Clash of the Titans

Serie A

Napoli vs Roma

The league leaders will be looking for their 11th consecutive league win when they entertain 5th place Roma on Saturday night.  Many, including myself felt the Partenopei would have faltered by this stage and that Juventus would have already leapfrogged Sarri’s men and been cruising towards yet another Scudetto.

Although they’ve been in fine form and have conceded as little as 15 league goals all season Eusebio Di Francesco’s Roma could prove stubborn opponents.  The Giallorossi have suffered two recent defeats at the hands of Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk but they’ll need to put that disappointment to one side as they continue to pursue a Champions League place.

The visitors suffered a huge blow midweek when Lorenzo Pellegrini was hit by a thigh injury.  The Italian midfielder would have likely started the game and so the manager will be forced to reshuffle his pack in time for the big game.

Roma will also be without Maxime Gonalons and full back Rick Karsdorp who have both been ruled out through injury.  Apart from long term absentee Faouzi Ghoulam, Napoli are without any new injury concerns of their own.

Both sides will be desperate for the three points, for Napoli its a case of holding off Juventus’ challenge whereas Roma must keep hot on the heels of Inter in 4th place.

The Giallorossi have a new hero in Cengiz Under, the 20 year old has bagged 5 goals in his last 5 matches and will be key if his side are to leave the San Paolo with anything at all.  He’s one to keep an eye on in the future and the hype around him has certainly been justified so far.

Lazio vs Juventus

With both sides form stuttering of late this is an extremely difficult game to call.  Lazio were knocked out of the Coppa Italia on penalties by Milan during the week and given they’ve been playing two games per week I’m almost certain fatigue will play a part at the Olimpico on Saturday.

Since their Champions League draw with Spurs the Old Lady’s performances have been notably poor.  Allegri’s side managed to scrape through their Coppa Italia semi final versus Atalanta with the goal coming from a controversial spot kick, but this is a results business and they won’t be all that fussed.

It must be said, despite their form being far from inspiring Juventus have managed to keep up with the league leaders Napoli and thats the reason so many still have them down as title favourites.  Their ability to grind out results perhaps doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.

Juve will be without Juan Cuadrado and Federico Bernardeschi through injury but welcome back Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala.  Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi should now be fully fit and able to partner Miralem Panic in the middle of the park.  However, there is still a question mark over Mattia De Sciglio’s availability.

Ciro Immobile is the one to watch and given his excellent record versus Juventus i wouldn’t be surprised if he had huge say in Saturday’s result.

Milan vs Inter

Inter started the campaign with such great promise but have fallen away disappointingly whereas Milan’s pattern has been the polar opposite.  They started the season poorly but since Gennaro Gattuso took the reins back in November he’s been able to steady what was clearly a sinking ship.

The Derby Della Madonnina is my favourite fixture in Italian football and the atmosphere is always one of spectacular colour and passion.  Inter are clinging onto their Champions League position with Roma hot on their heels and despite their disastrous start Milan will feel they still have an outside chance of sneaking into contention.

Gattuso’s motivational style seems to have worked and despite him by his own admission not being the greatest of coaches he’s managed to get the team clicking.  Inter’s pre season goal of qualifying for Europe’s elite competition is still within sight and so there is certainly no crisis at the club despite some media outlets feeling the need to sensationalise their recent run of poor form.

Inter welcome back talisman Mauro Icardi, just in time for the derby and thats likely to mean Eder will return to the bench.

The one to keep your eye on this Sunday is a young man from Como, Patrick Cutrone.  The striker has been in excellent form, netting five goals in his last eight and the fact he grew up a Milan fan means he’s already secured his place in the hearts of the Ultra’s.

I expect a tight affair and if I was a betting man I’d go for the 1-1 draw.

Other fixtures:

Atalanta vs Sampdoria, Benevento vs Verona, Chievo vs Sassuolo, Genoa vs Cagliari, Spal vs Bologna, Torino vs Crotone & Udinese vs Fiorentina.