Inter Milan has reached the last 16 of the Champions League and is unbeaten atop Italy's Serie A. In Sunday's game at second-place Palermo will provide one of Iter's biggest tests so far.
"We'll enjoy this victory," Hernan Crespo said after leading Inter to a 1-0 win over Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League on Wednesday. "But from Thursday, we'll be thinking about Palermo." Inter leads Serie A with 30 points, three ahead of Palermo. AS Roma is third with 26.
Inter's success has largely been due to improved defense. The Nerazzurri have conceded only one goal in their last three league games, after conceding 12 in the first nine.
"At the beginning of the season, we were better in terms of the spectacle but we gifted too many goals in defense," Crespo said. "Now we have found our balance. We're more solid and above all we're winning."
If Inter wins on Sunday, it will set a new club record for consecutive victories in all competitions, with nine. But Palermo, which lost its third game of the season at Cagliari 1-0 last Saturday; will be hoping home advantage can help it rejoin Inter atop the standings.
"Whenever I stick my nose out of the house, the fans stop me and beg me one thing, to beat Inter and trim their three-point lead," Palermo captain Eugenio Corini said. "There's no doubt that Sunday evening will be the game of the year."
Coach Francesco Guidolin decided to rest Corini and seven others - including Brazilian striker Amauri - for Palermo's UEFA Cup match at Fenerbahce on Thursday, to keep them fresh for Sunday's showdown. Also on Sunday, Roma, which scored seven goals against Catania last weekend but lost 1-0 to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on Wednesday, travels to Sampdoria, hoping to stay in the chase.
On Saturday, AC Milan will try to end its dismal run when it hosts 12th-placed Messina. Milan hasn't won in the league since edging lowly Chievo Verona 1-0 in October. To make matters worse, the Rossoneri have 10 players injured, including seven defenders.
Milan began the season with an eight-point penalty for its role in the Italian match-fixing scandal and is languishing in 15th place with eight points.
Also Saturday, Chievo, which has the worst record in Serie A with four draws and eight losses, hosts Udinese.
Sunday's other games are Atalanta vs. Torino; Catania vs. Parma; Empoli vs. Cagliari; Lazio vs. Ascoli; Reggina vs. Livorno; and Siena vs. Fiorentina.
Juventus' unbeaten record in Serie B could be under threat when it hosts Lecce on Saturday. The Turin side is missing six first-choice players, including captain Alessandro Del Piero, David Trezeguet and Cristiano Zanetti.
Juventus is third in Italy's second division with 21 points, one behind joint leaders Napoli and Piacenza.