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Everton on the cusp of Europa progress

Everton about an hour ago
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By ESPN Staff
Jan 13, 2006

Milan face Roma test in Serie A pursuit

ROME, Jan 13 (Reuters) - The Serie A season reaches its midway point on Sunday with Juventus firmly in control, while second-placed AC Milan must travel to the Italian capital to face a rapidly-improving AS Roma.

Juventus sit atop Serie A on 49 points, nine ahead of Milan. The gap between them is due to Milan's poor away form.

Ancelotti's side has a 100 percent winning record at the San Siro stadium, but have already lost four times on their travels this season and Ancelotti will be hoping strikers Andriy Shevchenko and Alberto Gilardino can prevent them slipping up against Roma (kickoff 1930 GMT).

After an uncertain start, the pair have hit their stride, hitting the target eight times in the past three matches to make Milan's attack the most prolific in the division.

Roma, however, have recently shaken off their erratic early-season form to rise to seventh in the division on 27 points.

The constant and heavily-publicised wrangling over Antonio Cassano's contract, which hung over the squad up until Christmas, has been resolved by the striker's departure to Real Madrid.

Cassano's departure and injuries to Shabani Nonda and Vincenzo Montella leave Roma with a shortage of strikers.

Francesco Totti is expected to start alone up front, with Mancini, Simone Perrotta and Damiano Tommasi in support - a formation that served Roma well in their last two games against Chievo Verona and Treviso, both of which they won.

Roma's biggest concern surrounds influential playmaker Rodrigo Taddei, who picked up an ankle injury in training on Thursday and risks missing Sunday's match.

Fiorentina's fans, meanwhile, could be forgiven for looking anxiously over their shoulders.

The twice Italian champions occupy fourth place - the final Champions League berth - but have made a slow start to 2006, drawing 1-1 with Reggina and losing 4-1 to Juventus midweek to tumble out of the Italian Cup.

On Sunday they face a tricky game against high-flying Chievo, who lie sixth and are on course to repeat their glorious 2001-02 season, when they finished fifth in their first year in the top-flight.

Fiorentina striker Luca Toni is still Serie A's leading scorer thanks to his remarkable run of 16 goals in the opening 13 matches, but has now gone five games without hitting the target.

To add to Fiorentina's problems, first-choice goalkeeper Sebastian Frey is out, possibly for the rest of the season, after injuring his knee in a collision with Juve striker Marcelo Zalayeta during their Italian Cup match. Reserve goalkeeper Sebastian Cejas will stand in.

The other top teams have easier fixtures. Juventus keeper Gianluigi Buffon is now recovered from a shoulder operation and is expected to make his first Serie A appearance in more than seven months as the Italian champions host Reggina.

Inter Milan, third on 39 points, play relegation-threatened Cagliari at the San Siro.