Serie A Preview: Week 25

Napoli vs Spal

After a disappointing result in the Europa League Maurizio Sarri’s attention turns back to the race for the Serie A crown.  Despite suffering defeat at the San Paolo courtesy of German side RB Leipzig I doubt the Partenopei will have lost any sleep over the result.  The team selection and attitude during the game was further evidence of the clubs obsession with wrapping up their first Scudetto since 1990 and complete disregard for a European competition seen by many as second rate.

In many ways, Napoli’s imminent exit from the Europa League could be helpful in their quest for the title considering they don’t possess anywhere near the strength in depth rivals Juventus have at their disposal.  This weekend’s opponents Spal currently sit in 18th place and have only registered three wins this season; if I were a betting man I certainly wouldn’t be backing them to register a fourth this weekend with the hosts being the overwhelming favorites.

Napoli are at full strength and Sarri will be hoping they can race to an early lead giving him the opportunity to rest some key players going into a crucial part of the season.  In just a couple of weeks time the Partenopei take on Roma whilst Juventus will travel to Lazio so neither side will want to drop any points going into week 27.

Torino vs Juventus

The Derby della Mole takes place early Sunday between Turin’s two most prominent football clubs.  Juventus will be bitterly disappointed they surrendered a two goal lead to Spurs midweek and now face an uphill task to qualify for the quarter finals.  However, there is no time to dwell on the result and they must ensure they stay in touch with the league leaders.

A trip to the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino is never an easy one, especially for their bitter rivals Juventus who face a Toro side full of confidence having beaten Udinese 2-0 just last weekend.  Walter Mazzari is an experienced coach and despite having underachieved so far this season in many people’s eyes, to write him and his team off would be foolish.

How much will that midweek UEFA Champions League tie have affected Juventus?  That remains to be seen but what I will say is this, an away fixture at Torino is far from ideal given their current injury list and I wouldn’t be surprised if Juventus were to drop points here.

Genoa vs Inter

Inter have been in poor form of late and Luciano Spalletti’s side only ended their terrible run of draws as recently as last weekend with a victory over Bologna.  Genoa on the other hand are starting to click and will be relishing the chance to inflict further misery on the Nerazzurri at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.

The Rossoblu have conceded just four goals in their last ten games and look a far more organized unit since Davide Ballardini took the reins back in November.  Inter have struggled to score in recent weeks, with the exception of Mauro Icardi the team overall have failed to find the net with the regularity required to sustain a title challenge.  Despite the fact their season has fizzled out disappointingly we should not forget they remain unbeaten this year and have only lost twice all season, hardly disastrous.

With strugglers Benevento up next for Inter this is a great opportunity to get a result and build some momentum ahead of the Milan Derby in a couple of week’s time.  Prediction: 1-1.

Other Fixtures:

Atalanta vs Fiorentina, Benevento vs Crotone, Bologna vs Sassuolo, Chievo vs Cagliari, Lazio vs Verona, Milan vs Sampdoria, Udinese vs Roma

Serie A Preview: Week 20

Fiorentina vs Inter

The Nerazzuri’s recent form has been a real concern for coach Luciano Spalletti but despite their recent struggles there is no doubt they’ve improved significantly under the former Roma boss.  Recent defeats at the hands of Udinese, Sassuolo and their arch rivals Milan in the cup have all contributed to a disappointing few weeks.

Borja Valero returns to his former club this weekend, the club he once said he wanted to retire at and all eyes will be on him given his unsavory departure.  The feeling among Fiorentina supporters is that he was miss-treated by the club and so it will be interesting to see what sort of reception he will receive upon his return to the Stadio Artemio Franchi.

The last five meetings between the two sides have produced no less than 26 goals and so you can expect an entertaining encounter.  Inter face a difficult fixture versus Roma in week 21 so picking up all 3 points on Friday night is imperative for Spalletti’s men.

Napoli vs Verona

The league leaders were eliminated from the Coppa Italia by Atalanta during the week but it’s fair to say Serie A was always their priority.  Long term absentee Faouzi Ghoulam remains sidelined and Mario Rui’s fitness is now in question.  Elseid Hysaj could move to the left hand side of the defense and that would see Christian Maggio slotting in at right back.

Verona, like their opponents are desperate for league points all be it to serve a totally different purpose.  They’ve won just 3 matches this season but given the abysmal form of some of their closest competitors they still have a real chance of survival.  Their recent performances have been encouraging and having defeated Milan and performed relatively well against the mighty Juventus they’ve not given up hope just yet.

Napoli in theory should register a comfortable home win and will look to talisman Marek Hamsik who will be raring to go having broken Diego Maradona’s goal scoring record for the club recently.

