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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

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Perfect Tens

Having been overtaken by Milan following their win over Chievo on Tuesday evening, Juventus went into their game against Lazio the following night knowing three points were essential if they were to continue to harbour any hope of ending their six-year title drought. With the game tied at 1-1, despite the Old Lady having utterly dominated possession, it was always going to take something special to beat the impressive Federico Marchetti in the visitors' goal.

Then, in the 82nd minute, it happened. On as a substitute just nine minutes earlier to make what was his historic 700th appearance in a Juventus shirt, Alessandro Del Piero stepped up to curl home a free-kick that not only snatched a deserved victory for his side but also took the captain closer to two more records in a career that almost defies belief.

Already the leading appearance-maker and goal-scorer for the Turin giants, Del Piero's goal - number 288 for the club he made a first appearance for way back in 1993 - took him to within just a solitary strike of Beppe Signori, who sits in ninth place in the all-time scoring chart for Serie A on 188 goals. In addition, the set piece saw the 38-year-old draw level with Sinisa Mihajlovic on 27 career goals directly from free-kicks, an Italian football record.

All of this was incredible enough and yet, just over 320 miles away in the Italian capital, another equally iconic figure was also busy writing another chapter in his own remarkable story. Just four short minutes after Del Piero struck, Roma's Francesco Totti tapped into a gaping Udinese goal to mark the 212th league goal of his career. The strike put him just four goals behind third place on that same all-time list, a spot currently shared by two men who need no introduction: the great Giuseppe Meazza and Jose Altafini, who retired from playing in 1976 - the year Totti was born.

Two years Totti's senior, Del Piero has been the subject of much debate among Juventus fans given that his contract expires in just two months and both he and the club have intimated it will not be extended. The 2006 World Cup winner called it "his last contract" in February 2011, while president Andrea Agnelli announced the same news at November's shareholders meeting. The decision looks increasingly rash and may yet be revised given his impact in what has been a remarkable, so far unbeaten, campaign for the Bianconeri.

Indeed, coach Antonio Conte was quick to state the value he places on the man who replaced him as captain in his post-game press conference, telling reporters: "It's a great fortune for us to have Del Piero here. When you need to score, he's your man. He has always been, and will always be, an added bonus for the team. If I ask him for a minute, five minutes, eight or a whole game, he always gives 100%."

The chances of seeing their idol for a whole 90 minutes have become increasingly slim for supporters, and only once - against Bologna in the Coppa Italia - has it happened this season. With his typical grace, Del Piero refused to speculate on what lies ahead, telling Sky Italia: "My future is Cesena on Sunday." He adding that the club was in "a really important part of the season - too important for me to be thinking about my personal situation. I would always like to play, but you have to understand the moment."

In much the same way, Totti's role with the Giallorossi was also expected to diminish - until an injury to Pablo Daniel Osvaldo meant he has featured more regularly, with his 21 starts at this stage of the season comparing favourably with the 31 last term.

Despite their advancing years, neither has, to contradict the clich├ęd statement of many commentators, lost a yard of pace. Although, in truth, neither was particularly fleet of foot even in their younger days, and Bob Paisley's quip about Kenny Dalglish running "the first five yards in his head" is pertinent in both cases.

Ultimately, their contributions have been vital to two sides many feel need to find ways to win without their involvement: Totti has five goals and five assists, while Del Piero's last five appearances have seen him score three and lay on another despite only managing 147 minutes of action.

But while they continue to make an impact in Italy, the careers of two men who never seemed to age are coming to an end - alongside giants of the sport such as Raul, Javier Zanetti and Ryan Giggs - and there is no getting away from it. As Totti said himself when speaking to Corriere dello Sport: "Alex and I among the goals? If only it were always so..." If only indeed.

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