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Football

Derby d’Italia takes center stage as Serie A rolls into game-week 34

Bologna vs Empoli

Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, Bologna

Saturday, 27-04-2019 @4pm

This could be the decisive match in the battle to avoid relegation, as Bologna have surged away, leaving Empoli in the bottom three.

Chievo are already relegated and Frosinone virtually there with them, so there is only one place left on the train to Serie B this summer and five rounds to go. Empoli are four points adrift of Udinese and five behind Bologna and Genoa, so it’ll take something truly impressive to get them out of that hole.

That makes this six-pointer a must-win and it’s extremely difficult, especially as Bologna have won their last four games at the Stadio Dall’Ara and look a completely different team under Sinisa Mihajlovic. The Rossoblu are fresh from a 3-0 hammering of Sampdoria that took them five points clear of the drop zone. Even the treatment table has emptied out, although Federico Santander seems set for the bench anyway, as Rodrigo Palacio has found a new lease of life in the front three with Nicola Sansone and Riccardo Orsolini.

Empoli are getting desperate and the 4-2 home defeat to SPAL was a massive blow. Defeat here could well doom them to the drop just a year after their promotion from Serie B, as the change of management mid-season to Beppe Iachini only to recall Aurelio Andreazzoli wasted precious time and resources.

To make matters worse, they enter this crunch match with a huge injury list, including Matias Silvestre, Diego Farias, Luca Antonelli, Antonino La Gumina, Domenico Maietta, Marko Pajac and Kevin Diks. Francesco Caputo could be partnered by Dimitri Oberlin, Salih Ucan or Levan Mchedlidze, but none of them fill the fans with confidence.

Nobody has picked up more points than Bologna over the last seven Serie A rounds – 16.

Roma vs Cagliari

Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Saturday, 27-04-2019 @7pm

Roma are somehow still in the race for a Champions League spot, but miss key players as they host a Cagliari side practically safe from relegation.

Their own players Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov dubbed it “a miracle” that they are in contention despite everything that has happened over the last few months, but the fact remains Roma are just one point behind Milan and Atalanta, who currently share fourth place. The 1-1 draw away to Inter was a decent result and extended their unbeaten run to four rounds, as Claudio Ranieri seems to have settled into his role.

Cagliari are not to be taken for granted, though, as they can now play relatively free of pressure after climbing to 40 points, traditionally the level needed to secure Serie A safety. They picked up seven points in the last three rounds, including a 1-1 draw away to Europe-chasing Torino.

Ranieri is forced to reshuffle yet again, as both Bryan Cristante and Nicolò Zaniolo are suspended, with Kostas Manolas fighting to be fit. Davide Santon, Rick Karsdorp and Daniele De Rossi are still on the treatment table. It means a possible revival of the experiment using Patrik Schick in the same line-up as Edin Dzeko, this time as a trequartista with Cengiz Under and Stephan El Shaarawy. Lorenzo Pellegrini can drop into midfield with Steven Nzonzi.

Cagliari have Paolo Faragò suspended, with Lucas Castro and Fabrizio Cacciatore continuing their injury lay-offs. Nicolò Barella returns from his ban in the trequartista role behind Leonardo Pavoletti and Joao Pedro. It remains to be seen if Roma-owned full-back Luca Pellegrini will be ready to face his hometown club, but he impressed a great deal since his loan move to Sardinia.

Considering how these two teams play, expect a lot of crosses into the two boxes for the heads of Dzeko and Pavoletti. Cagliari have scored more headers than any other side in Serie A this season – 14 – including five of their last eight goals.

Cagliari have not beaten Roma since a 4-2 thriller at the Olimpico in February 2013, managing three draws from nine meetings, home and away. They haven’t even scored in their last four trips to Rome.

Inter Milan vs Juventus

Stadio Guiseppe Meazza, Milan

Saturday, 27-04-2019 @9:30pm

Luciano Spalletti’s side host the champions Juventus on Saturday evening in the Derby d’Italia with Inter hoping to lay claim to third place.

