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Napoli lead charge as Italy bounces back on European stage

Napoli host Sassuolo on Saturday as the leaders of an Italian revival in Europe and hoping to extend their club-record winning streak of 12 matches.

Luciano Spalletti’s team strolled past Rangers on Wednesday to make it five wins from five in the Champions League and all-but guarantee top spot in Group A.

They would need to lose by four goals or more at Liverpool next week to miss out on first place, a position they should also maintain in Serie A regardless of how they do against inconsistent Sassuolo.

Napoli lead champions AC Milan, who travel to Torino on Sunday, by three points and would need to lose and suffer a four-goal swing in Milan’s favour in order to be bumped down to second place.

Milan are on a run of four straight wins in Italy’s top flight and their 4-0 crushing of Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday means they will likely be one of three Italian teams in the last 16 of Europe’s top club competition.

Stefano Pioli’s side need a point against Salzburg to ensure their place in the draw for the first time since 2013 and complete their return to the big time masterminded by their unassuming coach.

Inter Milan were the only Serie A side to make the knockout stages last season and were immediately eliminated by Liverpool, but they too will have another chance at going deep after sending Barcelona down to the Europa League.

They return to domestic action against struggling Sampdoria on Saturday, hoping to close the eight-point gap separating them from Napoli, who along with Milan offer an exciting brand of attacking football which has attracted big crowds and bigger plaudits.

Lurking five points back are Lazio, who are on a run of six straight league wins without conceding a goal ahead of their home league fixture with Salernitana and are playing some swashbuckling football of their own.

The contrast between that trio and crisis-club Juventus could barely be starker, with Italian media reporting that the Turin giants are considering bringing back Antonio Conte next summer.

Juve are out of the Champions League and risk being dumped out of Europe altogether by Paris Saint-Germain next week, and coach Massimiliano Allegri has been blasted by supporters for stodgy football and largely dismal results.

Juve travel to Conte’s home town of Lecce on Saturday 10 points off the pace having won their last two league matches and showing some fight in their 4-3 defeat at Benfica on Tuesday.

But although Lecce hover above the relegation zone after winning only one of their 11 matches, Marco Baroni’s side haven’t been thumped by anyone, and even managed to draw at rampant Napoli.

Monza host Bologna on Monday still in shock at the stabbing of their Spanish defender Pablo Mari, who was knifed in a supermarket in Assago, just outside Milan, late on Thursday.

Mari underwent successful surgery on Friday after being stabbed in the back by a man apparently suffering from psychological problems who killed a Carrefour employee and injured four others after grabbing a knife from a shelf.

Monza said Mari, on loan from Arsenal, would be out for two months recovering from his injuries which were not serious.

Player to watch: Romelu Lukaku

The Belgium striker could hardly have hoped for a better return to action than Wednesday’s 4-0 hammering of Viktoria Plzen, when he crowned Inter’s qualification for the Champions League last 16 just moments after replacing Lautaro Martinez.

Lukaku is likely to start on the bench again at the San Siro on Saturday but with a thigh injury which kept him out for two months seemingly behind him the 29-year-old should play a part.

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