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Top two face off as Serie A returns

The first weekend of the New Year features the biggest game of the season so far in the Italian Serie A, as leaders Juventus entertain second-placed Roma in Turin tomorrow.

Juve come into 2014 five points clear of Roma at the summit, and so a win will see them take a big step towards retaining their title. Antonio Conte’s side are in fine form, having won their last nine league games on the bounce since suffering their sole league defeat this season, a 4-2 reverse at Fiorentina in October.

Meanwhile, Roma could still match Juve’s 2011/12 achievement of going the entire campaign undefeated. Under French coach Rudi Garcia, Roma have yet to lose in 17 matches, although since winning their opening ten games they have managed just two wins and five draws.

That run has allowed Juve to pull clear and they are defending an unbeaten home record in Serie A stretching back almost exactly a year and a 2-1 defeat to Sampdoria on January 6, 2013.

The match will feature a fascinating battle in midfield, where Arturo Vidal has been Juve’s inspiration and Dutchman Kevin Strootman has been outstanding for Roma since signing from PSV Eindhoven. The hosts should also welcome Andrea Pirlo back into the side, while Andrea Barzagli is hoping to be fit and Carlos Tevez is expected to start despite returning late from a Christmas trip to his native Argentina.

Earlier on Sunday, fourth-placed Fiorentina entertain Tuscan neighbours Livorno, but most matches this weekend will be played on Monday’s Epiphany holiday. Napoli, in third, are set to welcome back Marek Hamsik for their home meeting with a Sampdoria side unbeaten in five matches since former player Sinisa Mihajlovic became coach in November.

That run has left them just a point behind AC Milan, who have won only once in nine games ahead of their home meeting with Atalanta, a match that will come too soon for new signing, Japan playmaker Keisuke Honda. Neighbours Inter will begin their year with a visit to Lazio.