It’s set to be another season-defining week in Serie A, as the title race could all but come to a close, with the ‘Bianconeri’ hoping to put a sixth-successive Scudetto ever-closer to what’s proving to be a mammoth reach established by Max Allegri’s side.
The 49-year-old will be aiming to kick-off his second century of games in charge with a home victory over Sicilian strugglers Palermo, whose plight seems destined to worsen. The two teams’ face-off on Friday night at the Juventus Stadium, where the home side can take further edge in what’s already seeming a destined success, and go 10 points clear for at least 42 hours.
Their improbable home record will also be evident in their stylistic confidence as well as the ruthless levels in the final third, the league leaders have won 28 consecutive Serie A home matches, a record which they set themselves just after the New Year.
Their opponents are in complete contrast however, staring relegation down the barrel for the second time in just four years. Cagliari cult hero Diego Lopez, the fifth managerial instalment by the ‘Aquile’ this campaign, has tasted all fortes of football, drawing with Napoli, beating fellow strugglers Crotone (just their 3rd win of the season), and suffering defeat at the hands of Atalanta.
But they face a completely different challenge in the 32-time champions, knowing the best they can hope for is a rotated opposition as well as rest-bite from the repenting wrath by remaining defensively solid throughout. Worrying discipline issues will also worry them, having sustained 66 bookings and 6 dismissals after just 24 matches. Anything but points is no longer progress at this stage, and with just 14 games left to chase down the current stretch of 8 points between them and 17th place Empoli, Lopez knows he has to orchestrate one of the greatest escapes in recent top-flight history.
The seemingly-perfect fixture for Allegri’s team, and with a Champions League trip to FC Porto next Tuesday, Juventus will set-out to kill the game right from the off and look to rest their core crop of talent where necessary.
Juventus record-signing Gonzalo Higuain has scored 10 goals in his last 9 Serie A matches and is joint-top goal-scorer with 18 strikes, going toe-to-toe with Roma’s Edin Dzeko.
PREDICTION: Juventus 3-0 Palermo
Atalanta have an authentic chance to close the gap between them and the 3rd Champions League place, currently occupied by Maurizio Sarri’s free-firing Napoli. Like Juve, they face a relegation-destined club in the form of Crotone, who can’t be faulted for their inferiority, after making an historic Serie A debut back in August.
The hosts have proven themselves to be genuine contender for the European spots with some blistering performances away at Chievo and Palermo, but they don’t tend to score too many at home, and can boast the mental and physical qualities to grind out tough results. ‘La Dea’ are yet to draw at Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia and have not suffered home humiliation since mid-December.
Crotone are the only Serie A side yet to win away from home this season, and come into this clash off the back of successive home slumps to Juventus and Roma, finding the net just twice in their last 6 away games.
This youthful and resurgent Atalanta side can continue to push without the added strain of European competition, and should Napoli slip-up at any point, they’ll more than certainly capitalise. The team to watch going into the next campaign for sure.
PREDICTION: Atalanta 1-0 Crotone
Saturday evening sees Empoli entertain Lazio in front of their impeccable home faithful at Stadio Carlo Castellani.
The Florence-based outfit find themselves in a somewhat precarious position, despite holding an 8-point margin over the drop-zone, they sit in 17th position and are a real mixed-bag as far as the form guide is concerned (W2, D2, L2, in their last 6).
Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio side are part of the convoy looking to make the customary European places, but like their opponents, they enter this fixture on very mixed form and have won just once away from Stadio Olimpico since early December.
Empoli know they cannot afford to rely on a 37-year-old Massimo Maccarone to do the business for them up-top, in what is undoubtedly a squad full of misfits and a barrage of nationalities that have ultimately failed to gel, yet are still a mile or so ahead of the bottom three, who are in their own suffering category.
The ‘Biancocolesti’ can begin to feel the spark of what is set to be a frenetic end-of season run-in with midfielder Macro Parolo finding his feet in the last away game at Pescara, where he found the net four times after just one goal all season up until that point.
PREDICTION: Empoli 1-1 Lazio
Bologna take on Inter in the early kick-off on Sunday, a fixture which the home side announced would bring the biggest home crowd of the season, selling just over 24,000 tickets.
This, despite three consecutive Serie A defeats for the ‘Rossoblu’, who will want to eradicate the memory of their last home game in which they were torn apart by Napoli, succumbing to a 7-1 loss.
They also squandered what looked to be a 1-0 win at Sampdoria, holding out until an 82nd minute capitulation where they ended up losing the game by a comfortable 3-1 deficit. Roberto Donadoni knows the signs are there and will look to cause an upset against his old playing-day rivals, currently on an 8-match winning run at San Siro and only defeated once (by leaders Juventus), in their last 10.
Inter have also proved they can get results without Mauro Icardi, the Argentine will miss this as he is still serving a two-match ban for kicking a referee earlier this month. They now know the true quality of summer signings Eder and Antonio Candreva, a partnership set to take Serie A by siege?
Bologna have got to stop conceding so many goals, it’s now 11 in their last 6 home games and they can’t afford to sit back and soak it up, they’ve got to start taking it to teams, if they want to progress. Their league position (13th) is incredibly secure and therefore makes them void of any real pressure, and if they continue to take their foot of the gas, they may seriously struggle for motivation next season.
PREDICTION: Bologna 0-2 Inter
Udinese face-off against Sassuolo in a somewhat, ‘meaningless’ mid-table clash in which neither has nothing more left to play for apart from pride until the season’s climax, with just two points separating them.
