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AC Milan, Lzio clash in battle for fourth as Serie A returns

SPAL vs Juventus

Stadio Paolo Mazza, Ferrera

Saturday, 13-06-2019 @4pm

Juventus need only a point to celebrate their eighth consecutive Serie A title, but SPAL are on the up and desperate to simply stay in the top flight.

The Ferrara-based side currently lie just two points above the drop zone and points are precious at this stage of the season, while Juve can wrap up the Scudetto and focus entirely on ending their 23-year wait for the Champions League. The 1-1 away draw at Ajax on Wednesday evening had positives and negatives, as Blaise Matuidi limped off with an injury and several stars could be rested, while Giorgio Chiellini and Emre Can are out of action.

SPAL’s form lately has been quite impressive, with wins over Europe-chasing Roma and Lazio, plus a precious away victory at fellow relegation candidates Frosinone, and despite losing their last encounter against Cagliari, they will fancy their chances to get something versus the Bianconeri, whose focus will be elsewhere. Juve, for their part, were involved in a highly controversial and feisty clash with arch-rivals Milan, which has seen them grab the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Interestingly, this is a match-up between clubs who have had their Coach in place since 2014, with Max Allegri replacing the highly successful Antonio Conte in June 2014, while Leonardo Semplici joined SPAL at the end of that year. Both tacticians have had enormous success, with Allegri leading Juve to four straight domestic doubles and a couple of Champions League Final appearances. Semplici on the other hand, led SPAL all the way up from Lega Pro to the top flight of Italian football for the first time in 49 years. Curiously, Allegri was on the SPAL bench back in the 2004-05 campaign.

The entertainment value of this match will rest almost entirely on how expansive the home team want to play. Do they play an open game and go for the win and risk possibly being picked off on the counter, or do they play a safe and conservative match, and hope to gain a point? Semplici employs a 3-5-2 system, with a heavy reliance on the width that his wing-backs provide, something SPAL sorely missed last time out versus Cagliari, as they had to do without the suspended Manuel Lazzari.

The visitors for their part have made a habit of changing formations and tactics week in, week out, as they have used 31 different line-ups in their 31 league games this campaign. Allegri is one of the best managers around when it comes to adapting his players to suit the situation, and as this match comes in-between the huge European games with Ajax, it remains to be seen how much thought he will actually put into his tactics for Saturday evening.

If Juve get a point, they’ll set a new all-time Serie A record by securing the title with six rounds to spare.

SPAL have beaten Juve only once in 35 top flight meetings, a 3-1 result in February 1957, along with 12 draws and 22 defeats.

Roma vs Udinese

Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Saturday, 13-06-2019 @7pm

Roma are still in with a chance of Champions League qualification, but host an Udinese side revitalised by Igor Tudor.

The Friulani still sit only four points above the drop zone, yet are on a three-match run without defeat, having beaten Genoa and Empoli and earned a draw with Milan in recent weeks. Those results have eased fears of relegation, but with some tricky-looking games coming up, Tudor will be keen to pick up some points before things get squeaky.

Roma’s season was looking like taking an extreme turn for the worse after back-to-back losses to SPAL and Napoli, but the 2-2 draw with Fiorentina and last weekend’s 1-0 away win over Sampdoria seems to have steadied the ship. They remain one point off fourth placed Milan and well in the race for Champions League football.

Going on the league table alone, you would suggest that Claudio Ranieri’s side are big favourites and the head-to-head record between these two does nothing but further back up that claim.

Udinese’s win against the Giallorossi earlier on this season ended a 10-match winning run for Roma and they went into that game having not lost to them since 2012.

Add to that the fact that Udinese have just one win in Rome since 2005 and have only ever won three times in the capital in the last 20 years, it does nothing to provide much confidence for fans of the traveling side this weekend.

Both sides leak plenty of goals, Roma have conceded 45 in the league so far, which is the most of any side in the top half of the league. Udinese have conceded two fewer than their opponents, but have only managed to score 30 goals, which is the main reason they are where they are.

Edin Dzeko’s lack of goals recently looks to have taken its toll, he was benched at the weekend and given he hasn’t scored in the league since February, it is likely he will be left there on Saturday with goalkeeper Robin Olsen. They haven’t struggled in his drought, scoring relatively freely and Udinese will have their hands full with the likes of Justin Kluivert, Nicolò Zaniolo, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Patrik Schick.

There are full-back problems, with Aleksandar Kolarov suspended, Rick Karsdorp and Davide Santon injured, so Alessandro Florenzi must be rushed back from his lay-off with Juan Jesus on the left.

Marvin Zeegelaar is suspended for Udinese after his foolish red card, with Valon Behrami, Antonin Barak and Bram Nuytinck injured.

Udinese will know that Roma are less than assured at the back and, given they are in a spot of good form of late and how desperate Roma will be for a win, this could be a challenging game for Ranieri’s men.

Udinese’s 1-0 win back in November ended a 10-match winning run for Roma in this fixture. The Friulani have won just once in Rome since 2005.

AC Milan vs Lazio

Stadio Guiseppe Meazza, Milan

Saturday, 13-06-2019 @9:30pm

Milan host Lazio on Saturday, as the race for the fourth and final Champions League spot is the tightest it has been in years.

Pressure is once again mounting on Milan, as Gennaro Gattuso faces a tough, uphill battle to remain on the bench next season. Rino’s men have scraped just one point, against relegation-threatened Udinese, in the last four rounds. They have managed to remain in fourth place thanks to a superior head-to-head record with Atalanta, however their rivals for the position have gained some much-needed ground, with Roma, Torino and Lazio hot on their heels.

They must win this weekend to gain a stronger grip on fourth place, as Lazio also have a game in hand. Last week, the Rossoneri were again defeated somewhat controversially by Juventus, a harsh 2-1 loss where they saw a penalty not given following Alex Sandro’s handball.

Gattuso’s injury list is still a nuisance with Andrea Conti, Giacomo Bonaventura and Lucas Paqueta still unavailable for their side. However, they are hoping that Gigio Donnarumma will return ahead of schedule for the match, as he will be a much-needed inclusion in goal for the hosts.

Meanwhile, Lazio have blown two great chances inside the past 10 days to move into Milan’s fourth spot. A 1-0 loss to SPAL followed by a 2-2 home draw with Sassuolo means that they still remain three points behind their opponents. As earlier mentioned, they have a game in hand against Udinese, so this weekend will be the best chance to stake their intentions for a return to Champions League football.

However, Lazio will have to make do without Jordan Lukaku, Valon Berisha and the suspended Milan Badelj.

It is sure to be a free-flowing match between two sides desperately in need of three points. It’s also a warm-up for the second leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final here on April 24, having drawn 0-0 in Rome.

Lazio have managed just 11 draws and 17 defeats since their last Serie A victory at San Siro, 1-0 in September 1989 decided by a Paolo Maldini own goal.

Torino vs Cagliari

Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, Torino

Sunday, 14-04-2019 @1:30pm

Torino are remarkably only three points off the Champions League places, but Andrea Belotti is suspended as they host a Cagliari side almost safe from the threat of relegation.

Walter Mazzarri has certainly made a big impact on the Granata, leading them to the cusp of not just European football, but potentially the top four. This is particularly surprising considering their recent form hasn’t been all that solid, suffering a shock home defeat to Bologna, followed by a 2-1 win over Sampdoria and a couple of stalemates.

The big loss this weekend is hitman Belotti, who sits out a ban, with Iago Falque and youth team starlet Vincenzo Millico suffering from knee injuries. It means the keys of the attack must go to Simone Zaza, who has so far been unable to deliver in the Toro jersey.

Cagliari have probably done enough to create a cushion from the relegation zone, largely thanks to their home record that saw them beat Inter, Fiorentina and SPAL in recent weeks.

Luca Ceppitelli is suspended in defence, with Lucas Castro, Fabrizio Cacciatore and Maxime Leverbe on the treatment table. Filippo Romagna should step in to the back four.

Cagliari have managed just two points from their last eight Serie A meetings with Torino, home and away.

Fiorentina vs Bologna

Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence

Sunday, 14-04-2019 @4pm

Fiorentina make their debut under ‘new’ Coach Vincenzo Montella after Stefano Pioli’s shock resignation, taking on a Bologna side battling to avoid the drop.

The 1-0 home defeat to relegation fodder Frosinone had long-reaching consequences, extending their winless run to seven rounds. Pioli’s resignation on Tuesday morning was followed by the possibly even more surprising news that former Coach Montella will take over until 2021. The 44-year-old will be looking to emulate his previous spell at the Artemio Franchi from 2012-15, following disappointing spells at Milan and Sevilla.

Pioli had appeared to have survived the dreaded vote of no confidence following defeat at home against Frosinone, but then ultimately decided to cut ties instead in a shock twist that hasn’t gone down well with the owners.

La Viola are without Edimilson Fernandes and luckless long-term injury concern Marko Pjaca, but Federico Chiesa, Giovanni Simeone and Luis Muriel should start in the attacking trident supported by Gerson, Jordan Veretout and Marco Benassi in midfield.

