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Football

Juventus seek to return to winning ways away to Sassoulo

Fiorentina vs Napoli
Stade Artemio Franchi, Florence
Saturday, 09-02-2019 @8pm

Fiorentina are missing some key players, but hope to build on recent momentum as they host a Napoli side out for revenge. Although the Viola have had their struggles this season and come into this game having failed to pick up all three points during a 1-1 draw with Udinese, they notably produced one of the most surprising results of this season’s Coppa Italia when smashing Roma 7-1 to set up a semi-final against Atalanta. Stefano Pioli is forced to readjust, as Nikola Milenkovic and Marco Benassi are both suspended, so Federico Ceccherini and Gerson are expected to step into the breach. Kevin Mirallas and Giovanni Simeone continue to battle for a starting spot in the trident attack along with Federico Chiesa and Luis Muriel.

Napoli were shocked as they ended up being dumped out of the Coppa following a 2-0 loss to Milan. Nonetheless, the Partenopei have been given a lifeline perhaps in the Scudetto race. Previously, they were double-digits behind Juventus, who seemed largely unstoppable. However, The Old Lady have looked hardly infallible recently – first succumbing to a shocking 3-0 loss to Atalanta in the Coppa Italia and then fumbling a 3-1 advantage to scrape a 3-3 draw against Parma. The stalemate with the Crociati, combined with Napoli’s resounding 3-0 victory over Sampdoria, has reduced this gap to nine points. And with the Partenopei enjoying success in all but one of their last 11 meetings against Fiorentina across all competition, plus a solid away record (they have lost just four times on the road in Serie A this season), they certainly will be fancying their chances. However, they’ll just hope that the distraction of captain Marek Hamsik’s “likely departure” to China won’t prove to be another factor against a Fiorentina side determined to use their home form to aid them in making a late push for a Europa League spot.

This fixture also brings back painful memories, as last season a 3-0 defeat here with Kalidou Koulibaly sent off in the opening minutes effectively ended Maurizio Sarri’s Scudetto dreams.

Although Napoli have won just 15 times at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Serie A (D17, L36), current Fiorentina boss Stefano Pioli has lost all three previous meetings with Carlo Ancelotti.

Parma vs Inter Milan
Stade Ennio Tardini, Parma

Saturday, 09-02-2019 @10:30pm

Parma host struggling Inter this weekend in what is turning into an unlikely battle for European places. The Ducali pegged Juventus back for an impressive 3-3 draw after trailing 3-1 with 20 minutes to go. Former Roma man Gervinho yet again struck against the Bianconeri with a brilliant brace inside the final 16 minutes, including a last-minute thunderbolt to salvage the point. The draw, along with other results last weekend, moved them into 12th place in the table. However, they sit just six points adrift of Lazio, Atalanta and Roma in joint fifth and incredibly only seven points behind the Champions League berth.

There is some real belief that Roberto D’Aversa’s men can mount a serious challenge for a Europa League spot, due to the inconsistent seasons thus far of other more prestigious clubs such as Lazio, Sampdoria and Fiorentina. D’Aversa has a near-full squad to choose from for this match, with Alberto Grassi and Francisco Sierralta the only players unavailable for the clash due to long-term injury.

Meanwhile, pressure is seriously beginning to mount on Luciano Spalletti. After a brilliant start to the season they were widely tipped as one of the three teams that would definitely qualify for next season’s Champions League, but after a few shaky results they are now just five points clear of Atalanta in fifth place. They are in serious danger of dropping out of the top four with tricky games following the Parma clash in Sampdoria and Fiorentina. Last week, they were sunk by Federico Santander’s 33rd-minute Bologna header. It was the culmination of a horror week for the Nerazzurri after they were defeated 1-0 by Torino and eliminated by Lazio in the Coppa Italia following a penalty shootout.

Inter are winless in their last four games in all competitions, have failed to score in their last three Serie A matches, and Spalletti will certainly be hoping for a positive result in this match amid rumours of Jose Mourinho meeting with director Beppe Marotta for a possible role on the Inter bench. Borja Valero and Sime Vrsaljko are injured for La Beneamata, while Matteo Politano continues his two-match ban after the red card for dissent against Torino a fortnight ago.

