MILAN — Roma hosts Lazio in an eagerly-anticipated derby match, with both sides looking to keep up the pressure at the top of the Italian league, but it is matters off the pitch which could take center stage.
In a rare show of unity, hard-core fans from Roma and Lazio are planning to boycott Sunday's match in protest at new security measures which have split the Stadio Olimpico 'curve' — the ends of the stadium where the ultras sit.
"I hope they think again, in my heart I hope that these guys and girls show that they're better than that," said Giovanni Malago, president of the Italian National Olympic Committee and lifelong Roma fan. "Obviously I can't go against the rulings of those who are responsible for public safety.
"I really really hope the fans change their minds. It pains me to death to see the stadium with empty or half-empty 'curve', without the organized support, the strongest part of the fanbase."
Both sets of fans have protested in several matches already this season.
Roma is third, a point behind Fiorentina and Inter Milan — which visit Sampdoria and Torino on Sunday. Lazio is five points behind its capital rival, in seventh.
Napoli is fourth, two points behind the top two, and it hosts Udinese on Sunday. Sassuolo and AC Milan are both three points further back and they play bottom club Carpi and Atalanta, respectively, this weekend.
Also on Sunday, four-time defending champion Juventus visits Empoli, while Frosinone hosts Genoaand Palermo welcomes Chievo Verona in matches between struggling teams.
Bologna visits Verona on Saturday.
Here are some things to know about this weekend's Italian league matches:
Lazio has slipped down the standings after three defeats in its past four league matches, including last weekend's 3-1 loss at home to AC Milan.
The team is hoping for a positive result from Sunday's derby to reignite its season.
"The derby is very important for the importance in itself and for the period we're going through," Lazio coach Stefano Pioli said. "We are seventh in the table but only six points from first, so the match is obviously very important. I continue to have a lot of faith in my team.
"There are pressures and we have to manage them if we want to become a great team. The team's performance Sunday didn't have anything to do with previous matches. Now we have to grow from our mistakes, show that we are not those from last Sunday and that we can play with consistency."
Lazio will be without defender Stefan De Vrij after the Netherlands international underwent knee surgery, ruling him out for around six months.
Lazio lost the last derby match 2-1 in the penultimate fixture of the season, which meant Roma beat it into second spot in Serie A with a point separating the two sides. Roma midfielder Daniele de Rossi and the club were each fined 7, 500 euros this week for an offensive gesture made by the player towards the Lazio fans while celebrating at the end of the match.
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR
Inter is struggling for goals and coach Roberto Mancini may have come up with the ideal way to inject some much-needed creativity into his side.
Reports say Mancini is trying to bring midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo back to Italy on loan in January, after the end of the Major League Soccer season. The 36-year-old joined New York City from Juventus in the summer.
"Whoever had such an idea is a genius and Mancini has proved to be a genius," said former Italy coach Marcello Lippi, who steered the Azzurri to the World Cup in 2006, with Pirlo a vital player on his team. "It would be great to bring back to Italy a midfield genius such as Andrea, also because of the Euros.
"I don't know if Pirlo will do it because I think he will also need to recuperate mentally and physically during the break, but it would be great for Italian football."
All seven of Inter's league wins this season have been by one-goal margins — five of them 1-0 successes. The last time it won by more than one goal was April 11 — a 3-0 win at Hellas Verona.
Pirlo won the title in each of his last five years in Italy — four with Juventus and one with AC Milan. He also won another league title with Milan and two Champions League trophies during a 10-year spell at the club, following a shock move from Inter.
Genoa will meet some familiar faces when it travels to fellow struggler Frosinone on Sunday.
Midfielder Aleandro Rosi is on loan at Frosinone from Genoa, while Davide Bertoncini and Robert Gucher won the youth league with Genoa and Samuele Longo also played for its youth team.
Frosinone coach Roberto Stellone also played for Genoa, scoring 17 goals in the 2004/05 season and forming a formidable partnership with Diego Milito.
Newly-promoted Frosinone sits one point above the relegation zone, with Genoa two points further ahead.