Bologna have been reborn under Sinisa Mihajlovic, another former Fiorentina Coach, with four wins in their last five Serie A games.

The Rossoblu will be missing Simone Edera, Filip Helander, Mattia Destro and Federico Mattiello. Riccardo Orsolini, Roberto Soriano and Nicola Sansone should support Rodrigo Palacio, who is expected to get the nod ahead of Federico Santander even after the centre-forward shrugged off a shoulder problem.

Erick Pulgar will be full of confidence, as the Chilean converted two penalties in Monday’s 3-0 win over Chievo and will look to shore up the midfield.

Sinisa Mihajlovic has been critical of Nicola Sansone for not giving enough in recent weeks in both phases and has called for the on-loan Villarreal man to be more daring when in attack.

The Derby dell’Appennino gets its name from the Tosco-Emiliano mountains of the Apennine Mountains which geographically separate the two cities.

Bologna have not beaten Fiorentina in Serie A since 2013, managing only two draws from nine meetings, home and away. That includes six consecutive defeats at the Stadio Franchi, their worst run since seven in 1962.

Sampdoria vs Genoa

Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris, Genoa

Sunday, 14-03-2019 @4pm

Sampdoria hit a speed-bump on their journey for Europa League qualification, and the Genoa Derby won’t make things any easier for the Blucerchiati.

Marco Giampaolo’s side are winless in their last two matches, with losses to Torino and Roma dropping them down a spot to ninth in the table. In their match against Roma, Sampdoria controlled most of the match. Samp fired 18 shots toward the Giallorossi goal, but none made it past Antonio Mirante. It was this inability to finish that came back to haunt Sampdoria, as Daniele De Rossi met Aleksandar Kolarov’s corner to steal the game at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.

This lack of clinical finishing is uncharacteristic of Sampdoria, who have scored an impressive 51 goals in Serie A. Fabio Quagliarella fired blanks in his last three outings, a strange sight for the Italian striker considering his form this season. If Giampaolo’s side want to turn theirfortunes around, they’ll need Quagliarella to quickly get out of his scoring lull.

Genoa seem the more confident side heading into the Derby della Lanterna, with an impressive draw against Napoli at the weekend their latest result. Despite going down to 10 men, then subsequently a goal behind, Cesare Prandelli’s side held out for a precious point at the San Paolo.

Against Napoli, the Rossoblu were bolstered by performances from the likes of Darko Lazovic and Christian Kouame. Lazovic scored the equalizer for Genoa, adding to the impressive night he had at the San Paolo. Kouame used his physical presence to hold the ball up when on the attack, allowing for his teammates to have time to throw men forward.

This Sunday’s Derby della Lanterna will be crucial for both teams, as European qualification on one hand and more of a cushion from the relegation zone on the other are up for grabs. If it’s a draw, this’ll be the first time since 1993-94 that both derbies in a single season were stalemates.

Genoa have failed to win their last five Serie A derbies, losing three. They haven’t gone six editions without a victory since 1994.

Sassuolo vs Parma

MAPEI Stadium, Reggio nell’Emilia

Saturday, 14-04-2019 @4pm

Sassuolo and Parma are relatively comfortable mid-table ahead of this Emilia-Romagna Derby, despite pretty poor 2019 form.

The Neroverdi got themselves out of their rut thanks to four points in the last two games, crushing Chievo 4-0 and coming within minutes of defeating Lazio at the Olimpico. However, the situation for the Ducali is rather more precarious, a run of one point from four rounds leaving them only six points clear of the relegation zone.

If it weren’t for the excellent start to both their seasons, Sassuolo and Parma fans would be considerably more nervous by now. Only rock bottom Chievo have amassed fewer points than Sassuolo (11) and Parma (nine) in 2019.

The visitors have been decimated by injuries and continue to miss their entire front three – Gervinho, Roberto Inglese and Jonathan Biabiany – as well as veteran defender Bruno Alves and midfielder Alberto Grassi. It means Luca Siligardi and Fabio Ceravolo are likely to lead the attack in an adapted 3-5-2 formation.

Sassuolo have a largely fully-fit squad, with only Marlon and Claud Adjapong in doubt.

Sassuolo have scored with 18 different players in Serie A this season, more than any other team.

Chievo vs Napoli

Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi, Verona

Sunay, 14-04-2019 @7pm

Napoli’s season is slipping away from them and failure to beat rock bottom Chievo could hit confidence even more.

The Partenopei are still comfortably in second place, but Juventus could already have celebrated an eighth consecutive Scudetto before this game even kicks off. Carlo Ancelotti also risks crashing out of the Europa League next week after a 2-0 first leg quarter-final defeat to Arsenal.

Their first half performance at the Emirates was probably their worst of the campaign, although the signs had already been there from a dismal run in Serie A with one point from two rounds against Empoli and 10-man Genoa.

Chievo are heading down to Serie B with just one victory all season and have visibly given up with a 3-0 defeat to Bologna on Monday evening.

Coach Domenico Di Carlo will have a tough job motivating his charges, but the players may take delight in giving Napoli a run for their money. The Gialloblu can draw strength from their 1-1 draw against in-form Atalanta, although that feels more like a blip than something to cling to.

If Chievo do not win, then their relegation to Serie B – only the second in their history – will be mathematically sealed.

Mattia Bani is suspended after his red card against Bologna, with Ezequiel Schelotto and Andrea Seculin injured. Riccardo Meggiorini returns to support Mariusz Stepinski.

Napoli have won four of their last five visits to the Stadio Bentegodi, drawing 0-0 in November 2017.

Frosinone vs Inter Milan

Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Sunday, 07-04-2019 @7pm

Frosinone are building surprising momentum for a last-gasp escape bid from relegation, so could prove tough customers for third-placed Inter.

The hosts are currently down in 19th place, a mammoth six points away from Bologna who sit just outside the relegation zone.

Despite the large gap from safety, coming into this one with back-to-back victories in Serie A has given them a fighting chance.

One key factor in this game for Frosinone will be the partnership of Daniel Ciofani and Inter-owned Andrea Pinamonti, who combined last time out against Fiorentina.

As for Inter, they currently occupy third place and their five-point lead over rivals Milan and Atalanta has given the Nerazzurri breathing space.

However, mixed form as of late means they can’t afford to become complacent, especially if Roma and Lazio rediscover their momentum.

Luciano Spalletti’s outfit have only managed one victory since their Derby di Milano triumph and need to get back to winning ways this weekend.

Coming into this one there has been a big injury blow for Inter, as Marcelo Brozovic is sidelined until the end of this month.

However, both Stefan de Vrij and Lautaro Martinez could return to the side after muscle-related injuries, providing a much-needed boost.

Inter have also been strong away from home as of late, with over two goals scored in their last four Serie A away games.

A win for the home side wouldn’t move them out of danger, but could potentially close the gap on Empoli, who face Atalanta on Monday.

An Inter victory would all but secure their Champions League spot for the 2019-20 season, leaving Milan, Atalanta and Roma to fight for the remaining place.

Frosinone have failed to score against Inter in any of their previous three meetings in the league.

Atalanta vs Empoli

Stadio Atleti Azzuri da’Italia, Bergamo

Monday, 15-04-2019 @9:30pm

The battles for the top four and to avoid the bottom three collide on Monday, as every point is precious for Atalanta and Empoli.

With Milan stumbling at a crucial moment, Atalanta have been able to creep up on the Rossoneri and could potentially leapfrog them into fourth spot should they slip up yet again in their crunch clash against Lazio this weekend. Milan have failed to win their last four games, picking up just one point in the process, which is a stark contrast to Gian Piero Gasperini’s side, who are unbeaten during that period thanks to two wins and two draws.

With a tough encounter against second-placed Napoli coming up, La Dea certainly will want to take advantage of Empoli’s less than consistent form to put some major pressure on the Diavolo, as the race for a Champions League berth starts to really heat up.

Atalanta come into this game having picked up a point against Inter. Although they failed to score in that game, they had to make do without key man Duvan Zapata due to a ban, which naturally left a massive hole up front. The Colombian, who has had a brilliant season so far, is due to make his return for the hosts and resume targeting the Capocannoniere title.

Meanwhile, visitors Empoli boosted their survival hopes with a shock 2-1 win over Napoli, but then were dealt a major setback as they ended up losing 3-2 to Udinese last weekend. The Azzurri have alternated between a win and a loss over their last five games, beating fellow relegation candidates Frosinone along the way, but losing to Roma and Juventus.

Interestingly, all of their defeats – and victories – have been by a difference of just one goal, so could this clash with Atalanta be an equally close affair? Bologna are still within their reach, but the Rossoblu have been on a kick lately, winning four of their last five games, and will be determined not to give up their grip on safety without a fight.

Empoli have beaten Atalanta only once in their last nine Serie A meetings, and that was back in November, losing five and drawing three.

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