Penalties overshadow Italian title race

Ahead of this weekend’s Italian Serie A matches it is the issue of penalties, predominantly those not given, that has dominated the build-up.

Juventus are up in arms at the number of penalties they have been awarded this season, claiming they are being treated unfairly while Inter Milan counter that if that’s the case then they are hardest hit by refereeing decisions.

Juve missed the chance to go back to the top of the table in midweek when they were held to a 0-0 draw at Parma.

During the match the visitors thought they should have had two penalties while the hosts also complained that they were denied a spot-kick.

In all three cases the referee probably got the decision right but that hasn’t stopped the complaints.

Juve coach Antonio Conte was particularly indignant following the Parma match believing also that his side were denied a penalty two weeks ago against Siena.

“I’m starting to sense a horrible atmosphere in which the referees are afraid to give Juve a penalty,” he said.

“We’re annoyed by this, even the bottom team in the league has had more penalties than us.

“The truth is if they whistle against us they haven’t got it wrong but if a referee gives one in our favour then he’ll have to make the sign of the cross and hope he won’t be murdered the next day.

“I cannot accept this but then I hear the same accusations: ‘you only know how to steal’.

“But who? All you have to do is look at what’s been happening for years.

“We got two points against Siena and Parma but if the referees had been calmer and paid more attention we would have had six points and we’d be talking about an escape rather than second place.”

Conte believes Juve are paying for their past in which they were stripped of two league titles and relegated to Serie B for their part in the infamous Calciopoli match-fixing scandal in which they were contacting the Refereeing Commission to ask for specific ‘friendly’ referees to officiate their games.

“The explanation for everything can be found in going back several years,” moaned Conte.

“I’m not even angry, I’m disappointed because a sportsman struggles to accept certain things.”

Juventus created almost nothing against Siena and in fact could even have lost the game.

Against Parma they hit the post early on but then again failed to create many clear-cut chances.

They will have to do better against Catania on Saturday having failed to score in their last two matches.

Inter coach Claudio Ranieri as good as accused Juve of sour grapes.

His own side, who host Bologna on Friday, have not won in five games in all competitions (four of those in the league) but he says everyone can complain about the number of spot-kicks they get.

“I don’t agree with him (Conte). If the referees are afraid of giving Juventus penalties then with us they’re terrified,” he smirked.

Fifth-placed Inter need to get back to winning ways to boost their Champions League qualification hopes.

Meanwhile leaders AC Milan will be hoping to kick on from their stunning 4-0 dismantling of Arsenal in the Champions League in midweek when they travel to Cesena.

The game will be played on an artificial pitch and Milan have been training on one in preparation.

Fiorentina v Napoli, Inter v Bologna (7.45pm GMT)
Juventus v Catania (7.45pm GMT)
Sunday (2pm GMT unless stated)
Lecce v Siena (11.30am GMT), Cesena v AC Milan, Genoa v Chievo, Novara v Atalanta, Roma v Parma, Palermo v Lazio (7.45pm GMT), Udinese v Cagliari (7.45pm GMT) — Sapa-AFP

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