Serie A gets an early start once again this week as the footballing feast commences on Friday for the second straight round.
Continental action served to whet the calcio appetite midweek as Juventus comfortably advanced to the quarterfinals of the Champions League with another shutout victory over a disheartened Celtic side, whilst Lazio conquered Stuttgart 2-0 on the road in the first leg of the their Europa League tie to firmly plant one foot in the final eight. Inter weren’t so fortunate as their fellow peninsula dwellers as they took the pitch at White Heart Lane to face Tottenham, also in the Europa League, suffering a heavy 3-0 defeat to the Lilywhites highly reminiscent of their November 2010 drubbing in London as reigning title-holders of Europe’s elite competition.
AC Milan and Genoa get the Italian top flight’s twenty-eighth round under way Friday evening at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in a match crucial to the two clubs’ rather polarized ambitions. The Grifone will be keen to return to winning ways in as they continue their march for survival into the campaign’s home stretch, having been derailed last week in falling 3-1 to as resurgent Roma side.
Failure to come away with at least a point against the Rossoneri could see il Vecchio Balordo‘s first division status once again cast into serious doubt, as they could potentially sit just two points above the drop zone if other results were to be unfavorable. Massimiliano Allegri’s men will look to solidify their position amongst the Champions League places, having moved one point clear of fourth place Lazio in the previous week, not having lost in Serie A since 22 December.
The sides have split the last six editions of this fixture at the Marassi evenly down the middle, each winning twice to go along with a 1-1 draw in February 2011, but the Diavolo have emerged victorious in four of their six most recent meetings over all, conceding just two goals in the process.
The match will go ahead without heightened security despite the historically tense relationship between the teams’ ultras groups which saw Rossoblu supporter Vincenzo Spagnolo stabbed to death in January 1995, an incident that led to the banning of travelling followers at the Luigi Ferraris until 2010. In light of this strained rapport, Genoa mayor Marco Doria has called for the occasion to be “a festival of sport” in hopes of encouraging goodwill ahead of the encounter.
Roma visit the Stadio Friuli to take on Udinese Saturday night in a match-up that has provided great entertainment in recent memory. The Giallorossi will look to avenge a demoralizing loss earlier this year in their own friendly confines in which they squandered a 2-0 lead to be dispatched via a late Antonio Di Natale penalty, but face an uphill battle against a Zebrette side that is unbeaten in 12 home matches on the bounce.
A victory for Francesco Guidolin’s squad would send them level on 43 points with their rivals on the day, whilst the capital club will look to continue their charge towards the European places with a fourth straight win under caretaker boss Aurelio Andreazzoli.
The Lupi will be without suspended Michael Bradley and the hobbled Miralem Pjanic, but should be buoyed by the sparkling form of legendary captain Francesco Totti, who moved into joint second place on Serie A’s all-time goalscoring list last week with strike number 225 of his storied career. Er Pupone has notched four goals and four assists in his last six matches, raising his total in each statistical category to 10 on the campaign in defiance of his 36 years of age.
Atalanta welcome Pescara to the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia for Sunday’s lunchtime kickoff between two relegation-threatened sides. The Delfini are comparatively in far worse shape than their competitors however, sitting nine points adrift of the fifteenth place Orobici at the foot of the table with the unseasoned Cristian Bucchi taking over as coach following the dismissal of Cristiano Bergodi.
Delio Rossi’s well-oiled Sampdoria machine will do battle with turmoil-ridden Cagliari at the Is Arenas in the afternoon behind closed doors, a contentious detail which saw the Sardinian club’s entire board of directors resign en masse Wednesday amidst persistent frustration. The Blucerchiati‘s scintillating form in 2013 is tempered by a horrendous historical record with the Isolani, against whom they have triumphed just four times in the squads’ last 23 meetings dating back to 1998.