The home side are currently five points ahead of city rivals Milan in third, and could still catch Napoli who are only six points ahead in second.

The Nerazzurri come into this one after dropping points at home to Roma last week and will be looking for a response.

Lautaro Martinez started against the Giallorossi, but Spalletti could opt for the more experienced option in Mauro Icardi. However, don’t rule out a repeat pick after Inter ultras again slammed Icardi this week.

As for Juventus, they secured their eighth consecutive Scudetto following their 2-1 victory over Vincenzo Montella’s Fiorentina, after previously failing to do so away to SPAL.

It may have been the time for them to take their foot off the pedal this weekend, but following their exit from the Champions League, they should be raring to go.

Milan Skriniar and Danilo D’Ambrosio are both just one yellow card away from suspension and will have to be careful, especially with their Champions League place not yet secured. Marcelo Brozovic should return to midfield after his muscular injury.

April has been a torrid month for the Old Lady injury-wise, with Mario Mandzukic, Mattia Perin, Martin Caceres, Sami Khedira, Giorgio Chiellini and Paulo Dybala all being sidelined this month.

Whether Juventus become complacent this weekend or not, their impressive form of 29 victories from 34 rounds can’t be sniffed at.

Although we should expect goals as Inter have seen over two goals in their last three home matches against Juventus in all competitions. The Nerazzurri have also managed only one point in their last four meetings with Juve, home and away.

A win for the home side would all but confirm their place in the Champions League next season. Juventus have already secured the title and can play for pride, which is never lacking in the Derby d’Italia.

Inter scored two goals in their last two home games against Juventus, but haven’t managed three of these fixtures in a row with multiple strikes since 1954.

Frosinone vs Napoli

Stadio Benito Stirpe, Frosinone

Sunday, 28-04-2019 @1:30pm

Both sets of fans are now just waiting for the season to be over, as Frosinone need a miracle to avoid relegation, while Napoli settle for second place.

There was a brief flurry of hope with back-to-back victories over Parma and Fiorentina, but that quickly petered out into defeats against Inter and Cagliari.

The Canarini now sit 10 points adrift of safety with only five rounds left and are preparing to join Chievo in Serie B next season.

To make matters worse, their star striker Camillo Ciano is suspended, so Andrea Pinamonti will be partnered by either Marcello Trotta or Daniel Ciofani.

Federico Viviani and Bartosz Salamon are still out injured.

Napoli have been coasting for weeks now and slumped out of the Europa League quarter-finals with two disappointing displays against Arsenal.

Their Serie A form has hardly been better, beating only bottom club Chievo over the last month, losing to both Empoli and Atalanta after a home draw with 10-man Genoa.

Nikola Maksimovic and Amadou Diawara are injured, while the season is over for Vlad Chiriches after yet another shoulder injury, so Sebastiano Luperto gets to gain some experience at centre-back. Lorenzo Insigne is still out of sorts and should again be dropped in favour of Dries Mertens and Arkadiusz Milik.

Napoli have both scored and conceded in each of their last eight Serie A games.

Frosinone and Chievo are currently on track to make Serie A history with one home win each. Only once before in the era of three points for a victory has a team managed fewer than two home victories and that was Reggiana in 1996-97 with zero.

Napoli have won all three previous Serie A meetings with Frosinone, home and away, scoring 13 goals and conceding only one.

SPAL vs Genoa

Stadio Paolo Mazza, Ferrara

Sunday, 28-04-2019 @4pm

SPAL could celebrate Serie A safety this weekend with a win, but Genoa risk sliding right back down into the danger zone.

In their second consecutive season in Serie A, SPAL’s objective is survival. With five games to play and nine points clear of Empoli and relegation, that goal is very much within reach, and Leonardo Semplici is likely happy with his team’s performance. Big teams Juventus, Lazio and Roma all succumbed to the Ferrara outfit within the last six games. Barring a loss to Cagliari, also Empoli and Frosinone have been seen off in this impressive string of wins.

