Atalanta host Milan as race for Champions League football heats up in Serie A

Cagliari vs Parma

Sergdena Arena, Cagliari

Saturday, 16-02-2019 @8pm

Cagliari are desperate for points and hover just above the drop zone, but must be wary against counter-attack specialists Parma. The Sardinians play host to their visitors from Emilia-Romagna in a match where both teams need points for differing reasons. The Casteddu just to stop the rot of having lost three games in a row and having not won since Boxing Day, while the Crociati want to find some form of consistency and make a genuine push for European competition. Cagliari Coach Rolando Maran has been facing increased pressure for his position at the helm of the 1969 Scudetto winners and given this clash is at home, a loss could be curtains for him.

Parma on the other hand have had a strange old season back in Italy’s top flight after returning from bankruptcy and a three-year absence. Losing at home to SPAL after going 2-0 up, drawing with Juventus 3-3 after being down by two goals twice and losing at home to Inter, their Coach Roberto D’Aversa has his team reaching unexpected heights this year nevertheless.  Following his team’s defeat to Inter last week, Maran said he “expects his team to react”, and he will be looking for just that on Saturday evening, especially as the club are just three points above the relegation zone. He has mostly employed a 4-4-2 system in recent matches, using Nicolò Barella to conduct the play, with Joao Pedro and Luciano Pavoletti to score the goals. The treatment room remains packed, with Ragnar Klavan, Lucas Castro, Cyril Thereau, Valter Birsa and Fabrizio Cacciatore all out of action. For the visitors, it’s all about Gervinho and Roberto Inglese up front, but January recruit Juraj Kucka has made a major contribution already, setting up two goals in their impressive draw away to Juve. Roberto Gagliolo sits out a ban with Alberto Grassi, Federico Dimarco and Francisco Sierralta injured.

Expect a cautious, cagey and tactical battle. Even though the home team really should be the ones trying to press home the agenda, given their plight, they can ill-afford to leave themselves vulnerable to a counter-attack, especially with the lighting quick Ivorian Gervinho on the prowl. That is precisely what he and Parma did when these teams met earlier in the season, which the Crociati won 2-0.

Cagliari have not scored in their last three Serie A games and a fourth would be their worst run since the five in October 2008.

Atalanta vs AC Milan

Stadio Atleti Azzuri d’Italia, Bergamo

Saturday, 16-02-2019 @10:30pm

The race for the final Champions League berth reaches a crossroads, as fourth-placed Milan travel to in-form Atalanta. Gennaro Gattuso’s men are also in good shape, having not lost in the league in 2019 and boasting three wins and two draws in their five league fixtures since the turn of the year. Milan currently hold the final Champions League spot with 15 games to go, but are just one point ahead of Atalanta in fifth, who are also level on points with Roma and Lazio. Top-flight European football has deserted Milan for so long now, but given their position, it would be a real disappointment if they were to let it get away from them again.

Atalanta are arguably the most in-form side in Italian football at the minute, having won five of their six games in all competitions since the winter break and scoring a total of 16 goals in that process. Their most recent form has seen them draw games against Roma and Juventus, beat the Old Lady in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals 3-0 and have got the better of Lazio. One of the main reasons behind their incredible surge up the table has been down to striker, Duvan Zapata, who has contributed 16 goals in total, with 15 of those coming in his last 10 Serie A matches. He has managed a hat-trick and a four-goal haul in that period and Milan need to be very wary of him. If Zapata has been Atalanta’s main man, then Krzysztof Piatek is already establishing himself as Milan’s key player. Since he joined from Genoa, he looks to be providing Milan with the goal-scorer they have craved so desperately in recent years. He has four goals in a Milan shirt in his four games as a Rossonero so far, which added to the 19 he had with Genoa in all competitions before his move. He now has 23 goals in 25 official appearances this season. Given the two incredibly prolific goal-scorers in both teams, this could well be a game full of goals. Atalanta have the most goals in the league with 50 (18 more than Milan) but have conceded 31 (10 more than Milan), so Gattuso’s men will fancy their chances of getting on the scoresheet.

With so much at stake, neither side will want to lose and that could turn this into a very cagey game. Milan do not concede many, but Atalanta have scored at least two goals against Juventus twice already this season and three against Roma last month, so if any team is going to break them down, it will be the home side.

