Freefalling Juve stuck in time warp

MILAN - Juventus, Italy's best supported and most successful domestic club, look increasingly like they are stuck in a time warp with no real idea whether past glories will ever return given two seasons of misery.

Wednesday's 2-1 defeat at Palermo was their fourth game without a win in all competitions and left them eighth in Serie A, with just 15 games to go and a tricky trip to Cagliari to come on Saturday.

Last season the Turin side, twice European champions, limped in seventh and missed the Champions League spots having gone through two managers in Ciro Ferrara and Alberto Zaccheroni.

Current boss Luigi Del Neri is getting understandably increasingly impatient with his side, supposedly better on paper despite a slew of injuries, doing worse than last term's outfit.

"We have to think about playing and improving but we want respect otherwise judgements on the team and the coach get twisted," Del Neri told reporters on Wednesday after being upset by the refereeing against Palermo.

"We deserved more than we got and we have to restart from here, but with this intensity in our play we can go far."

Talk of referees is never far away at Juve after their 2006 match-fixing demotion for trying to procure favourable officials for their matches.

The club is still rebuilding from that shock, despite bouncing straight back in 2007 and finishing third the season after, and fans are questioning whether referees are now subconsciously ignoring fouls on Juve players to redress the past.

There is no real evidence of this but there are clear signs that Juve, with budgets limited by a new stadium due to open later this year, have lost their aura of near invincibility despite still boasting Gianlugi Buffon and Alessandro Del Piero.

Monday signing Alessandro Matri will travel back to former club Cagliari on Saturday when Juve island hop from Sicily to Sardinia but fellow new striker Luca Toni is still injured along with Vincenzo Iaquinta.

Leaders AC Milan travel to Genoa on Sunday hoping their bad luck from Tuesday's 0-0 draw with Lazio has run out while second-placed Napoli, five points behind, host Cesena needing a quick reaction from Wednesday's 2-0 defeat at Chievo.

Champions Inter Milan must take on bottom side Bari later on Thursday before gearing up for a home meeting with last term's runners-up AS Roma on Sunday, where the losers could be all but out of the title race just like sorry Juve.