Top scorer Andrea Petagna should be starting up front alongside veteran Sergio Floccari. The latter found the winner that would put Juve’s Scudetto celebrations on stand-by and scored another in last weekend’s important 4-2 victory away to Empoli.Semplici has an almost full squad available, only missing Marko Jankovic and Mattia Valoti, but Thiago Cionek is a big miss due to suspension in defence.

Genoa will likely be cheering for Bologna to beat Empoli in Saturday’s thriller. An Empoli win would leave the relegation battle wide open, and add pressure on the Grifone to take points from SPAL – and Genoa don’t always work well under pressure, often coming off as timid and unstable. In the last 10 games, they haven’t managed more than five goals and two wins (against Juventus and Lazio nonetheless). Last week’s home defeat to Torino sparked talk of Cesare Prandelli’s imminent departure, but President Enrico Preziosi has commented that Prandelli still has the trust of the club.

Oscar Hiljemark and Andrea Favilli are both injured for the rest of the season, with Miguel Veloso suspended, so Stefano Sturaro could return if he shakes off his latest injury.

So much depends a lot on the outcome of Bologna-Empoli. SPAL are likely to continue their winning streak. If Empoli win, then Genoa will be forced to attack. Cynics might suggest that both teams will tacitly settle for a draw, but SPAL have the momentum now and want to secure their safety as soon as possible.

SPAL have nine more points and double the victories compared to this stage last season.

Chievo vs Parma

Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi Verona

Sunday, 28-04-2019 @4pm

Chievo are already doomed to Serie B, but showed they’re not going down without a fight, so Parma can’t be complacent.

Last weekend, Chievo gave their fans something to cheer about after recording an improbable 2-1 victory away to Lazio. The win, only their second of the season, would not have any material effect on their survival hopes, but did potentially revamp the fight for Champions League football.

Coach Domenico Di Carlo will look to build on this performance to generate momentum for the remaining five fixtures.

Parma will be playing on the back of a 1-1 draw against Milan, but the Gialloblu will be confident of cementing their place in the top flight with a win, as that’d take them up to 39 points. Captain and leader Bruno Alves scored from a direct free kick in their last encounter and will hope to do same on Sunday.

Chievo have lost four of their last five home games, whilst drawing one. Parma are equally not a particularly impressive side, as they’ve failed to register a win on the road in five matches.

The hosts will be missing Pawel Jaroszynski, Ezequiel Schelotto and Andrea Seculin as a result of injuries. The Ducali are still without Francisco Sierralta, Roberto Inglese, Jonathan Biabiany and Alberto Grassi.

Chievo (six) and Parma (11) have picked up the fewest points in the second half of the season.

Sampdoria vs Lazio

Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris, Genoa

Saturday, 28-04-2019 @7pm

Both Sampdoria and Lazio continue to be wildly unpredictable, but are slipping behind in the final sprint for European places.

The Biancocelesti practically waved goodbye to their hopes of a top four finish after the shock 2-1 home defeat to already-relegated Chievo. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was sent off in that game and is suspended here, along with Luis Alberto, while Valon Berisha, Stefan Radu and Jordan Lukaku are on the treatment table.

A few days later, they earned a 1-0 victory over Milan at San Siro to set up the Coppa Italia Final date with Atalanta on May 15, so their focus could turn towards that aim.

If Sampdoria were to get the win this weekend, they’d put themselves back in contention for a Europa League place, despite a 3-0 hammering to relegation-threatened Bologna.

Both teams have lost three of the last five rounds and have struggled badly in games that ought to be relatively simple. Samp have just three victories in their last six home fixtures, but can count on practically a full squad. Emil Audero was at fault for all three Bologna goals and his confidence could be shaken.

Expect Samp to do most of the pressing, while Lazio move the ball very quickly on the counter and are one of the best teams in Italy at exploiting that tactic, as evidenced by the game-winning goal by Joaquin Correa in the Coppa Italia semi-final.

Lazio have won 10 of their last 14 Serie A encounters with Samp, home and away, losing only once.

Torino vs AC Milan

Stadio Olimpic Grande Torino, Torino

Sunday, 28-04-2019 @9:30pm

Torino go head-to-head with Milan in a match that could decide the race for Champions League football and Gennaro Gattuso’s job.

Toro are in seventh place, but only three points behind Milan and that fourth Champions League spot. Unbeaten in their last five games, Walter Mazzarri has dubbed his team “the surprise of the season” and he’s certainly got a point. They are working quietly under the radar, keeping any pressure or expectations as far away as possible.

Boasting a very solid defensive line and a reference point up front in Andrea Belotti, they are reminiscent of Mazzari’s Napoli side, but with more physical players. Simone Zaza and Daniele Baselli are suspended, Iago Falque still injured, while Koffi Djidji will be a game-time decision. This means Soualiho Meite could be moved into a more advanced role. Lorenzo De Silvestri is hoping to play with the aid of a protective mask after fracturing his nose.

Milan are only still in fourth place due to a superior head-to-head record with Atalanta, but the momentum is sapping away from them fast. They picked up just five points from their last six Serie A rounds and crashed out of the Coppa Italia with a 1-0 semi-final home defeat to Lazio on Wednesday evening.

Many of the Rossoneri faithful feel that the Champions League spot should be within their grasp and if by any chance they miss out, Gattuso will be sacked. The pressure is piling up and the team is expected to perform far better than against Lazio midweek.

Davide Calabria sustained a season-ending fracture during that Coppa clash and joins Jack Bonaventura in the stands. They’ve looked a different team since Lucas Paqueta’s injury and will be desperate to get the Brazilian back on his feet.

Expect a gritty physical game with tension sky high, considering the magnitude of the result.

Milan are unbeaten in Serie A against Torino since November 2001, followed by 11 wins and as many draws, home and away.

Atalanta vs Udinese

Stadio Atleti Azzuri de’Italia, Bergamo

Monday, 29-04-2019 @8pm

*Details to Follow

Fiorentina vs Sassuolo

Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence

Monday, 29-04-2019 @10pm

Fiorentina’s campaign is crawling to a conclusion after their Coppa Italia exit and they sit only two points in front of Sassuolo in Serie A.

Vincenzo Montella’s woes were compounded with Coppa Italia elimination at the hands of Atalanta on Thursday evening, as his return to the Tuscan club is proving more difficult than expected. The winless streak now stretches to nine rounds and they are out of the running for a place in Europe.

The man affectionately known as the little aeroplane in his playing days for his goal scoring celebration is adamant Fiorentina are creating chances, but need to be far more clinical when in front of goal. Against both Juventus and Atalanta over the last week, the Viola took an early lead only to end up losing 2-1.

The Coach will look to deploy a slightly modified formation reminiscent of Stefano Pioli’s tenure after fatigue from their Coppa agony, which means Bryan Dabo should be fresher than Gerson in midfield and Luis Muriel is likely to return in Serie A with a point to prove after his consolation Coppa Italia goal.

Giovanni Simeone, having only played 12 minutes midweek, will likely feature up top also with the trident being completed by Federico Chiesa.

Goalkeeper Pietro Terracciano and long-term absentee Marko Pjaca are unavailable for Fiorentina. As for Sassuolo, the season is over for Giangiacomo Magnani and Marlon, while Manuel Locatelli is suspended. Khouma Babacar battles with Alessandro Matri for a starting spot in the trident attack, flanked by Domenico Berardi and Jeremie Boga.

Last match round’s villain for Sassuolo Pol Lirola will be looking to make amends after his unfortunate own goal against Udinese. Roberto De Zerbi thought the Neroverdi should have closed the game out against Udinese, but had to settle for a point.

When these sides met back in December, it was a 3-3 thriller at the Mapei Stadium with all six goals scored in the final half-hour. Filip Djuricic and Nikola Milenkovic were sent off. However, Sassuolo have lost their last three Serie A trips to Florence.

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