Atalanta are unbeaten in their last seven Serie A meetings with Milan, winning two and drawing five.

SPAL vs Fiorentina

Stadio Poalo Mazza, Ferrera

Sunday, 17-02-2019 @2:30pm

Fiorentina have lost ground in Serie A in recent weeks after back-to-back draws against Udinese and Napoli, but visit an unpredictable SPAL side. The Viola will be looking to regain some of the magic and fire seen in the 7-1 Coppa Italia humiliation of Roma, as they fight to get back into Europa League contention following a hard-fought draw at home with Napoli. Stefano Pioli had to make do with a patchwork defence in that game, with a surprise start for Bryan Dabo. David Hancko was also drafted in after problems for Nikola Milenkovic and Vitor Hugo. The latter managed only a second half appearance, but will be available for this one. Despite this they impressively managed to keep a clean sheet against the Partenopei. German Pezzella and Kevin Mirallas are out of action, with Vincent Laurini needing a late fitness test. Marco Benassi should be welcomed back into the starting line-up to complete a more familiar looking side and will certainly assist with Stefano Pioli’s calls for more confidence in possession.

Leonardo Semplici was satisfied with his team’s efforts against Atalanta and saw positive signs despite the result. He believes that if they can correct a few mistakes, they can gain more points from their remaining fixtures. Andrea Petagna was back to goalscoring ways against his former employers and goes into this tie in good form. Manuel Lazzari will be looking to provide him with service on the flank. Simone Missiroli is suspended, so will likely be replaced by Mirko Valdifiori, who will pull the strings for the home side.

The Tuscans comfortably won the reverse fixture in September 3-0 and will be hoping for a repeat performance. Luis Muriel has had comparisons to legendary Brazilian forward Ronaldo throughout his career, although consistency has been an issue. If he is in the mood, he can be decisive in this one.

SPAL have drawn each of their last six Serie A home games, while Fiorentina are unbeaten in eight away fixtures, sharing the spoils in six.

Udinese vs Chievo

Darcia Arena, Udine

Sunday, 17-02-2019 @5pm

Rock bottom Chievo are hoping to cause an upset against an Udinese side hovering one point above the relegation zone.

The Flying Donkeys are well and truly grounded this season and not just because of the three-point penalty for financial irregularities, nor going through three different Coaches. They have managed one point from the last four rounds and seem to be in a permanent state of damage control.

Udinese aren’t doing much better, as they don’t even have the excuse of starting the campaign from -3. Although the situation initially improved after Davide Nicola replaced Julio Velazquez, a fairly mediocre side slipped back into old ways with one point from four rounds.

Sebastien De Maio is suspended after his red card in the defeat to Torino, with Sandro, Samir, Emmanuel Badu and Antonin Barak still out of action. Ignacio Pussetto and Stefano Okaka are working on their partnership in attack, aided by Rodrigo De Paul in a deeper role.

Chievo miss Sergio Pellissier, Marco Andreolli, Nenad Tomovic and Nicolas Frey, so Mariusz Stepinski should be working with Emanuele Giaccherini and Riccardo Meggiorini.

The last seven Udinese goals have been scored by seven different players.

Genoa vs Lazio

Stadio Communale Luigi Ferraris, Genoa

Sunday, 17-02-2019 @05:00pm

Lazio must shake off Europa League disappointment and a growing injury crisis as they host Genoa. This fixture has a lot more riding on it for the Biancocelesti, who are in a five-way tussle for Champions League qualification with city rivals Roma, a very entertaining Atalanta side and both Milan giants. Genoa are now seven points clear of the relegation zone and have replaced Milan-bound Krzysztof Piatek with Antonio Sanabria. Cesare Prandelli is honing the team to his vision and making visible progress in terms of performances.

Both Ciro Immobile and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic were on target in September’s convincing 4-1 win over Genoa in the capital, but both are major doubts to feature after missing Thursday’s 1-0 Europa League defeat to Sevilla. They aren’t the only ones, as Luis Alberto, Wallace and Marco Parolo all limped off during that game. Finding the back of the net has been Lazio’s biggest Achilles heel, with only 32 Serie A goals scored so far. It is very surprising considering this time last season Simone Inzaghi’s side had already scored 58 and eventually finished the campaign with 89 goals, the highest in league.