Parma will enter this match full of momentum and every belief that they can take this game to their opponents, but Spalletti will undoubtedly be using a cautious approach.

Parma haven’t beaten Inter twice in a single Serie A season since 1998-99.

Bologna vs Genoa
Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, Bologna
Sunday, 10-02-2019 @2:30pm

Sinisa Mihajlovic could not have had a better Bologna debut and after beating Inter he has to pick up points against Antonio Sanabria’s Genoa. This Sunday’s lunch time match sees the Rossoblu host the Grifone in what should be an entertaining clash at the Stadio Dall’Ara. Both clubs have plenty to play for with the home team after having made major changes during January looking to scrap their way out of the relegation zone, while the Ligurians want to make sure they don’t get sucked back into the dogfight.

Bologna re-hired former Coach Mihajlovic last month for a second spell after having been at the Emilia-Romagna club a full decade ago. His impact was immediate and impressive with a 1-0 victory away to Inter. Watching the match, one would be confused as to which club was in the Champions League place and which in the bottom three. Bologna’s tactics in this match were in stark contrast to the team under former boss Pippo Inzaghi, as they pressed high up the field, moved the ball very quickly when they attacked and were organised in defence.

Genoa have also had a significant change, as with star striker Krzysztof Piatek moving to Milan, they have found an able replacement in Antonio Sanabria. The Paraguayan was signed on loan from Real Betis, via Roma, and he has taken to the club like a duck to water, scoring in each of his first two games to help earn four vital points against Empoli & Sassuolo. Cesare Prandelli’s Genoa are weakened for this game, as centre-back Cristian Romero is suspended, with Oscar Hiljemark, Luca Mazzitelli and Andrea Favilli still out of action, so Koray Gunter should get the nod in defence.

Both teams have a proud history, and outside of the teams from the traditionally strong cities of Milan, Rome and Turin, these two teams have the most Scudetti, with I Veltri having won seven (tied with Pro Vercelli) and Genoa claiming nine. With new players, especially in the attack, two Coaches who have a penchant for pro-active football and with a win being able to take both teams closer to their targets, this lunch time kick-off should have viewers glued.

Both teams have picked up 57 yellow cards each, with Bologna having received three red cards and Genoa having five players sent off so far this season.

Sampdoria vs Frosinone
Stadio Communale Luigi Ferraris, Genoa
Sunday, 10-02-2019 @5pm

Sampdoria are expected to give Manolo Gabbiadini his first start as they host a revitalised Frosinone outfit fighting for Serie A safety.

There is plenty at stake for both teams going into Marassi on Sunday afternoon. The Blucerchiati are only three points adrift of Milan and therefore in the thick of the race for a Europa League spot. As for the Canarini, they are still in penultimate place, but within five points of safety, as Empoli, Udinese and Cagliari continue to slide.

Nicola Murru is suspended for Samp, while Gianluca Caprari is a long-term absentee with a fractured fibula, joined by Jacopo Sala and Edgar Barreto. Fabio Quagliarella’s record scoring run came to an end with last week’s 3-0 defeat to Napoli, but he still managed to equal Gabriel Batistuta’s tally from 1994.

It’s likely Quagliagol will be partnered by Gabbiadini, given his first start since the January transfer from Southampton. Gaston Ramirez is the favourite rather than Riccardo Saponara to take the trequartista role behind the strikers, while Junior Tavares and Alex Ferrari compete to replace Murru at left-back. Tavares is on loan from Sao Paulo, but has made only one 13-minute Serie A appearance since his arrival over the summer.

Frosinone have injury concerns for Federico Dionisi, Paolo Ghiglione, Lorenzo Ariaudo, Nicolò Brighenti, Lorenco Simic and striker Andrea Pinamonti. Daniel Ciofani should therefore partner their top scorer Camillo Ciano, although Marcello Trotta is in with a shout too.

