Must-win clash at Turin
AC Milan and Juventus have been trying to play down the significance of their must-win clash at Turin's Stadio Olimpico this weekend.
Both sides sit six points behind champions and runaway Serie A leaders Inter Milan, who face the seemingly straight-forward task of a home match against rock-bottom Chievo.
Should Jose Mourinho's star-studded team win that match, a draw or defeat for either Milan or Juve would leave them eight or nine points off the pace -- a daunting prospect for any team with title aspirations.
But both Juve and Milan have been trying to calm expectations ahead of Sunday night.
"It's a great challenge but it's not a final (an all or nothing match)," insisted Juve coach Claudio Ranieri.
"When there are great players on the field a spectacle is assured. Ronaldinho, (Alessandro) Del Piero... they can do things that are unique and impossible to recreate.
"I'm lucky because I'll be on the bench, in the front row and I don't even have to pay for my ticket!
"It's a big match between two teams that have brought glory to Italian and world football. There's a lot riding on it but it won't be decisive.
"Of course if we win we can remain not too far off Inter but I'm convinced there'll be a few twists and turns yet (in the title race)."
AC Milan's veteran centre-back Paolo Maldini also believes that a defeat would not be the end of the world for either team.
"I believe that both teams, regardless of the result on Sunday, will be able to catch Inter," he said. "We're not trying to challenge them we're both already challengers to Inter."
That's not an opinion shared by Juve's sporting director Jean Claude Blanc, though.
"Whoever loses could find themselves nine points off the pace, and that would make things much harder," he said.
Much as Ranieri is, Maldini is looking forward to a battle between two modern greats of the game, Juve's Del Piero and Milan's Ronaldinho. Maldini, 40, praised 34-year-old Del Piero's longevity in the game.
"I'm very happy for him because he's a great guy who deserves his success because he has rare abilities," he said.
"I've also seen him on holiday and I've seen how he continues to train, even when away from the game, and that, as well as a great passion for the sport, is the secret to longevity."
However, Maldini believes his own Brazilian teammate is capable of making the difference on Sunday.
"Most of all he's got unbelievable technique and on top of that he's been a revelation as a person," he added.
"He's a winner, a champion. They way he's stood up to challenges in training that are certainly harder than what he's been used to in the past, in a new climate, a new stadium, a completely different style of play, I think he's really surprised everyone."
As well as the top of the table clash there is an intriguing battle on for fourth spot.
Napoli currently hold that position and host Lecce on Saturday but their pursuers Fiorentina and Genoa also have home ties against Catania and Atalanta respectively.
Lazio, also in the mix for fourth, have a tough trip away to Udinese, although the northerners have lost five straight Serie A matches since topping the table early last month.
Resurgent AS Roma are also at home to Cagliari knowing a victory could send them into the top half of the table for the first time this season.