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Football

Lazio out to test Inter’s Champions League resolve as Serie A rolls into Match-Day 30

Chievo vs Cagliari

Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi, Veron

Friday, 29-03-2019 @10:30pm

Chievo remain rock bottom, but Cagliari are only six points clear of the relegation zone and missing top scorer Leonardo Pavoletti.

The formerly Flying Donkeys have won just one game so far this season and that, along with a three-point penalty for financial irregularities, is why they are firmly rooted to the bottom of the table – where they sit on 11 points, 14 away from Empoli and Udinese in the safety zone.

A recent record of three losses in their last five Serie A games, where they have found the back of the net on just two occasions, doesn’t make for pleasant reading for any of the home team’s fans. They did however battle their way to a 1-1 draw away to Atalanta in their last game before the international break thanks to Riccardo Meggiorini’s second league goal of the season.

Coach Domenico Di Carlo will have to perform a miracle to keep his side in the division next year and with just 10 games remaining to be played, time is running out for the Gialloblu. He will have to do without the services of Ezequiel Schelotto, who is out for the season, while Nenad Tomovic, Mattia Bani, Nicola Rigoni and Marco Andreolli are all struggling to be fit in time for this game. The good news is the return of veteran captain Sergio Pellissier after over a month out injured.

The visitors, on the other hand, are sitting in 14th position on 30 points and have won three of their last five league matches – all three of those wins came at home, though, and it is at the Sardegna Arena where they have picked up six of their seven Serie A victories this season. Their away form is pitiful, winning just once on the road and losing their last six in a row.

Coach Rolando Maran returns to the club where he spent four years, and will no doubt get a warm welcome from the Bentegodi supporters. A win here would go a long way to guarantee his men another year in the division.

He will have to do without top scorer Leonardo Pavoletti, who is suspended for this game and a massive loss. The target man has scored 10 times this term and is returning from his first international goal in his country’s 6-0 win over Liechtenstein midweek. Argentine midfielder Luca Castro is a long-term injury absentee and he is joined on the treatment table by strikers Alberto Cerri, Kiril Despodov and ex-Liverpool defender Ragnar Klavan.

That means former Chievo forward Cyril Thereau is the only real alternative to Pavoletti in attack, supported by Joao Pedro and Nicolò Barella.

Expect this game to be a hard-fought contest, as six of the 15 meetings played at the Bentegodi have ended as stalemates. The Gialloblu have the home advantage and will look to create chances for top scorer Mariusz Stepinski, who has four goals to his name this season, while at the same time trying to shore up a defence that has conceded 54 times this term.

Chievo have never lost at home to Cagliari in Serie A, earning six wins and as many draws. However, they did lose 2-1 here in a Coppa Italia clash in December 2018. The Sardinians have also failed to win all five games played this season without Pavoletti, managing one point.

Udinese vs Genoa

Dacia Arena, Udine

Saturday, 30-03-2019 @5pm

Udinese make their debut – again – under Coach Igor Tudor, while Genoa are fresh from a shock victory over Juventus.

The Friulani find themselves one point above the relegation zone and that proved enough to pull the plug on Davide Nicola. The tactician had taken over from sacked Julio Velazquez in late November, but failed to turn this struggling ship around with four wins, four draws and seven defeats.

Udinese took advantage of the break for international duty by bringing in their third boss of the campaign, although Tudor had already been called upon to rescue them towards the end of last season.

The former Galatasaray Coach had four rounds on the Friuli bench last term, earning a 3-3 draw with Benevento, 4-0 defeat to Inter, with 1-0 wins over Verona and Bologna. He walked away in the summer, as he couldn’t agree on a shared vision of how to progress with the club.

When these sides met back in October, it ended 2-2 at Marassi with Udinese twice coming back to pick up a point. Ivan Juric was the Genoa Coach at the time, but Cesare Prandelli seems to have found the right path for his Grifone outfit. The highlight of their season was the 2-0 triumph over Juventus, becoming the first side to beat the leaders in Serie A and to achieve it with a two-goal margin, too. That and other recent results allowed Genoa to climb into mid-table comfort, sitting in 12th place, nine points clear of the drop zone.

Their treatment table is also relatively clear, save for Andrea Favilli and long-term absentee Oscar Hiljemark. Stefano Sturaro is raring to go after his goal against Juventus, but Gianluca Lapadula could get his first start of the campaign, as Tonny Sanabria is not 100 per cent fit.

Udinese’s medics are being kept busy, because Bram Nuytinck, Marco D’Alessandro, Valon Behrami, Samir, Emmanuel Badu, Antonin Barak and Lukasz Teodorczyk are in need of treatment. Kevin Lasagna is likely to get the nod in attack rather than Stefano Okaka, while Sandro is the more solid midfield choice.

Genoa haven’t beaten Udinese in their last five Serie A encounters, home and away, managing only two draws.

Juventus vs Empoli

Allianz Stadium, Torion

Saturday, 30-03-2019 @8pm

Juventus suffered their first Serie A defeat of the season to Genoa and now host an Empoli side desperate for points.

Eyebrows were raised around Italy before the international break, as Juve were handed their first league loss of the season at the hands of mid-table Genoa. Now returning to their home stadium, the Bianconeri welcome a feisty Empoli side just one point above the relegation zone and revitalised by the return of Coach Aurelio Andreazzoli.

The first game back from international duty is always tricky for the multi-national squad and Cristiano Ronaldo returned from Portugal with a thigh strain.

The visitors arrive having collected seven points in their last five rounds, with wins against Sassuolo and Frosinone plus a draw at home to Parma. Empoli have been slowly clawing their way to safety, but sit only one point ahead of the drop zone. Nonetheless, the return of Andreazzoli after the short-lived Beppe Iachini stint was marked with a potentially decisive 2-1 victory over penultimate outfit Frosinone.

The men from Tuscany will be without defender Matias Silvestre due to suspension, while Antonino La Gumina, Michele Polvani and Luca Antonelli are injured. Domenico Maietta and Cristiano Dell’Orco should therefore be joined in the back three by Frederic Veseli.

Juventus could be forgiven for taking their foot off the gas against Genoa, as after beating Napoli in the Scudetto head-to-head, an eighth straight title is practically a formality. Cristiano Ronaldo joined the lengthy injury list, including Mattia De Sciglio, Douglas Costa, Andrea Barzagli and Juan Cuadrado. Sami Khedira is available again after recovering from heart surgery, though probably only from the bench.

We already saw against Genoa what a difference motivation can make at this stage of the season, so Juve are inevitably distracted by the upcoming Champions League quarter-final with Ajax. It’ll at least give some players a chance to prove their mettle, but Empoli will believe they can get a result in Turin.

If the Bianconeri tumble again, it’ll be the first time they’ve lost back-to-back Serie A games since August 2015.

Juventus have won each of their last seven Serie A meetings with Empoli, home and away, conceding only two goals.

Sampdoria vs AC Milan

Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris, Genoa

Saturday, 29-03-2019 @10:30pm

Milan dropped to fourth place after a somewhat surprising Derby defeat and face a Sampdoria side not quite out of the European race yet.

These teams enter Marassi separated by just nine points, with Milan holding the fourth and last Champions League spot, while Sampdoria are just off a Europa League place. Both teams had dramatic matches before the break for international duty, Samp having been involved in an eight-goal thriller against Sassuolo, which they won 5-3, while Milan lost 3-2 to city rivals Inter in an enthralling Derby Della Madonnina.

It will be the third occasion in which the teams will be meeting this season, having met once already in the league and in the Round of 16 in the Coppa Italia. The Diavolo were the home team back in October, and they came 3-2 victors, where the momentum ebbed and flowed throughout. It took a brace in extra time from Patrick Cutrone to separate the teams in the Coppa, which meant Milan won again.

Since then, the Ligurians have continued with their open and attacking brand of football that Coach Marco Giampaolo became well known for since his Empoli days. Milan, on the other hand, have become more solid defensively, having allowed only six goals in their 13 matches for 2019, however, with three of them coming in the Derby.

Both clubs will see this as an opportunity to get a jump on their rivals for the other European spots, as their competitors all play on Sunday, and with just nine rounds after this weekend, points will become vital. A key element that will be taken into account on Saturday night, is that it will come right after an international break. Interestingly, both clubs have had 11 players called away for their respective nations.

Samp’s injury problems continue to pile up, missing Riccardo Saponara, Gianluca Caprari and Edgar Barreto, while Gaston Ramirez, Albin Ekdal and Jacopo Sala are not 100 per cent fit either. Jack Bonaventura is the only remaining absentee for the Rossoneri, who hope Krzysztof Piatek can be inspired by the return to his old hunting ground and goal against Samp for Genoa earlier this season.

Milan are unbeaten in their last eight Serie A away fixtures stretching back to October, but lost the trip to Sampdoria last season.

Parma vs Atalanta

Stadio Ennio Tardini, Parma

Sunday, 31-03-2019 @1:30pm

Both Parma and Atalanta have done far better than anyone expected this season and should provide plenty of entertainment.

The hosts went bankrupt in 2015 and became the first Italian side ever to complete three consecutive promotions, but now sit in 11th place and nine points clear of the relegation zone. Their top scorers Gervinho and Roberto Inglese lead the way, having contributed a combined 17 goals this campaign.

Parma are coming off a humbling 4-1 defeat in the capital to Lazio, in which they were down 4-0 at halftime. Mattia Sprocati scored the lone goal for the Ducali, but they lost five of their last eight Serie A games. Alberto Grassi’s season is over, while Leo Stulac and Francisco Sierralta require fitness tests.

Atalanta will be looking to continue their fight for European places. With Roma and Lazio facing tough tests against Napoli and Inter respectively this weekend, the Orobici will be looking to take advantage of the situation.

The Bergamo side are coming off a disappointing 1-1 draw with bottom club Chievo, with Josip Ilicic scoring their solitary goal.

Atalanta have not won both Serie A games against Parma in a single season since 2007-08.

Roma vs Napoli

Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Sunday, 31-03-2019 @4pm

The Derby del Sole comes at a bad time for both teams, as injury problems are piling up for Roma and Napoli, with the Giallorossi trying to push into the top four.

Claudio Ranieri’s arrival as caretaker manager following the dismissal of Eusebio Di Francesco has not so far paid off, as they scraped past Empoli and lost 2-1 to SPAL. That result left them four points adrift of the Champions League places and having to look over their shoulder for Atalanta, Lazio and Torino too. Failing to qualify for the Champions League would be a heavy blow, but not getting into Europe at all represents a disaster.

Injuries are piling up for Roma, who are without Stephan El Shaarawy, Kostas Manolas, Alessandro Florenzi and Javier Pastore, while Daniele De Rossi and Lorenzo Pellegrini require a fitness test. The experiment of using Edin Dzeko and Patrik Schick together has always failed so far, but Ranieri is determined to make it work. Nicolò Zaniolo and either Justin Kluivert or Diego Perotti should take up the wings, with Ivan Marcano and Federico Fazio in defence.

Napoli are comfortably in second place and focusing most of their energy on the Europa League quarter-finals against Arsenal. Carlo Ancelotti has to reshuffle amid an injury crisis of his own, as Lorenzo Insigne was all set for his comeback when pulling up with another muscular problem in Friday’s training session.

He joins Raul Albiol, Amadou Diawara, Vlad Chiriches, Faouzi Ghoulam and David Ospina on the treatment table, while Piotr Zielinski sits out a ban. Fabian Ruiz should be available after a bout of flu so bad it hospitalised him for a few days when he was meant to be on international duty, with Simone Verdi or Amin Younes out wide.

Arkadiusz Milik will be partnered in attack by either Dries Mertens or Adam Ounas, but Ancelotti is going to have to call up some youth team players at this rate.

 Napoli have won their last two Serie A trips to the Olimpico, having lost the previous four in a row. Their last stalemate in this fixture was 2-2 in April 2012.

Frosinone vs SPAL

Stadio Benito Stirpe, Frosinone

Sunay, 31-03-2019 @4pm

Frosinone are in the last chance saloon and must beat a SPAL side who hover only two points above the relegation zone.

When these side met in week 10, the Canarini earned a 3-0 win, but it remains one of their only season highlights. Frosinone have managed to pick up just one point from their last five games, drawing away to Genoa and losing to Cagliari, Torino, Roma and Juventus, with a run of four straight home defeats. Many thought the good performance against Roma, which saw them lose in the final minutes, would be a step forward for them to fight their way out of the relegation zone, but they still have no victories at the Stadio Stirpe.

SPAL are fortunate to be two points clear of the drop zone, only escaping it thanks to a shock win over Roma before the break for international duty. It could help forget their bad run in form, which saw them lose against Fiorentina, Sampdoria and Inter, while drawing Sassuolo.

Coach Moreno Longo will have to do without defender Edoardo Goldaniga due to suspension, while Mirko Gori and Andrea Pinamonti are battling injury. Lorenzo Ariaudo is the favourite to take Goldaniga’s spot rather than Bartosz Salamon.

Leonardo Semplici has a full squad to choose from and that means tough choices between Mirco Antenucci and Sergio Floccari in attack, Francesco Vicari and Dias Felipe in defence, Alessandro Murgia and Pasquale Schiattarella in the middle of the park. Most importantly, it is no coincidence that SPAL got back to winning ways with the return of Manuel Lazzari from injury.

Frosinone have won all three previous meetings with SPAL between Serie A and B, scoring seven goals and conceding only one.

Fiorentina vs Torino

Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence

Sunday, 31-03-2019 @4pm

Fiorentina are already seven points behind eighth-placed Torino, so failure to win here would practically end their Europa League hopes.

The Viola had such lofty ambitions only a few weeks ago, but their season appears to have petered out, save for the Coppa Italia semi-final against Atalanta. They picked up just two points from the last four rounds and talk is rife of Coach Stefano Pioli walking away in June.

Federico Chiesa requires a fitness test after leaving international duty with a recurring muscular problem, while defender German Pezzella is suspended and Marko Pjaca’s campaign already over. Federico Ceccherini should step into central defence with Vitor Hugo, while Kevin Mirallas is the natural replacement in case Chiesa cannot start with Giovanni Simeone and Luis Muriel.

