MILAN: Lazio will attempt to chalk up their ninth consecutive league win when they visit lowly Brescia on Sunday as they threaten to turn Serie A into a three-horse race.
Third-placed Lazio have moved six points off the leading pair of Inter Milan and Juventus with a game in hand but, more importantly, have exposed chinks in Juve's armour by beating the Turin side twice in the space of just over two weeks.
They handed Juventus a first defeat of the season, beating them 3-1 at home in Serie A, then they overcame them by the same score in the annual Supercup match played in Riyadh.
Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri was surprisingly generous in his praise of Lazio, who he said were experiencing a "magical moment".
"If they carry on like this, there’s not much for anyone else to do," said Sarri, who coaches a team with far superior spending power to Lazio. "For me, right now, physically and mentally, they are the best team in Europe."
Juventus, chasing a ninth successive title, host Cagliari, the season's other surprise package, on Monday as Serie A resumes after the two-week Christmas break while Inter are away to Gennaro Gattuso's Napoli.
Simone Inzaghi's Lazio have always been a dangerous side. Two seasons ago, they played some of the best football in the league but their small squad ran out of steam towards the end of the season and they missed out on the Champions League in their final match.
Last year, they won the Coppa Italia although they could manage only a modest eighth place in Serie A.
This season they have found a consistency that was previously lacking, helped by an uncanny ability to grind out late and dramatic wins.
During their winning run, they scored twice in stoppage time as they came from behind to beat Cagliari 2-1 away and they also beat Sassuolo by the same score thanks to a stoppage-time winner.
The run began when an 89th-minute goal from Ciro Immobile - Serie A's leading scorer with 17 goals - gave them a 2-1 win at Fiorentina and an 83rd-minute goal brought them their first away win at AC Milan for 31 years.
Their surprising group stage exit in the Europa League, where they finished behind Celtic and Cluj in their group, could also be a blessing in disguise.
Inzaghi, however, is under no illusions.
"We know that there will be more attention on us from now on," he said during an event in Dubai last month.
"We know that in football you can never take your foot off the pedal. We know that we have done well but we need to start the new year better than we finished the old one."
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis)