Milan, Dec 16: Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has played down talk of his side's title chances as the Serie A's joint leader prepares to take on struggling Novara on Sunday.
Juventus, which was held to a 1-1 draw at Roma on Monday, is now level on 30 points with Udinese at the top of the standings. The Turin side will play Udinese on Wednesday in a game that is already being seen as a real test of Juve's title credentials.
However, Buffon sought to avoid the speculation, saying: “You also have to look behind you, because we're doing well—but the team in fourth is only two points behind.”
Juventus found itself in a similar position last year before four defeats in six games marked the beginning of a downward spiral, with the club eventually finishing the season in seventh, 24 points behind champion AC Milan.
“Our first place and the fact we're unbeaten is only a temporary thing that has lasted for 14 games,” Buffon said. “Since there are 38 games in the campaign and since last year at this time we were close to the top too and then we didn't even get into the Europa League, I think it's hazardous to talk about the title.”
The top two clubs have a two-point lead over both AC Milan, which hosts Siena on Saturday, and Lazio, which is Udinese's next opponent.
Inter Milan visits Cesena looking for its third win on the trot.
Novara is second from bottom in the standings, with just 11 points. However, it was on the verge of a notable victory over Napoli on Sunday before Blerim Dzemaili leveled six minutes from the end.
The Juventus stadium is sold out for the Piemontese derby and Buffon knows it will be tricky against a side fighting for survival in Serie A.
“Novara has a long history and a great tradition,” Buffon said. “That's why I think they will have the support of so many fans.
“It's true that the points at stake are very important for them, but also for us.”
Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal and defender Leonardo Bonucci are suspended, while Mirko Vucinic is injured.
Udinese's game against Lazio comes in the midst of a crucial week for Francesco Guidolin's team. It faces Celtic in the Europa League on Thursday and then has a crunch match at Juventus on Wednesday.
“We'll know our destiny on December 22,” Guidolin said. “I'm happy and proud of my players and I hope that this week will make us happy.
“It will be hard because we have three crucial games in six days, we have to give maximum concentration to each match one at a time. I don't want to cause a fuss but I do have to ask myself if other Italian teams have had such a difficult run in just six days.”
Inter will be hoping to make up more ground in the table at Cesena. After a dire start to the season, Claudio Ranieri's team has undergone a revival and victory at Genoa on Tuesday saw it move level on points with sixth-placed Palermo.
After Cesena, Inter will face Lecce three days later.
“They're two really important games. It's crucial that we win them to continue our run and end the year with 26 points,” Inter defender Andrea Ranocchia said. “I think the title is still a possibility, but now we're thinking of ending the year well and then we'll have a long battle in 2012.”
Ranocchia could be back for Inter after missing the match against former team Genoa with a slight injury.
However, Cesena is going through a revival of its own. Although it still lies in the bottom three, it has won three of its past four matches, with the only defeat coming at Juventus.
Diego Forlan featured for the first time in two months against Genoa and the Inter striker could make a return to the starting line up.
Napoli hosts Roma, with both sides looking to get their season back on track. Napoli started the campaign brightly but has now won just once in six matches, while Roma's point against Juventus came on the back of two defeats on the trot.
Elsewhere, it's: Chievo vs. Cagliari; Fiorentina vs. Atalanta; Catania vs. Palermo; Genoa vs. Bologna; and Parma vs. Lecce.