Genoa come into this off back-to-back draws and a victory, most recently a tight 1-1 draw at Bologna with Danish international Lukas Lerager getting his debut Serie A goal.

Lazio will be without at least one maybe even both of their two biggest stars, as Milinkovic-Savic is definitely ruled out with a muscle tear and is unlikely to return until at least the end of the month, while it remains to be seen when Immobile will be thrown back into the fold following a hamstring injury. Parolo, Wallace, Jordan Lukaku and Valon Berisha complete the long list of injuries, with Luis Alberto in doubt. Luiz Felipe should be ready to start after his comeback as a substitute against Sevilla. Danilo Cataldi and Milan Badelj are expected to come in and fill in for the midfield absentees. Caceido could again lead the line alongside Joaquin Correa. January arrival Romulo is unlikely to start against his former teammates.

Genoa will likely revert back to the 4-5-1 formation they used in the 3-1 away victory at Empoli in January. The only defensive change expected is for Cristian Romero returning from suspension to take the place of Koray Günter. Stefano Sturaro could get his first start in what is now his third spell at the club alongside Miguel Veloso and Lerager in midfield. Christian Kouame continues to partner Sanabria and there could even be an opportunity for former Lazio favourite Goran Pandev to come off the bench and play the role of a super sub if required. Sandro, Oscar Hiljemark and Andrea Favilli are all unavailable due to injury.

If Lazio pick up the three points at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris, it’ll be the first time since the 2009-10 season that they will have claimed a league double over Genoa.

Empoli vs Sassoulo

Stadio Carlo Castellani, Empoli

Sunday, 17-02-2019 @5:00pm

Both Empoli and Sassuolo have lost their way lately and Coach Beppe Iachini faces his former club having slipped into the drop zone.

The Tuscans had been given a boost when Iachini first took over from Aurelio Andreazzoli in November, but that initial new Coach smell has worn off, as the they scraped just two draws in the last eight rounds. Empoli are now level with Bologna in the final relegation spot and run the genuine risk of relegation straight back down to Serie B.

Antonino La Gumina is back in the squad after injury, but January signing Diego Farias is expected ton start behind Francesco Caputo and Rade Krunic. Bartlomeij Dragowski should also debut for Empoli, while Cristian Dell’Orco could be up against the club he only left last month.

Sassuolo aren’t having an impressive run of results either, securing one victory in their last seven. Early European ambitions under boss Roberto De Zerbi seem to have dissipated, leaving the Neroverdi in a mid-table rut.

Marlon and Leonardo Sernicola remain out of action, with Alessandro Matri pushing Khouma Babacar to take the centre-forward role.

Sassuolo have won their last four Serie A meetings with Empoli, scoring three goals in each of the last three visits.

Inter Milan vs Sampdoria

Stadio Guiseppe Meazza, Milan

Sunday, 17-03-2019 @8pm

Inter are in chaos and host a Sampdoria side who seem to have lost their way in recent weeks for an unpredictable clash. The Nerazzurri’s narrow win away to Parma might have given Luciano Spalletti some additional time to turn this disappointing season around. The team sits in third place with 43 points, 20 points off league leaders Juventus. With Mauro Icardi’s contract situation looming over the club, the squad needs to find clarity and perform consistently to secure their Champions League place. In a sudden turn of events, Icardi was stripped of the captaincy on Wednesday and it was handed over to goalkeeper Samir Handanovic. The striker then promptly refused to take part in the Europa League trip to Rapid Vienna, which was won 1-0 thanks to a Lautaro Martinez penalty. It now looks as if Icardi will again miss out, whether by his choice or the club’s, for the meeting with his former club. Considering Lautaro Martinez has found the net in each of his last two games, Icardi might not be missed as much as he’d like.

Records, inconsistency and high expectations can sum up Sampdoria’s season. Their shock loss to relegation battlers Frosinone at home was the biggest upset of Week 23. They sit in ninth place with 33 points, which is still only five points off the European places. Fabio Quagliarella equalled Gabriel Batistuta’s record of finding the net in 11 consecutive Serie A appearances and he is only getting stronger after turning 36 years of age. Edgar Barreto is injured, but should be available for next week, while Gianluca Caprari is sidelined for at least a couple of months.

