga this season. Raul made his debut for Real in 1994 as a 17-year-old and has won six league trophies and three Champions League titles. He stopped playing for his country in 2006 after winning 102 caps.

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