Cagliari vs Juventus

Juventus have recovered from their early season stutter and are turning up the heat on league leaders Napoli.  The Italian media have been full of praise for defender Medhi Benatia who has settled in extremely well and replaced the once indispensable Leonardo Bonucci.

Miralem Pjanic has also been instrumental in their significant improvement of late and the Old Lady are the firm favorites to leave the capital of Sardinia with maximum points.  Allegri’s side will be without Gigi Buffon, Juan Cuadrado, Mattia De Sciglio and Benedikt Howedes but we expect Gonzalo Higuain, Andrea Barzagli and Alex Sandro to return having been rested in the cup.

Juventus undoubtedly have the greatest strength in depth and the luxury of being able to rotate when necessary.  That is indeed why many still regard them as title favorites despite them having been chasing Napoli for the most part of the season.

Cagliari sit 5 points clear of the drop zone going into this fixture but unless they begin picking up points fast they could easily slip into the relegation dog fight, one of the tightest we’ve seen in years.

Roma vs Atalanta

Roma have won just 2 of their last 6 Serie A games and are now 9 points from the top.  It’s important to note they have a game in hand but nonetheless they will be disappointed with how things have gone of late.  This week’s opponents Atalanta find themselves in the semi finals of the Coppa Italia having disposed of league leaders Napoli but in the league their away form has been somewhat problematic.

Roma’s defense is the most stubborn Serie A has to offer having conceded just 12 goals thus far but Atalanta forward Papu Gomez will provide a stern test for the Roma rearguard.

My instincts point to a draw but given the gap that is starting to develop between the top 2 and 3rd place Roma you have to believe they will go out there desperate to claim all three points and stay in contention.  If the Giallorossi were to drop further points this weekend we could start to see the top 2 disappearing off into the distance.

Other fixtures:

Benevento vs Sampdoria, Chievo vs Udinese, Genoa vs Sassuolo, Milan vs Crotone, Spal vs Lazio & Torino vs Bologna.

Serie A Preview: Week 15

Napoli vs Juventus

It’s the clash we’ve all been waiting for, the league leaders take on the current champions at the Stadio San Paolo.   Despite the fact that Inter currently occupy 2nd position in the table many see this as Napoli’s biggest test of the season.  So far, Maurizio Sarri’s side have passed several tests proving their credentials and with the league being as competitive as it has been this season it never seems to be long before another huge game comes around.

It looks as though we could see one of the tightest Scudetto races in history and so three points would be huge for either side.  The big games require nerves of steel and thats so often where Juventus have had the upper hand in recent seasons.  Allegri’s side have a real opportunity to stamp their authority on this title race whilst Napoli will be looking to open up a greater lead over whom they will consider as their closest rivals for the Scudetto.

Juve’s record going into this doesn’t read well, they’ve only managed one victory in their last 13 competitive visits to the San Paolo.  Add to that the fact Mario Mandzukic, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Benedikt Howedes have not made the trip and Gonzalo Higuain’s participation is in doubt Napoli will be feeling rather confident.

The hosts welcome back Mario Rui and Raul Albiol back into the squad and that means Elseid Hysaj can return to his natural position of right back.  Defeat for either side could derail their title charge and I expect to see a cagey affair and despite what they say neither will be too disappointed with a solitary point.

Inter vs Chievo

Inter have a golden opportunity to take advantage of the fact Napoli entertain Juve this weekend.  They remain unbeaten but Spalletti will be forced to make several changes this weekend.  Many have put their success thus far down to the fact the boss has been able to name pretty much the same XI week after week, theres no question the consistency in his selections has been key.

Miranda and Gagliardini are both suspended and Vecino is injured forcing Spalletti’s hand.  Chievo got back to winning ways last weekend having beaten Spal but it remains to be seen how they will recover from their midweek cup exit at the hands of rivals Hellas Verona.  Chievo will be without Ivan Radovanovic and Lucas Castro for their trip to the San Siro this weekend.

Perhaps unsurprisingly Inter are the overwhelming favourites given that Chievo have only won at the San Siro once in their last 15 league visits.

Sampdoria vs Lazio

Sampdoria have had a great campaign so far despite having suffered defeat last week at the hands of Bologna.  Their away form has been rather hit and miss this season and so last weeks defeat wasn’t a huge surprise but nonetheless having beaten Juventus the week before many would have backed the Blucerchiati to kick on.

Lazio themselves appear to have lost their way slightly and will be keen to get a big result and silence their critics although they will be without Felipe Anderson, Nani and Davide De Gennaro who are all missing through injury whilst Sampdoria will be without Ivan Strinic who pulled up early on last week.

Sampdoria up until now have a 100% home record but Lazio boast the second best away record in the division so this will be a difficult fixture to call.  Given the strengths of the two sides you can expect goals at Marassi this weekend.

