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Ronaldo-inspired Juventus face Milan test as Inter lurk

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Juventus forward Ronaldo celebrates after scoring his second goal in the Italian Serie A match against Udinese on January 3 in Turin. AFP

Ronaldo-inspired Juventus face Milan test as Inter lurk

Cristiano Ronaldo-powered Juventus will meet Serie A leaders AC Milan on January 6 with little room for error in their push for a 10th consecutive Serie A title.

Andrea Pirlo’s side are 10 points behind unbeaten Milan, having played a game less.

Inter Milan lurk just one point behind their city rivals with a chance to pull ahead against mid-table side Sampdoria.

“Against Juventus it’s not decisive nor a passing of the baton,” insisted Milan coach Stefano Pioli.

“Juve have won the last nine titles and aren’t far behind us.”

But a failure to take three points would weigh heavily on Pirlo’s team who currently sit fifth.

It will be a clash of styles between Milan and the champions, who have relied heavily on Ronaldo this season, with the Portuguese scoring 14 of their 29 goals, including six braces.

Without the 35-year-old, Juventus have struggled for victories, being held three times in his absence by Crotone, Hellas Verona and Benevento.

Juve will also be without injured forward Alvaro Morata, their second best scorer after Ronaldo, with defender Alex Sandro also out after testing positive for coronavirus.

Milan have remained solid despite missing injured top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic since late November, winning five and drawing two in his absence.

The 39-year-old Swede scored 10 goals in six games played before picking up a muscle problem.

Including Ibrahimovic, 13 different players have scored for Milan since the beginning of the season, compared to just eight for Juventus.

Milan’s young team have been harnessed by Ibrahimovic’s return to Lombardy a year ago, promising to deliver the ‘Scudetto’ they last won with him in 2011.

Since March, Milan are unbeaten in the league and on Sunday won 2-0 at Benevento despite playing a man down for an hour.

“It’s too early, in April we will see where we are in the standings and understand where we can arrive,” Pioli added.

Big-scoring Inter go to Claudio Ranieri’s Sampdoria chasing a ninth straight league win.

But top scorer Romelu Lukaku remains uncertain after picking up a thigh injury in their 6-2 win over Crotone on January 3.

Six points behind Inter, third-placed Roma travel to rock bottom Crotone, with Napoli two points away from the capital side ahead of their match with lowly Spezia.

Sassuolo look to get back winning ways against 19th-placed Genoa, with Atalanta hosting struggling Parma hoping to close the three-point gap between them and the Champions League places.

Ninth-placed Lazio host Fiorentina, sitting 14th, desperate to keep in touch with the European spots after a wildly inconsistent season so far.

One to watch: Rafael Leao

AC Milan forward Rafael Leao will test himself against fellow Portuguese Ronaldo in the San Siro.

The 21-year-old has been on-form in Ibrahimovic’s absence, scoring the fastest-ever goal in Serie A history after just six seconds before Christmas, and also curling in a strike from a tight angle on December 3.

“Rafa is a player with enormous potential and super quality. I expect a lot from him,” said Pioli of the U21 international who has netted 11 times in 49 games for Milan.

Key stats:

40 - Inter’s goals in 15 games

27 - AC Milan’s unbeaten league run

17 - Consecutive Serie A games in which AC Milan have scored at least two goals

8 - Cagliari’s winless run

4 - Milan players with at least four goals this season – Ibrahimovic, Theo Hernandez, Leao and Franck Kessie

3 - Juventus’ away wins in seven league games.

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