Sassuolo’s away from is slightly more credible than most, victorious in their last two travels to Pescara and Genoa. The hosts’ Udinese upset a rejuvenated Milan side last time out at the Stadio Friuli, but have scored just three times in their last 6 Serie A games, clearly missing the invaluable presence of ‘Zebrette’ stalwart Antonio Di Natale, now enjoying the perks of retirement.
PREDICTION: Udinese 0-1 Sassuolo
Perilous Pescara host an underwhelming Genoa side at Stadio Adriatico, just 5 days after parting company with Massimo Oddo. The 40-year-old was shown no love on Valentine’s Day despite leading the club to promotion just 9 months ago. And who can blame them? Just one win all season, 9 points in total. It’s looking incredibly bleak for ‘Delfini’, now 13 points adrift from safety.
Oddo’s dismissal along with his assistant manager Donatello Marcello was put down to ‘poor performances’ rather than league position, with Luciano Zauri now taking over as caretaker for the looks set to be the rest of the season. A period of stabilising and rebuilding the club is now most surely underway, to prevent the same mistakes in the future. They haven’t picked up a single point in 2017, and not at all since a 1-1 draw at Palermo on December 22nd.
Genoa have been spearheaded by the young son of Simeone, Giovanni. The Argentine has 11 goals in 23 games for Italy’s eldest footballing son and usually scores in abundances (he has 3 braces this campaign). ‘Il Grifone’ come into this off the back of two defeats and have not picked up a win since mid-December, in what has been a worrying collapse in form for Ivan Juric’s men, who now sit in a lowly 16th place, perhaps the perfect fixture for which they can bounce back?
PREDICTION: Pescara 0-2 Genoa
Another mid-table test sees Sampdoria host Cagliari in what’s a real contrast of form. ‘Sampi’ have won their last three league games, scoring seven times whilst fending off heavyweights AS Roma and AC Milan, as well as terrific late comeback against Bologna last time out. A team full of character and yet underachieving in Serie A nonetheless, failing to mount any serious European challenge.
Cagliari on the other hand, have won just once in their last 6, but have managed four-goal hauls twice in their last four home league fixtures, although, staggeringly are without a clean sheet since September. Top scorer Marco Borriello is still the talismanic figure up-top, having a hand in 32% of the The Sardinian club’s league goals.
PREDICTION: Sampdoria 3-1 Cagliari
A chirpy Chievo host Scudetto-hopefuls Napoli in what could be make or break for the Neapolitan’s’ title chances. Juventus play in advance of both them and AS Roma so they will be under pressure if the Old Lady are to make any sort of slip-up.
Napoli will want to rectify their game after suffering a 3-1 defeat at the Bernabeu to the reigning European champions Real Madrid, claiming what could be a priceless away goal, although may feel disappointed that they didn’t get a better result. Manager Maurizio Sarri took a bit of unique criticism in that he was accused of being too one-dimensional and too stubborn and fixated on his particular way of playing.
That should not be a worry as far as Serie A is concerned though, Napoli are a class above their hosts for this game and the devastating prowess of the front three should be more than enough to cope with Rolando Maran’s side. Away games will always suit them better due to the expansive counter-attacking football they are able to produce. Not many teams have had the front to take it to Napoli, and you’d be wise not too, certainty going by their current form and that especially of Dries Merterns, involved in 20 Serie A goal (16 G, 4A).
Chievo will be hoping an inspired Robert Inglese, off the back of a hat-trick against Sassuolo can be the man to take them to that next level. The 25-year-old has 4 goals since the turn of the year and after a period of impressive loan spells in the lower leagues, he appears ready to take the reigns at the head of this indefinable Chievo revival, one which no one could have seen coming.
PREDICTION: Chievo 0-2 Napoli
Napoli’s other rivals for what looks like second spot is Roma, Luciano Spalletti’s side are currently two points ahead of them and look irrepressible with Edin Dzeko the joint-top scorer in Serie A. The phasing out of Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi has been a successful transition and not damaged the team’s mentality as many first expected. THe Giallorossi have also won their last 14 home league matches, so, like Juventus, are expected a nailed-on victory with Torino claiming just two away wins all season.
But they won’t make it easy for Roma however, despite struggling for clean sheets and drawing four of their last six, they have no trouble finding the back of the net, Andrea Belotti looks assured to make a move away from Grande Torino in the summer, but for now he’s Torino’s hot property and has struck 19 goals in all competitions, the key asset for their game plan. If he plays well, the team plays well.
PREDICTION: Roma 2-0 Torino
The final match of the round and quite possibly the most intriguing, sees an in-form Fiorentina travel to San Siro take on a rocky but resilient Milan side, making purely bold and positive signs under the stewardship of Vincenzo Montella, who is set to face his old club side, where he is held in such high regard.
The Rossoneri are in their worst run of form under the Italian, picking up just one two wins since the turn of the year and have only managed to score more than once on a single occasion. The January signings do appear to be having an impact on the squad as a whole, providing them with great strength in depth. The big call for Montella will be whether or not he hands a start to Carlos Bacca. The Colombian reacted appallingly to being subbed off against Sampdoria and will have to earn back the trust of his manager after a disappointing return of just 8 league this campaign.
Paulo Sousa’s men were taught a lesson by Roma, who drubbed them 4-0 just a couple of weeks ago, but all in all they’ve maintained a strong challenge, owing much of that to their blistering forward line of Kalinic, Bernadeschi and Babacar. An impressive goal return from midfield, Bernadeschi is attracting keen interest from Europe’s top clubs, and Sousa has done well in relenting any added pressure he may have inherited from the interest. They will be wary of their shabby defending away from home though, having conceded 13 in their last 6 travels.
PREDICTION: AC Milan 2-1 Fiorentina