The 4-0 victory over Bologna was a huge boost and they only suffered a very tight 1-0 defeat to Lazio last week.

Samp have kept three consecutive Serie A home clean sheets and a fourth would be their best run since six in October 2007.

Atalanta vs SPAL
Stadio Atleti Azzuri d’Italia, Bergamo
Sunday, 10-02-2019 @5pm

Atalanta hope to continue their incredible recent run and surge towards the top four with a home victory against a SPAL side who hover above the drop zone. In past seasons the men from Bergamo may have found themselves dropping points away to teams such as Cagliari, however they managed to hang on in the Monday night clash when the Sardinians hit the bar in injury time to set up a thrilling final Champions League spot bottleneck scenario involving Roma, Lazio and current fourth placed Milan, all crammed within a point.

The Biancazzurri will be disappointed that they couldn’t make their numerical advantage count in the previous round, with Torino going down to 10 men, despite having the better of the chances in a goalless stalemate. Andrea Petagna returns from suspension, so will likely replace another former Milan youth product Alberto Paloschi in attack and will be desperate to add to his tally against his former employers after his brace against them in the reverse fixture from September. However, winger Mohamed Fares and centre-back Dias Felipe are suspended, so Francesco Vicari should get the nod rather than January buy Vasco Regini.

SPAL’s form has improved in recent weeks and Manuel Lazzari will need to follow his Coach Leonardo Semplici’s advice and get used to the added attention he has been receiving in Serie A if the Emilia Romagna side are to escape with any points. He should be able to count on Mirko Valdifiori to ease the burden, who is expected to start in a switch back to a 3-5-2 formation.

Josip Ilicic having recovered will likely replace Mario Pasalic to provide support for the ever-dangerous duo of Papu Gomez and Duvan Zapata.

SPAL are unbeaten against Atalanta since a 1-0 Serie B result here in January 1977, picking up three wins and seven 1-1 draws in all competition.

Torino vs Udinese
Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, Torino
Sunday, 10-02-2019 @5pm

Torino and Udinese have both struggled to score goals recently and need their forwards to pick up the pace.

The Granata’s draw away to SPAL last weekend means they have recorded just one win in their last five games. Owing to the congestion in the middle of the table, Torino are perched in 10th position with 31 points, five below the top four.

Despite beating Inter in their last home game, Toro’s form in Turin is quite patchy, as they’ve recorded defeats against the likes of Parma, Roma, Napoli and Juventus, whilst drawing with Fiorentina.

Udinese are having a wobble this season. Davide Nicola’s side are 16th after managing only 19 points, two above the drop zone. More worryingly for visitors and perhaps comforting for the home side, is that the Zebrette have failed to register a win in their last 10 away fixtures. But Udinese will take courage from their 1-1 draw against Fiorentina and hope to produce a good performance in Turin.

Not a lot is expected in terms of goals, as Torino have found the net six times in their last five home matches with Udinese the third lowest average scoring team in the league. Torino miss Vittorio Parigini, but above all have both Simone Zaza and defender Nicolas N’Koulou suspended.

Meanwhile Udinese will be without Sandro, Samir, Antonin Barak and Emanuel Agyeman Badu as a result of injuries.

Toro could keep three consecutive Serie A clean sheets for the first time since January 2014.

Sassoulo vs Juventus
MAPEI Stadium, Reggio nell’Emillia
Sunday, 10-02-2019 @8pm

Juventus have been stuttering of late and face a very difficult trip to Europa League chasing Sassuolo.

Considering how good Massimiliano Allegri’s side have been this season, they’ve been on concerning form by their standards recently.

Since the turn of the New Year, there’s been the slim victory over Milan in the Supercoppa, an incredibly late and arguably undeserved victory against Lazio, a 3-0 loss to Atalanta in the Coppa Italia and a 3-3 draw at home to Parma.

For a club who are currently unbeaten in the league and have serious aspirations in Europe, this has been something of a meltdown.

Their opponents this weekend are more than capable of providing a shock result against big sides. Roberto De Zerbi’s Sassuolo are still a work in progress, but the Italian is certainly laying down the framework for the club to build something beyond this season.

