MILAN: Treble-chasing Juventus will try for the second time to wrap up the Serie A title at the weekend, this time against a Crotone team attempting to pull off one of the greatest escapes in the competition’s recent history.
Playing in the top flight for the first time, the team from the southern region of Calabria looked odds on to go straight back down in mid-March when they found themselves eight points adrift of safety.
However, run of five wins and two draws in their last seven games have left Crotone just one point behind Empoli and two behind Genoa, the two teams immediately above them in the relegation zone.
Their last-but-one fixture takes them to Juventus, who had won 33 home league games in a row until their 2-2 with Torino two weeks ago.
Crotone coach Davide Nicola is under no illusions about the size of his task.
"Juventus are Juventus; they are a world class team," he said after Crotone's win over Udinese on Sunday. "We are working really hard and not thinking so much about our next opponents. We know it will be very, very difficult.
"But we keep believing and we try with every game to get a little bit better."
Juventus, who beat Lazio 2-0 on Wednesday to win the Coppa Italia, wasted their first chance to wrap up a sixth successive Serie A title when they lost 3-1 at AS Roma last Sunday, when one point would have done the trick.
Crotone’s managing director Raffaele Vrenna said his team also wanted to play the role of party-poopers.
“Unfortunately, at the start of the season, the team paid for their bit of inexperience and also suffered at the hands of some poor refereeing decisions,” he said.
"I still believe in our survival ... we hope to stop the Scudetto party."
Juventus need three points on Sunday to be certain of the title, although they could be celebrating on Saturday if Roma lose at Chievo and Napoli fail to win at home to Fiorentina.
Juventus, who face Real Madrid in the Champions League final on June 3, have stuttered in the league recently, taking only two points from their last three games as their treble chase takes its toll.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri said he did not want to leave it until the final game, at Bologna the following week.
“We need one more win and we must make sure we get it against Crotone," he said. "We have to win the league this Sunday.”
“It will be hard against Crotone because they've picked up 17 points in their last seven games and they're scrapping for their Serie A survival. We're going to have to produce a top performance.”
(Reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Peter Rutherford)