Ivo Pulga’s men succumbed to defeat at the hands of Bologna last week after going seven matches unbeaten and thus will be further motivated to rediscover their winning mindset, but will be forced to do so without injured captain Daniele Conti. Doria themselves will miss experienced defender Daniele Gastaldello and the inspirational Nenad Krsticic on matching suspensions, but receive a boost in having agreed new contracts with the Serbian midfielder, Pedro Obiang, and Eder midweek.
Elsewhere, Parma and Torino are set to duke it out at the Ennio Tardini for sole possession of eleventh place in a quintessential mid-table matchup, whilst faltering Chievo have the unfortunate pleasure of inviting a vexed giant, Napoli, into their humble abode in Verona.
Siena will pay a visit to the Stadio Renzo Barbera to cross swords with Palermo in a match crucial to each side’s hopes of beating the drop. Defeat for either would essentially ensure damnation to Serie B for next season, so the two clubs are likely to be aggressive in the pursuit of securing full points. Robur revelation Innocent Emeghara could be key to deciding the encounter, as he will be looking to return to the score sheet after being held without a goal for two matches after enjoying a flying start to life in Serie A.
Catania are eager to resume their dream hunt for European football after falling to a heartbreaking loss against Inter in round 27, but face an uphill battle against leaders Juventus at the Turin outfit’s eponymous stadium. The Bianconeri are sure to be brimming with confidence after easing into the final eight of the Champions League Wednesday, completing their mastery over Scottish titans Celtic with a final aggregate score of 5-0.
Coach Antonio Conte illustrated his side’s ultimate desire to win with a gastronomic metaphor this week, telling the media that “we always have to be hungry because we’ve just started eating”. Rolando Maran’s disciplined players will certainly not serve themselves up marinated and grilled to the Scudetto holders, and will find an extra incentive in the desire to avenge a controversial loss to the Old Lady earlier this campaign at the Stadio Massimino.
The Elefanti have not beaten Juventus on the road since 2009 at the Stadio Olimpico di Torino, followed by two losses and a draw in Turin between Serie A and the Coppa Italia. Conte will not have Arturo Vidal at his disposal as the Chilean serves a suspension, whilst Catania recover Nicola Legrottaglie from the same fate and have almost their full squad available.
Lazio and Fiorentina come together on Sunday afternoon at the Stadio Olimpico as they vie for the third and final Champions League place. The Aquile will be in good spirits after scalping Stuttgart in Germany in the Europa League, yet will in turn be fatigued whilst they confront their dubious domestic form of late against Vincenzo Montella’s seemingly bipolar side. The Viola are winless in their last five trips to Rome to face the Biancocelesti, not having claimed three points in this fixture since 2007, and have dropped four straight away matches in Serie A at present.
Each club will be without a mainstay in midfield, as Antonio Candreva and Alberto Aquilani are both suspended, but counterpart playmakers Hernanes and David Pizarro should feature as the architects in the center of the park. A victory for either squad would have massive implications at the top of the table, with the winner potentially able to lay claim to third place. Conversely, a loss would leave Fiorentina, and quite possibly Lazio, on the outside looking in with respect to the chase for European football.
Capping off the weekend is Bologna’s encounter with Inter at the San Siro, a match-up quite favorable for the Nerazzurri based on the recent past, but quite dangerous under present circumstances. Italy international Alessandro Diamanti has been in blistering form for the Rossoblu for nearly two months now, and could pose a serious threat to a Beneamata side that saw its confidence comprehensively stripped away in a toothless performance against Tottenham on Thursday.
Andrea Stramaccioni continues to face an injury crisis that has now pervaded all thirds of the pitch, and will also have to contend with the suspension of savior between the sticks Samir Handanovic. The Milanese giants have beaten Bologna in 11 of their last 13 contests, whilst the Emilia-Romagna based outfit have tasted defeat in nine of their last 11 on the road. Indicators from previous meetings thus seem to favor the hosts, but Inter’s calamitous state at the moment mixed with a strong Rossoblu run in 2013 could produce the perfect conditions for an upset.