Italian Serie A’s Games of the Week: Champions League’s Calling and the Relegation Battle Finally Heats Up

Serie A

It is the time of the year where a fixture can confirm the success or failure of an individual team’s season. This is the case for Lazio, Napoli, Pescara and Empoli, as these squads go head to head to decide the last spot for next year’s Champions League and Survival in Serie A. Lazio, who came from behind to win against Sassuolo last weekend, host an in-form Napoli, who blunted Juventus’ march to the Scudetto with a masterclass attacking performance. Pescara, who gained a well-deserved point against a lethargic Milan, travels to face Empoli in a game that can reopen the relegation battle. Juventus, who will host Chievo, play Saturday afternoon in a game that will most likely see a rotated squad due to their Champions League quarter-final first leg against Barcelona. Atalanta will look to take advantage of Inter and Milan’s stumbles last weekend and extend their gap in the race for the final European spot for next year’s competition against Sassuolo.

Lazio versus Napoli

Game Venue: Stadio Olimpico – Rome, Italy

Date and Time: April 9th, 2017, 2:45pm EST (7:45pm GMT)

Lazio are flying high after their midweek 4-3 aggregate win against their local rivals Roma. They face off against Napoli, who played well to secure a point and even deserved all three points against Juventus. Lazio lined up in a 3-5-2 formation against Roma with Felipe Anderson and Ciro Immobile upfront. Their second goal against Roma is a good example of Lazio play on the counter attack against Napoli. A chip through-ball was sent over the top of Roma’s defence at midfield which sent Immobile clear on goal to make it 2-1 Lazio at the time. Napoli will set up in their 4-3-3 formation to press high in the opponent’s half and look to win back possession high up the field to give the attacking trident of Insigne-Mertens-Callejon a short field to create scoring chances. If Lazio win this game, they close the gap for the last Champions League spot to one point. If Napoli wins or draws, they essentially wrap up this final Champions League spot and will look to focus on securing second place and direct qualification to the Champions League group stage from Roma.

Possible Lazio XI (3-5-2): Strakosha; Radu, Hoedt, Wallace; Basta, Milinkovic-Savic, Biglia, Parolo, J. Lukaku; Anderson, Immobile

Possible Napoli XI (4-3-3): Reina; Hysaj, Koulibaly, Albiol, Ghoulam; Allan, Hamsik, Zielinski; Callejon, Mertens, Insigne

Prediction: Napoli will attack, while Lazio will seek to counter-attack. This means both teams will score and that the game will finish in a draw.

Empoli versus Pescara

Game Venue: Stadio Carlo Castellani – Empoli, Italy

Date and Time: April 8th, 2017 – 9:00am EST (2:00pm GMT)

Following the shock win by Crotone and the hard-fought draw by Pescara, the relegation battle has suddenly been reignited out of nowhere. Pescara will look to attack from the start with Zdenek Zeman’s favoured 4-3-3 formation with the attacking trident of Caprari-Cerri-Benali. They will press hard and high because Empoli does not pass the ball well, due to their slow tempo emanating from their midfield. Empoli will sit back and play on the counter-attack to absorb the pressure from the Pescara’s front three. They usually lineup in a 4-3-1-2 formation, with ex-Napoli midfielder Omar El Kaddouri behind the usual pairing of Massimo Maccarone and Manuel Pucciarelli. This will be Pescara’s last chance to build any momentum for survival against an Empoli side that has lost seven straight. This game is just as important for Empoli because a win will essentially secure survival for next season.

Possible Empoli XI (4-3-1-2): Skorupski; Laurini, Veseli, Barba, Pasqual; Krunic, Buchel, Croce, El Kaddouri, Maccarone, Pucciarelli

Possible Pescara XI (4-3-3): Fiorillo; Biraghi, Bovo, Campagnaro, Zampano; Muntari, Verre, Memushaj; Caprari, Cerri, Benali

Prediction: Pescara have to be considered the favourites for this game because they are a better attacking side and more organized than Empoli. 3-0 Pescara at the final whistle.

Juventus versus Chievo

Game Venue: Juventus Stadium – Turin, Italy

Date and Time: April 8th, 2017 – 2:45pm EST (7:45pm GMT)

Juventus will look to rebound from two straight poor performances against an in-form Napoli with a win against Chievo. Massimiliano Allegri will probably rotate his starting line-up for this game because Juventus face Barcelona on Tuesday for the first leg of the Champions League quarter finals. Therefore, we may mostly likely see Neto get his second straight start in goal with Medhi Benatia and Daniele Rugani in front of him. Allegri will look to keep his more attacking 4-2-3-1 formation to ensure that the team does not lose their confidence going forward and to help him decide which formation to use midweek against Barcelona. Chievo have nothing to lose and will look to attack from the first whistle. They will use a 4-3-1-2 formation with the combination of Roberto Inglese and Sergio Pellissier leading the line. