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Napoli hope to halt Juventus title charge as Serie A returns

Cagliari vs Inter Milan

Sergdena Arena, Cagliari

Friday, 01-03-2019 @10:30pm

Cagliari are looking to increase the gap from the relegation zone, but host an Inter side still unsure what Mauro Icardi’s status really is. The hosts are currently occupying 14th place, six points above the relegation zone, but with just one win in their last five, they could be in danger of being caught. Rolando Maran’s side earned a vital three points two weeks ago, but have only won twice since Boxing Day.

Brazilian forward João Pedro missed the 1-0 defeat to Sampdoria through suspension, forcing the Sardinians to use 19-year-old debutant Riccardo Doratiotto from the start.

Inconsistent is the way to describe Inter at the moment. Despite winning four of their last five in all competitions, the Nerazzurri have only managed two league victories in their last five. Icardi has hit the headlines in recent weeks after being stripped of the captaincy, with many expecting the wheels to come off Luciano Spalletti’s side as a result.

Despite this, they remain unbeaten without the Argentine, with the likes of Matteo Politano and Ivan Perisic stepping up to the plate. The controversial manner of their 3-3 draw with Fiorentina raised tensions further, but in a way might also have brought the players closer together. In addition, Inter have won six of their last seven matches against Cagliari in all competitions, so confidence should be high.

Both sides will be without key men. Cagliari have been without Ragnar Klavan since December, and Valter Birsa, Lucas Castro, Cyril Thereau, Alberto Cerri and Filippo Romagna remain on the sidelines. Alessandro Deiola sits out a ban. Keita Balde Diao has still not fully recovered from his thigh strain.

A win for the home side wouldn’t see them move up the table, but could allow them to create a nine-point gap between themselves and Bologna.

Inter must come away with three points to stay head of rivals Milan and Roma, who are hot on their tail. It’s not inconceivable that the Nerazzurri could end this weekend outside the top four.

The Sardinians hadn’t managed only 24 points from the opening 25 rounds since 20 in 2014-15, the season that culminated in their relegation.

Empoli vs Parma

Stadio Carlo Castellani, Empoli

Saturday, 02-03-2019 @5pm

Empoli are hovering just above the relegation zone, but Parma can’t feel confident after scraping one point from five rounds.

When these sides met in Week 7, the Tuscans were unlucky to hit the woodwork twice and capitulated to a Gervinho strike. Empoli have managed to win just one of their last five games, beating Sassuolo, with a disappointing Chievo draw and defeats to Lazio, Milan and Genoa. Many thought the 3-0 thrashing of Sassuolo could be a turning point in their season, but it was followed by a poor performance against Milan, getting only one shot on target.

Parma are sitting mid-table on 13 points, but most of those were earned in the opening rounds. Curiously, their away results have been drastically better than on home turf, including a 3-3 trip to the Juventus Stadium. On the other hand, they’ve failed to win any of their last five home fixtures, falling 4-0 to Napoli most recently.

Coach Guiseppe Iachini does not have many pressing injury concerns ahead of his game, as Lorenzo Polvani and former Milan defender Luca Antonelli are long-term absentees. Alberto Grassi and Francisco Sierralta are still out of action for Parma, with Matteo Scozzarella, Federico Dimarco and Alessandro Bastoni all in doubt.

Both sides were promoted from Serie B over the summer and Empoli won 2-1 away before a 4-0 home victory in this fixture last season.

Parma have not won a Serie A trip to Empoli since January 2006, managing two wins and a draw.

AC Milan vs Sassoulo

Stadio Guiseppe Meazza, Milan

Saturday, 02-03-2019 @8pm

Milan are within reach of Inter in third place and host a stuttering Sassuolo after surviving a Lazio siege on Tuesday’s Coppa Italia semi-final.

The consistency that has been established on the staff side with familiar faces Leonardo, Paolo Maldini, and of course Coach Rino Gattuso seems to reflect on to the pitch, as the Rossoneri are undefeated in eight Serie A matches. The January market also worked wonders, especially seeing the unhappy marriage to Gonzalo Higuain ended, and new love blossoming with Krzysztof Piatek, who seems to have brought the goal scoring boots from Genoa.

Milan are without long-term absentees Giacomo Bonaventura and Cristian Zapata, while Mattia Caldara is back in training, but not expected to be in the squad against the Neroverdi. Suso returns from suspension, although his performance against Lazio in the Coppa Italia midweek does not bode well. With Franck Kessie carrying a knock to the thigh, we could see Hakan Calhanoglu pushed back into midfield, leaving Samu Castillejo a role in the trident attack.
Seated in 11th place, Sassuolo seem little more than the negative reflection of the winning form of Milan. A home draw against SPAL was preceded by two 3-0 defeats against Juventus and Empoli, but they’ve won only three of the last 19 rounds. Formerly a thorn in the side of Milan, Sassuolo should hope to secure a draw and settle respectably at mid-table.

However, lacking in defensive quality, De Zerbi will not necessarily sit back and defend against a strong Milanese attacking force. This could make for an entertaining game, especially as both teams have scored in each of their total five Serie A encounters at San Siro.

Sassuolo are without Leonardo Sernicola and Marlon Santos – both injured. Alfred Duncan picked up a red card against SPAL and is suspended, but star man Domenico Berardi returns from his ban. It’s a special game for former Milan youth team player Manuel Locatelli, while Stefano Sensi has been repeatedly linked with a Rossoneri move.

Sassuolo have managed just one point from their last five Serie A meetings with Milan, since a victory in March 2016.

Lazio vs Roma

Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Saturday, 02-03-2019 @10:30pm

Lazio face Roma in a huge Derby Della Capitale this weekend, as it is also a showdown for a Champions League berth.

The Biancocelesti are now seven points adrift of fourth-placed Milan, after their game at the weekend against Udinese was postponed due to a packed fixture list. Lazio now need to win to bridge that gap and apply some pressure on their city rivals. As for the ‘away’ side, the Giallorossi are in good form across all competitions at the moment, with four wins from their last five and losing just one of their last 12 Serie A matches. Roma are the third highest scorers in the league with 49 and they have managed two or more goals in seven of their last eight league games.

Eusebio Di Francesco’s men are a point behind Milan in fourth and only two shy of Inter, although the Rossoneri will most likely have extended that gap to four points by kick-off, as they host Sassuolo a couple of hours before the Derby. The momentum is with the Giallorossi though and they will be confident of beating this below par Lazio side.

Simone Inzaghi’s men have struggled since the winter break, winning just three of their 10 matches in all competitions and being dumped out of the Europa League by Sevilla. Last weekend’s game against Udinese was postponed, but Lazio did play on Tuesday night, in their goalless Coppa Italia semi-final first leg with Milan. Their recent struggles in front of goal continued there, as they had numerous chances to score, but could not make it count.

In general, Inzaghi’s men have found it difficult to punish opponents. They have managed just 10 goals in their 10 competitive games since the Winter break and four of those came against Serie C side Novara in the Coppa Italia.

Injuries are not helping their cause and it looks as though the changes are affecting their rhythm. Ciro Immobile has just one league goal since December and when he is not on form, neither are Lazio.

Looking a bit more closely at this fixture, Roma have the upper hand in recent years. Roma have won the Derby Della Capitale on three of the last five occasions and Lazio grabbed just six victories in the last 23 meetings. In the last six years, Lazio have managed just three wins against their rivals and only once in the last 10 matches has the game ended in a draw.

With all that being said, Roma probably go into the game as favourites. They are scoring plenty of goals of late and with the front three of Edin Dzeko, Stephan El Shaarawy and one of Italian football’s brightest talents, Nicolò Zaniolo, they possess a real threat going forward and Lazio will need to be very wary.

Lazio resisted the urge to scrap their three-man defence against Milan even during an injury crisis, so considering the pace that Roma have down the flanks, it could be a risky tactic. Wallace, Jordan Lukaku and Valon Berisha are still out of action, with Luiz Felipe and Bastos not 100 percent fit.

Since 1994-95, the Rome Derby has seen more red cards than any other Serie A fixture with 33 (20 for Lazio players, 13 for Roma).

Torino vs Chievo

Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, Turin

Sunday, 03-03-2019 @2:30pm

Torino are unbeaten in five and are marching into the European places, so are confident of full points as they host rock bottom Chievo.

The Granata have made history by keeping a clean sheet in their last five games, an achievement that hasn’t happened since 1985. Beating along the way other European contenders like Inter and Atalanta, they sit in sixth place with 38 points, only seven points off Milan in the Champions League spots.

The Flying Donkeys are just ordinary donkeys this season. Their campaign started catastrophically when they were handed their three-point deduction and it hasn’t changed since. With multiple coaching changes and one win all season, they sit in last place with 10 points, 11 adrift of safety.

At times, Walter Mazzarri has been criticized for being too defensive, but as long as the results keep on coming, no Torino fan would ever complain. Their next three fixtures are against the bottom three and with 9 points up for grabs, this will be a test of the squad’s maturity. Captain Andrea Belotti is struggling for goals and this is the perfect opportunity to bounce back against weaker defences. Koffi Djidji will be a game time decision after recovering from injury.

Domenico Di Carlo tried firing up his troops by stating that they need to risk everything in order to achieve safety, but with one point in their last three games, time is against them. Their next two rounds are against Milan and Atalanta, who are in the middle of the European battle, and it will be even harder to take points off them. Captain Sergio Pellissier, Nicolas Frey, Nenad Tomovic and Andrea Seculin are all out for several more weeks yet.

If Chievo fail to find the net for a fourth round in a row, it’ll be their worst Serie A scoreless streak since May 2016. However, Torino could match their all-time top flight record of six straight clean sheets, set between the 1984-85 and 1985-86 campaigns.

Udinese vs Bologna

Stadio Dacia Arena, Udine

Sunday, 03-03-2019 @5:00pm

Udinese and Bologna did not expect to be in a relegation dogfight with 25 rounds played, but this is something of a six-pointer.

The Friulani had the weekend off, as their match with Lazio was postponed due to the packed fixture list, which included the Stadio Olimpico being used for Italy’s international rugby clash with Ireland. That also means the gap from the drop zone is currently only four points and a defeat would put huge pressure on Davide Nicola’s shoulders.

Udinese’s last game was also at home with a controversial win over Chievo courtesy of a penalty, while the Rossoblu must be bitterly disappointed not to have picked up any points versus Juventus last round, having missed several chances.

Both clubs have had managerial changes this season, with Udinese having started with Julio Velazquez before hiring Nicola in mid-November, while Bologna hired Pippo Inzaghi, but his reign only lasted seven months, replacing the former striker with Mihajlovic for his second stint at the Renato Dall’Ara. They have shown some improvements since making the changes, but need more if they are both to avoid the drop.

Expect a tight, tactical and cagey affair on Sunday afternoon, as despite both clubs playing a slightly more open style in recent games, there is just too much at stake with only 13 rounds left.

Udinese welcome back Sebastien De Maio from suspension to face his former club, but Seko Fofana sits out a ban with Valon Behrami, Samir, Antonin Barak and Emmanuel Badu still injured.

Erick Pulgar is suspended for Bologna, who also miss Mattia Destro and Federico Mattiello due to fitness problems. Rodrigo Palacio is back in the starting XI and Federico Santander has shaken off a knock.

The last three times the clubs have played in the month of March, Udinese have not won, with Bologna running out winners twice and one game ending in a draw.

Genoa vs Frosinone

Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris, Genoa

Sunday, 03-03-2019 @5:00pm

Genoa will be looking to continue their good form as they host relegation candidates Frosinone.

Despite losing their Polish striker Krzysztof Piatek to Milan, Genoa have been on a bit of a resurgence of late. They are unbeaten in the five games and it’s their best run of Serie A form since nine in December 2014.

The reinforcement of Antonio Sanabria from Real Betis has been a positive addition for the Grifone, as he has started all five games for his new side, scoring three goals.

Genoa will be without Luca Mazzitelli, Andrea Favilli, Gianluca Lapadula and Stefano Sturaro, who are all still recovering from minor injuries. Oscar Hiljemark is also sidelined, and is not expected to return until next season.

It remains to be seen how Cesare Prandelli will line up organise his starters, but Genoa have been using a 4-3-1-2 formation at home as of late. It is likely that he will continue to do so, with Daniel Bessa in the trequartista role.

Last weekend’s stalemate against bottom of the table Chievo was a disappointment, but a return to their home ground should help Genoa get the three points.

Frosinone are coming off a tough stoppage-time home loss to Roma. Edin Dzeko compounded the misery onto the 19th-placed side with a 95th-minute winner, despite Frosinone being largely the better side that day.

Coach Marco Baroni will likely use his favored 3-5-2 formation once again, with Raffaele Maiello slotting in for Federico Viviano in midfield.

Injuries have hampered Frosinone all season and they will have to make do without Federico Dionisi and Paolo Ghiglione, who is on loan from Genoa, with Lorenzo Ariaudo, Stefan Simic and Luca Paganini needing fitness tests.

Genoa are favored to win this match, but Frosinone have had success at the Luigi Ferraris before this season – they defeated Sampdoria there earlier this month. They’ll have to rely on forwards Camillo Ciano and Daniel Ciofani in order to get the three points.

Frosinone have never defeated Genoa in all of their five previous meetings, managing only one point.

SPAL vs Sampdoria

Stadio Paolo Mazza, Ferrara

Sunday, 03-03-2019 @5pm

SPAL should have Coach Leonardo Semplici back on the bench as they host a Sampdoria side who lost their momentum lately.

Semplici is expected to return to the touchline after he was released from hospital this week following emergency surgery to remove an intestinal blockage. This left his assistant Andrea Consumi in charge for the 1-1 draw against Sassuolo. The Biancazzurri find themselves in 15th place following only one win in their last six and also failing to claim a victory in their last 10 home games.

Meanwhile visitors Sampdoria will be without suspended Albin Ekdal, who is expected to be replaced by 20-year-old Ronaldo Vieira. The away side have been in inconsistent form of late, shaking off a run of three straight defeats with an unconvincing 1-0 result against Cagliari. The Blucerchiati lie only two points behind sixth-placed Torino, so they still have realistic hopes of finishing in a Europa League spot if they can get back on track.

These teams have played each other three times in Serie A with Sampdoria winning two, but interestingly Sampdoria have beaten SPAL twice this season, with both league and Coppa Italia fixtures ending 2-1. Previous meetings between these sides have always resulted in the home side claiming three points, however SPAL’s poor domestic form this season could see a change to this trend.

SPAL were victorious in this meeting at Stadio Paolo Mazza last season, but Sampdoria were down to 10 men for over an hour after Gianluca Caprari’s dismissal, eventually leading to a 3-1 loss to the Blucerchiati.

Caprari and Gaston Ramirez remain on the treatment table, so Riccardo Saponara must once again take the trequartista role. Manolo Gabbiadini is the slight favourite to start upfront rather than Gregoire Defrel.

Manuel Lazzari is the only SPAL absentee, but anyone who has seen the Ferrara outfit play will know how big a loss that is to their attacking potential.

This season both teams share similarities, in that almost half of their team goals have been scored by one man. Andrea Petagna is solely responsible for 10 SPAL goals and Fabio Quagliarella has netted 17 times, contributing towards 46% and 41% of team goals respectively. Therefore it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one or both on the scoresheet this Sunday.

SPAL have failed to win in their last 10 home games, but Samp lost their last two away fixtures on the bounce.

Atalanta vs Fiorentina

Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, Bergamo

Sunday, 03-03-2019 @8pm

Atalanta and Fiorentina played out a spectacular 3-3 Coppa Italia semi-final in Florence on Wednesday and we’re treated to another showdown for Europe straight away. Despite leading 2-0 and then 3-2, the Orobici extended their winless streak in Florence to over 26 years.  It was on January 3, 1993 when La Dea last beat Fiorentina at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in any competition. On that day, an already-grizzled Marcello Lippi was on the Atalanta bench, and Gabriel Batistuta led Fiorentina’s attack.

But as league action returns this weekend, it will be Fiorentina who will be traveling to Atalanta’s stronghold in Bergamo, the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, a stadium from where even the likes of Inter and Juventus have returned humiliated this season. Yet the Viola are unbeaten here too since April 2012, emerging with four wins and two draws in all competition. Fiorentina are currently ninth, only two points behind Atalanta, and so they have a chance to leapfrog a team that has finished ahead of them for the last two seasons. Both sides are vying for a place at least in the Europa League, and until recently Atalanta were even flirting with the Champions League spots, but two consecutive defeats, including a psychologically damaging one to Milan at home, has seen them plummet to eighth, a testament to how tightly packed the Serie A table is currently.

Atalanta will be brimming with confidence, however, after this week’s enterprising draw at the Stadio Artemio Franchi. That result coupled with their formidable record at home—Milan defeat notwithstanding—may give them a slight edge over an opponent that has garnered a reputation for refusing to lose.

Stefano Pioli’s Viola are undefeated in 10 games in all competitions, and their last two 3-3 draws in particular have typified their resilience. Both against Inter last Sunday and Atalanta midweek they managed to wipe out two-goal deficits, even if it took a hugely controversial injury-time penalty against the Nerazzurri to do so.

In both games, Luis Muriel, the Colombian forward on loan from Sevilla, was decisive, scoring a wickedly swerving free-kick against Inter to make it 3-2 and the second equalizer against Atalanta. Pioli will have to decide, then, whether to start Muriel or Giovanni Simeone in attack alongside the regularly featuring pair of Federico Chiesa and Gerson. Kevin Mirallas is still out injured with defender German Pezzella.

Gian Piero Gasperini will be thrilled that Papu Gomez has returned from injury. Without the Argentinian’s nimble feet up front, the Atalanta machine had started to sputter. Gomez came off in the 59th minute of Atalanta’s defeat to Milan with a hip injury, and did not feature at all in his team’s spiritless 2-0 loss away to Torino last Saturday.

On Wednesday against Fiorentina, however, he was a galvanizing force, scoring Atalanta’s first goal after the irrepressible Josip Ilicic (formerly of Fiorentina) flew down the field and found him in the penalty area. With Gomez’s return, Gasperini will likely revert to his tried and trusted 3-4-1-2 shape, deploying Gomez slightly behind Ilicic and Duvan Zapata in attack.

Apart from the talk of geometry of formations and the pursuit of European places, the match between Atalanta and Fiorentina also strikes a more sombre note.  Sunday will mark a year almost exactly to the day since Fiorentina’s former captain Davide Astori died in his sleep.  He was born in San Giovanni Bianco in Bergamo, a short 25km away from where these two teams will be playing.

Fiorentina are unbeaten in nine Serie A away fixtures, winning three and drawing six, but 10 would be their longest streak since 13 in October 1982.

Napoli vs Juventus

Stadio San Paolo, Naples

Sunday, 03-03-2019 @10:30pm

*Details to follow shortly

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