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Serie A Showdown
US Palermo has been among the leaders of the Italian Serie A all season. Only last weekend did reigning champion Inter Milan overtake the Sicilians in the standings.
This Sunday the two battle as the top two teams in Italy, with two different frames of mind.
Inter is undefeated in 12 matches for 30 points, while Palermo sits three points back with nine wins and three losses. The only other team within 10 points of the leaders is Roma, which has 26 points.
Palermo beat Inter 3-2 on the second game day last season, on its way to finishing sixth. This season, club president Maurizio Zamparini has focused all his attention on the Serie A.
Case in point: despite chances of making advances in the UEFA Cup, Palermo rested its starters and lined up a mix of reserves and junior players for Europe's second-best competition.
Coach Francesco Guidolin has formed a homogeneous unit -- including nine Italians, most of whom were together when the team was promoted two seasons ago.
Palermo's core of 13 or 14 players is beginning to take a beating. And Zamparini has promised to bring in reinforcements this winter.
For Sunday's showdown at the Renzo Barbera, Palermo is an underdog -- as it has +170 WagerWeb.com odds compared to +137 for a road win by Inter. A draw has +200 odds.
And while Palermo is exciting its fans with up-tempo and attractive action, Inter Milan has worked its way to the top of the table with a calculated and less-spectacular style.
And less Italian -- as Fabio Grosso is expected to be the only native in Inter's lineup.
The main problem for Roberto Mancini's team -- which has qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League -- has been his attack. Adriano is only about 50 percent fit, while Alvaro Recoba is fighting an injury and Julio Cruz will miss about two months.
A welcome addition to Mancini's defensive midfield will be Esteban Cambiasso, who will have his hands full in the top-of-the-table encounter.
Roma, meanwhile, is a +110 WagerWeb.com favorite in its road showdown with Sampdoria. The capital club has taken 12 of 15 possible points on the road, while Sampdoria has collected 11 of its 13 points at home.
And while Inter is soaring in the Serie A without fellow giant Juventus Turin -- sent to the Serie B as part of the summer match-fixing scandal -- city rival AC Milan is struggling.
The storied AC was also caught in the scandal and docked eight points to start the season. The Milanese quickly worked off those points with three victories and a draw in the first four games. But Carlo Ancelotti's team has crashed to gather just six points over the past eight games.
And the news got even worse this week as AC goalkeeper Dida injured his knee during the Champions League loss at AEK Athens and will miss three months.
On Saturday, AC Milan hopes to right its ship at home against Messina as a -350 favorite.
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