Both squads are battling for a place in Europe next season and a win could prove vital. Inter will be expected to perform at home, but watch out for Sampdoria as their solid and threatening style of football can help them create an upset.

Sampdoria have lost their last three Serie A encounters with Inter, home and away, and a fourth would be their worst run since December 1985.

Napoli vs Torino

Stadio San Paolo, Naples

Sunday, 17-02-2019 @10:30pm

Napoli host Walter Mazzarri’s ambitious Torino this weekend and anything less than a victory could effectively end the Scudetto race. The Partenopei built by Mazzarri all those years ago effectively bowed out for good this week with Marek Hamsik’s transfer to Dalian Yifang, the last of the Three Tenors to leave. Lorenzo Insigne is the new captain and found the net in Thursday’s relatively comfortable 3-1 Europa League win away to FC Zurich.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side have hit a stumbling block in recent weeks, winning just one of their previous three Serie A games, drawing to Fiorentina and Milan in the process. Despite this, Napoli are undefeated in their last 17 home matches, whilst Torino have drawn five of their last six games away from home so confidence should still be high.

Torino’s recent form is up and down to say the least, with two wins, two draws and a defeat in their last five league games. In addition, Napoli have seen Over 2.5 Goals in their last seven matches against Torino in all competition, so expect this one to be a truly entertaining affair.

Napoli will be without 33-year-old centre back Raul Albiol following knee surgery, while Mario Rui is also on the treatment table.

Torino look set to miss defender Koffi Djidji with a sprained ankle, while both Tomas Rincon and Andrea Belotti are just one yellow card away from suspension, so have to be on their toes. Simone Zaza returns to the squad, but is unlikely to start, with Alex Berenguer showing fine form to unseat Iago Falque.

A win for Napoli would see them remain in second place, but at least maintain the current 11-point gap with leaders Juventus. Torino are only five points adrift of fourth place, so have every reason to feel optimistic about their European ambitions, but will have to improve away form to achieve that.

Torino have not conquered the Stadio San Paolo in Serie A since May 2009, followed by four losses and two draws.

Roma vs Bologna

Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Monday, 18-02-2019 @10:30pm

Roma look to build some momentum as they host Sinisa Mihajlovic’s reinvigorated Bologna on Monday evening. This is a must-win for the Giallorossi, as they need three points to keep up their pressure on the top four. They sit just one point behind Milan in fourth place, but are on equal points with surprise package Atalanta and Lazio. Eusebio Di Francesco will undoubtedly be looking for the intensity he saw his side bring to the second half of Tuesday’s 2-1 Champions League over Porto. The win was soured by Adrian Lopez’s 79th minute away goal, but Nicolò Zaniolo’s brace confirmed a star is born. Furthermore, I Lupi defeated Chievo 3-0 last weekend after an Edin Dzeko masterclass. Di Francesco will be without Cengiz Under, Rick Karsdorp and Patrik Schick. Robin Olsen should return in goal, having been replaced by Antonio Mirante against Chievo and FC Porto.

Bologna, however, are arguably in even more need of a win, as they battle for Serie A survival. Since Mihajlovic took over from sacked Pippo Inzaghi, he has beaten Inter at San Siro and was held by Genoa, but remain in the relegation zone, even if they caught up with Empoli. They host Juventus next week, but a result at the Olimpico would put them in a good position with games against Udinese and Cagliari following their clash with The Old Lady.

Riccardo Orsolini and Giancarlo Gonzalez are injured, while Rodrigo Palacio’s caution last week means he has accumulated too many yellow cards and subsequently sits out this one. It’s a return to the Olimpico for ex-Roma goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski, while Federico Santander is fit again after only managing a cameo against Genoa.

Bologna haven’t beaten Roma at the Olimpico since 2012, a 3-2 comeback victory thanks to an Alberto Gilardino brace and Alessandro Diamanti strike. They’ve lost the last three visits without finding the net.

Friday result:

-Juventus 3-0 Frosinone



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