Recent form is a massive cause for concern, though. There’s been one win in their last six games and only three victories dating back to late September, all against relegation competition. Yet it’s still enough for them to be knocking on the door of Europa League football next season, which doesn’t say much for the rest of the league.

The Neroverdi’s home form is hardly the most stellar in Serie A, with 17 points from 11 games, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a potential pitfall. However, the Bianconeri’s mind boggling way of winning every away game except one, which they drew at Atalanta, means Sassuolo’s home form can be somewhat overwritten.

You can likely expect the game to be a slow starter, with Juventus being understandably cautious given their recent performances. However, that classic Allegri mentality will steady the ship as Juventus look to dominate the game.

In terms of team news, Sassuolo head into the game with a relatively clean bill of health, as Filip Djuricic and Khouma Babacar are expected to start the game despite fitness concerns. Alfred Duncan is suspended in midfield, with Marlon out for several weeks.

For Juventus, Joao Cancelo, Rodrigo Bentancur and Miralem Pjanic should all start, but Sami Khedira and Mattia De Sciglio are relegated to the bench due to injury worries. The treatment table remains packed, with defenders Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli all out of action, joined by Douglas Costa and Juan Cuadrado.

This would be the time for squad rotation ahead of the Champions League showdown with Atletico Madrid, but can Allegri afford the risk?

Juventus have kept only one clean sheet in their five Serie A trips to Sassuolo, conceding precisely one goal in each of the other four. They emerged with three wins, a draw and 1-0 defeat in October 2015.

AC Milan vs Cagliari
Stadio Guiseppe Meazza, Milan
Wednesday, 10-02-2018 @10:30pm

Milan are in a four-way battle for the last Champions League spot and host a Cagliari side sliding towards the relegation zone. The Diavolo came back from behind to claim a point in a 1-1 draw courtesy of the now departed Gonzalo Higuain in last September’s reverse encounter in Sardinia. There’s a lot more at stake going into this encounter, Milan’s main objective is to finish in the top four and make their long overdue return to the Champions League. Inter’s recent struggle has reduced the gap to now just four points, so now Milan’s sights must be set even higher by capitalising on their city rivals’ bad run of results and leapfrogging them in the table.

Rolando Maran’s Cagliari currently sit 15th in the table and are only four points above the relegation zone, so they must improve on their current league win count. To date they have just four wins in 22 games, but it’ll be an almighty task to add to that at San Siro. Last time out Milan grabbed a point in the capital against Roma with KrzysztofPiatek making more headlines by registering another goal, the biggest hero proved to be Gianluigi Donnarumma who pulled off a string of great saves to prevent a Roma victory. Despite giving a good account of themselves Cagliari were defeated by a goal to nil at home in the last round of fixtures against the peninsulas most in form side Atalanta.

No changes are expected to the Milan starting line-up. The front line will be led by Piatek so Patrick Cutrone will start from the bench, with Suso and Hakan Calhanoglu flanking him in attack. The Pole has three in three so far and has definitely got the fans dreaming his spell in Milan colours will be more akin to that of club legends Marco van Basten and Andriy Shevchenko rather than the more forgettable spells of Javi Moreno and even Higuain. Giacomo Bonaventura remains a long term injury doubt, while Mattia Caldara and Lucas Biglia are not too far away from a return to the action.

Cagliari will likely stick to the 3-5-2 formation used against Atalanta, January loanee Luca Pellegrini came off the bench in that game in place of Simone Padoin and could get the nod to play from start. Filip Bradaric could come into midfield to add some extra bite and allow star man Nicolò Barella more freedom to roam into creative positions. Top scorer Leonardo Pavoletti should start in attack with Joao Pedro and Alberto Cerri competing for the other attacking role.

Valter Birsa and Cyril Thereau join long term absentees Ragnar Klavan and Lucas Castro on the treatment table. We could see the debut of January signing Kiril Despodov, recently named Bulgarian Player of the Year.

Cagliari haven’t won away at Milan since May 1997 and lost each of the last 13 Serie A visits.

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