Benevento vs Milan

Gennaro Gattuso’s takes the reigns after the sacking of Vincenzo Montella and will lead his side out against struggling Benevento.  The home side are yet to register a point this season and will be desperate for any sort of result, unfortunately for them there is no sign of things getting any easier.  Milan arrive with a point to prove and will be keen to try and salvage something from whats been a dismal season so far given their aspirations at the start of the campaign were to qualify for the Champions League.  The top four looks along way away at this stage but theres no reason why they can’t go on a run and chase down the aforementioned Sampdoria in 6th place.

Benevento will be without Pietro Iemmello and star man Amato Ciciretti, as if the task wasn’t daunting enough.  However, Milan have injury concerns of their own, Calhanoglu, Borini, Conti, Abate and Calabria are all doubts but Lucas Biglia returns having recovered from a flu.

As previously mentioned the hosts are yet to register a victory this season and I think its safe to say they’ll still be waiting after this weekend.

Other Fixtures:  Bologna vs Cagliari, Crotone vs Udinese, Fiorentina vs Sassuolo, Roma vs Spal, Torino vs Atalanta and Verona vs Genoa.

Serie A Preview: Week 14

Udinese vs Napoli

Massimo Oddo couldn’t have asked for a tougher start to his managerial reign at Udinese.  The league leaders are coming to town and will be full of confidence having beaten AC Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk in the space of a week.  Udinese have struggled this season and Gigi Del Neri’s sacking after last week’s home defeat at the hands of Cagliari was no surprise to anybody.  Udinese face the real possibility of being sucked into the relegation fight and the Friulani will hope Oddo’s appointment can provide the spark they’ve been missing thus far.  Napoli will be the overwhelming favorites ahead of this fixture but you can never underestimate the impact a new manager can have.  Veteran goalkeeper Albano Bizzari is suspended for the home side but other than that neither boss has any new injury concerns.

Cagliari vs Inter

Having overtaken Juventus last week Inter could temporarily go top of the table with a victory at Cagliari.  The home side have found a bit of form recently under Diego Lopez winning 3 of their last 5.  The Rossoblu have a full squad of players to select from with the exception of midfielder Alessandro Deiola who is facing a late fitness test.  Luciano Spalleti has a fully fit squad to choose from and his side pretty much picks itself as it has done all season.  Mauro Icardi will be the one to watch, undoubtedly one of the leagues deadliest forwards, Cagliari will have to be watertight defensively if they are to keep the Argentine at bay.

Juventus vs Crotone

The champions have come under heavy criticism of late and they’ll be looking to get back on track with a victory over 15th placed Crotone.  Having suffered defeat at Sampdoria last weekend boss Max Allegri is expected to recall Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli and Paulo Dybala to the starting XI.  The two Italians were left out due to their fragile mental state having failed to qualify for the world cup with the Azzuri just a few days prior, make of that what you will.  Juventus’ draw versus Barcelona midweek didn’t go down too well with their supporters and their chances of progressing to the knockout stages of the Champions league took a huge blow.  Crotone are yet to beat Juventus throughout their entire history and it’s not likely that will change this weekend.  The Old lady will be keen to get back to winning ways ASAP and I expect them too, especially with a trip to Naples around the corner.

Genoa vs Roma

The Giallorossi go into this encounter having won 5 on the bounce including a victory over local rivals Lazio.  A huge confidence boostno doubt but their midweek defeat at the hands of Atletico Madrid may have halted their momentum temporarily.  The question is can Genoa take advantage?  Having won just twice this season it’s a tough ask but you cannot deny they possess the talent amongst their ranks to hurt even the division’s top sides.  The likes of Goran Pandev and Adel Taraabt are expected to spearhead the Genoa attack but you’d be a brave person to bet against Roma.  The hosts will be without Bulgarian international Andrey Galabinov and Roma are missing Patrick Schick, Emerson Palmieri and long term absentee Rick Karsdorp.

Lazio vs Fiorentina

Lazio will be keen to put their derby woes behind them and traditionally the visit of Fiorentina has been a difficult fixture.  The Viola have picked up two wins and a draw from their last five visits.  Lazio’s injury worries continue with Wallace, Di Gennaro, Felipe Anderson, Caicedo and Nani all unavailable this weekend.  Fiorentina are not without injury problems of their own and will be missing influential playmaker Milan Badelj.  Given Fiorentina’s uninspiring away record so far Lazio will be the favorites but it’ll be interesting to see how they respond to last weekend’s setback.  Could we see an upset here?  Perhaps, Stefano Pioli’s side are due a big result and now is as good a time as ever to meet the Romans.