Torino saw their seven-round positive run come to a surprise end with their 3-2 home defeat against relegation-threatened Bologna. That result left them stranded in eighth place, falling out of the Europa League spots and with Sampdoria breathing down their necks too.

Coach Walter Mazzarri must do without two of his starting XI, as both defender Nicolas N’Koulou and wing-back Ola Aina are suspended (in the Chelsea-owned Aina’s case, a three-match ban for insulting the referee). Emiliano Moretti is therefore expected to take over in the back three with Koffi Djidji and new Italy international Armando Izzo.

Iago Falque is the favourite to partner Andrea Belotti rather than the misfiring Simone Zaza or Alex Berenguer, while Sasa Lukic holds the midfield reins.

Torino are without a Serie A victory in Florence since October 1976, managing only 13 draws from their last 28 visits.

Bologna vs Sassuolo

Stadio Renato Dall’Ara

Sunday, 31-03-2019 @7pm

Bologna are clawing their way back up the table and fresh from a big win, but remain in the relegation zone, so are highly-motivated in this Emilia-Romagna Derby.

The Rossoblu have been transformed since Sinisa Mihajlovic took over from sacked Pippo Inzaghi and that culminated in a 3-2 victory away to Torino. That was their second straight win after beating Cagliari 2-0, but it is so far not enough to take them out of the bottom three.

Sassuolo had thought they were comfortably mid-table, but that might not necessarily still be the case. They sit in 13th place on 32 points, only eight clear of Bologna in the drop zone. It’s turning into a relegation scrap with six teams crammed within an eight-point radius. Considering the Neroverdi are without a victory since January, picking up just three draws in their last seven games, there’s no time to feel complacent.

Lyanco is suspended for the hosts, with Federico Santander still nursing a shoulder injury, which means veteran Rodrigo Palacio leading the attack with support from Nicola Sansone, Roberto Soriano and Riccardo Orsolini. Filip Helander comes into defence with Danilo.

Sassuolo miss Enrico Brignola and Claud Adjapong, but Barcelona-owned Marlon should at least be back on the bench after a long-term injury. Stefano Sensi will be fired up after scoring his first senior Italy goal, although there are choices to be made in attack. We could see a 3-4-3 formation with Domenico Berardi, Khouma Babacar and Jeremie Boga leading the way, or Alfred Duncan drafted in for a bulkier midfield approach.

Sassuolo have not scored in their last two away games and a third would be a new all-time club record in Serie A.

Inter Milan vs Lazio

Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan

Saturday, 31-03-2019 @9:30pm

Inter and Lazio face off for Champions League football yet again, but the Nerazzurri lose on form Lautaro Martinez.

On a weekend where eight of the top 10 in the league play each other, the final game of the round sees last season’s bitter rivalry renewed.

Lazio are six points off fourth-placed Milan, albeit with a game in hand, and a defeat here could be extremely costly. They were comfortable winners over Parma in their last game and also beat Roma before the international break, so do come into the game with some form.

Milan play Sampdoria on Saturday evening and, should the Rossoneri win, they could well open up a nine-point advantage over Lazio, which would make this game close to a must win for the Biancocelesti.

As for Inter, their up and down season seems to be on the up at the minute, especially after their Milan Derby victory last time out. They are still very much in the driving seat when it comes to Champions League qualification, as they sit in third, two points clear of Milan and six of Roma in fifth.

Much of the pre-match talk has involved the potential return of Mauro Icardi to the side due to the injury sustained by Lautaro Martinez. Icardi has been out of the squad for issues much reported and discussed, but the Argentinian trained with the squad this week and it is being reported that he held some ‘clear-the-air’ talks with his teammates. Having Icardi back for the run-in could be massive for the Nerazzurri, especially in such a big game such as this one.

Lazio have not beaten Inter in Serie A since 2016, losing three of the last four Serie A meetings. That included the dramatic season closing home defeat that allowed the Nerazzurri to leapfrog them into third place. Draws have often been the trend for this fixture historically, with 20 stalemates in the 59 matches, however, there has only been one draw in the last eight.

Simone Inzaghi’s men won the Coppa Italia quarter-final here on penalties in January after a tense 1-1 extra time draw, complete with last-gasp Mauro Icardi spot-kick to equalise.

Inter have been very strong at home, with just two defeats in their 13 games at San Siro. Lazio have struggled all season against the top half sides in the league, winning just two of their 11 meetings, both of those coming against Fiorentina.

The onus will be on Lazio to try and win the game, as they are the side that are more desperate for points. Inter know that they can be slightly more relaxed and that will play into their hands. A defeat could be costly for the home side, however, so they will be wary of Lazio’s attacking threat.

Lazio have just two league wins at the San Siro in 19 years.

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