ROME (Reuters) - Juventus could be crowned Serie A champions on Sunday but even if they and AC Milan win to take the title race to the final round, there is a feeling in Italy that this is the weekend that will decide the scudetto.
Antonio Conte’s Juve are one point ahead of Milan, who take on Champions League-chasing Inter Milan at the same time as Juve play Cagliari in Trieste (1845 GMT).
But with both sides having relatively easy games at home in next weekend’s finale, it is likely that Milan will have to overhaul the deficit on Sunday to have any chance of winning a second straight title.
“Objectively whoever is top at 11pm tomorrow will win the league,” Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri told a news conference on Saturday.
“Tomorrow we have only one result - three points - otherwise we will have handed the title to Juventus.”
Beyond local pride, Inter have plenty to play for themselves. They are three points behind third-placed Napoli and could still snatch the final place in next season’s Champions League after a tortuous season.
“We can’t wait to get out on the pitch,” said Inter’s interim coach Andrea Stramaccioni, who is hoping to persuade the club to give him the job full-time.
“The derby is always fundamental and in this case is even more fascinating because the stakes are so high, against all the odds.”
After Juve’s shock 1-1 draw at home to relegation-threatened Lecce in midweek, nerves are beginning to show in Turin.
“I have experience of going through completely opposing experiences. On the last day of the season I’ve found myself chasing, other times out in front,” Conte said as Juve seek a first title since their 2006 demotion for match-fixing.
“I always say that to win you need head, heart and legs - in that order.
“We all wanted to play again the day after (drawing with Lecce). It was humiliating and there’s a desire to play another game to get rid of what happened on Wednesday night.
“The lads are ready, they know that it’s a historic moment. We didn’t sleep well last night, but football and life teaches you that you have to look forward. And two matches from the end of the season, to have a point lead on Milan is nice.”
As always in Italian football, it has not been a season without controversy either on or off the pitch.
Should Juve finish one point ahead next weekend, many Milan fans will rue Sulley Muntari’s so-called “ghost goal” during the match between the two teams at the San Siro in February. It was not given by the officials despite being well over the line.
The match finished 1-1 and could have a huge bearing on the season. If the pair finish the season level on points, Conte’s side will take the title on head-to-head results thanks to that draw and their 2-0 win at home.
Earlier in the week Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani revealed that he had images of the “goal” on his mobile phone and that he often looks at them longingly.
However, Conte refused to rise to the bait, saying: “On my phone I have a photo of my daughter Vittoria and I wouldn’t want anything but her on there.”