By Alasdair Mackenzie
ROME (Reuters) – Pre-season title prospects Inter and Roma are under pressure to get their stuttering Serie A campaigns up and running this weekend after the sides experienced contrasting fortunes in the Champions League.
Inter coach Luciano Spalletti has come under fire after picking up just one win in the opening four league games but a dramatic 2-1 victory over Tottenham on Tuesday has restored some faith that his side can live up to their pre-season billing.
They will, however, face a stern test of their credentials at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris on Saturday at an in-form Sampdoria side that stunned Napoli with a 3-0 win at the same venue in the second round of fixtures.
Marco Giampaolo’s side also came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw against Fiorentina on Wednesday and currently occupy fourth place, having gone three games without defeat.
Eusebio Di Francesco, meanwhile, must deliver a positive result for Roma in Bologna on Sunday after a comprehensive 3-0 loss to Real Madrid in the week added to his woes.
“I have to look at some positives, as we were taking on a team that is far superior to us and we knew that,” Di Francesco told reporters of the Madrid clash.
“We have to give these players strength now and they achieved great things last season, so it’s natural we expect more of them now.”
The capital club are without victory since the opening day and surrendered a two-goal lead to draw at home to rock-bottom Chievo last time out.
Filippo Inzaghi’s Bologna are set up as ideal fodder to help the Giallorossi rediscover some form, having failed to score a single league goal this season, but anything other than a victory would heap more pressure on Di Francesco’s shoulders.
Napoli are still finding their feet under Carlo Ancelotti and suffered a setback on Tuesday when they were held to a goalless draw at Red Star Belgrade despite dominating.
The Neapolitans have started the league season brightly with wins against Lazio, AC Milan and Fiorentina, but their tough start to the campaign continues away to a well-drilled Torino side who are unbeaten in their last three games on Sunday.
Gonzalo Higuain opened his Milan account this week, scoring at Cagliari before netting the winner against Dudelange in the Europa League, and Gennaro Gattuso will be hoping his star striker can continue his hot streak against Atalanta.
Just four points separated the sides in the table last season, but they have both suffered from inconsistent starts.
Recent history is on the visitors’ side, as Napoli have not lost at Milan in Serie A since January 2014, picking up two wins and two draws in that time as well as keeping four clean sheets.
Cristiano Ronaldo has been in the headlines this week after breaking his duck for Juventus with a brace against Sassuolo before being controversially sent off on his Champions League debut for the Old Lady against Valencia.
The Portuguese forward will be looking to increase his tally further in what appears to be a straightforward challenge for the defending champions away at struggling Frosinone in the final game of the weekend.
(Editing by John O’Brien)