Milan vs Torino

We’ve been saying it for weeks but a defeat could cost Vincenzo Montella his job.  The Rossoneri sit in 7th place a huge 7 points behind 6th placed Sampdoria who also have a game in hand.  Milan’s hopes of securing a European place continue to fade and for a club of their stature and taking into consideration the summer investment the position they find themselves in is simply not acceptable.  This weekend’s opponents Torino are just a point behind Milan and will be looking to leapfrog their opponents whilst inflicting further pressure on Montella and his players.  The boss’ methods have come under fire with many feeling his team selections make no sense and are bemused by the fact he has persisted with Nikola Kalinic as the lone striker in domestic competition.  Torino have plenty of quality amongst their own ranks with Andrea Belotti, Adem Ljajic and Iago Falque are expected to lead the line and that can bring problems as Inter found out just a few weeks ago.  In my opinion, this one could go either way and if it was to go against Milan it could have seismic repercussions.

Other Fixtures:

Atalanta vs Benevento, Bologna vs Sampdoria, Chievo vs Spal & Sassuolo vs Verona.

Serie A Preview: Week 11

Whilst those in England had to make do with an underwhelming round of Carabao Cup action, Italian football fans were treated to a midweek installment of Serie A.

Mauro Icardi and Inter continued their fine form on Tuesday night with a 3-2 victory over Sampdoria at the San Siro which saw them temporarily climb to the summit.  Napoli saw to it that Inter’s reign at the top lasted less than 24 hours when they leapfrogged the Nerrazzuri having won 2-3 at Genoa. Juventus, Roma and Lazio also registered victories midweek and the battle for the Scudetto and the Champions League positions continues to heat up.

Looking ahead to match day 11 the standout fixture comes from Milan.  Juventus travel to Italy’s second city in a bid to chase down league leaders Napoli and simultaneously inflict further pain on under fire Milan boss Vincenzo Montella.  The former Fiorentina manager must feel as though the walls are closing in on him.  Having spent a vast amount of money during the summer the minimum expectation was for Milan to secure a Champions League place.  Given the way Napoli, Lazio, Roma, Inter and Juventus have started the campaign that is looking increasingly unlikely.

Juventus go into this one in a far richer vein of form, despite their recent defeat at the hands of Lazio they were able to bounce back instantly with convincing victories in Udine and then at home against SPAL.  Hardly the kind of opponent Montella would have wanted to face given his precarious situation.  Dybala, Higuain and co will be confident of leaving the San Siro with maximum points and you wouldn’t be surprised if this was to be Montella’s final game in charge.

With Carlo Ancelotti hovering in the background, unemployed and in search of pastures new could we see the Milan hierarchy turn to their former boss for inspiration?  Some food for thought.

Elsewhere Napoli entertain Sassuolo, Lazio travel to relegation threatened Benevento, Roma welcome Bologna to the Olimpico, Inter head to Verona and SPAL take on Genoa in an early season six pointer.

Remaining fixtures:

Crotone vs Fiorentina, Sampdoria vs Chievo, Torino vs Cagliari and Udinese vs Atalanta.

Another action packed weekend of Serie A football coming your way!

Ciao!

@HarrySymeou

Serie A Review: Week 8

I’ve argued it for weeks, Serie A is on the up and whilst it’s yet to reach the heights of the 1990’s there is no doubt it’s been the standout league competition in Europe so far.

Champions Juventus suffered their first home defeat in more than 2 years at the hands of Lazio despite being awarded a controversial penalty in stoppage time.

Paulo Dybala was denied by Lazio stopper Thomas Strakosha to condemn the Vecchia Signora (the old lady) to a 2-1 defeat.

Cirro Immobile who began his career in Turin proved to be the difference netting twice at the Allianz Stadium. With Juve beaten the onus was on Maurizio Sari’s Napoli who faced a difficult trip to Roma and the league leaders didn’t disappoint. Lorenzo Insigne bagged his 100th career goal to ensure Sari’s men maintained their 100% record in the league so far.

Head almost 600km North-West to Italy’s second city and you’d have stumbled across the weekend’s standout fixture. The Derby Della Madonnina or otherwise known as the Milan Derby had Italian football fans drooling. Both Inter and AC Milan are currently under Chinese ownership and that adds an extra spice to what is already one of the games fiercest rivalries.

Mauro Icardi’s hat-trick was enough to secure the points and inflict more pressure on under fire Milan boss Vincenzo Montella. Despite Milan coming from behind twice they left empty handed after referee Paolo Tagliavento pointed to the spot on the 90th minute. The resulting spot-kick completed Icardi’s treble and his celebration of removing his shirt and holding it aloft to the crowd will live long in the memory of Inter supporters.

The current top four are separated by just five points and the title race is hotting up, if its entertainment you’re after this is certainly one to keep your eye on. As Napoli hunt their first scudetto since the days of Maradona it remains to be seen whether they can hold off the challenge posed by the current Champions Juventus, Inter and Lazio. A long way to go but things are shaping up nicely.

@HarrySymeou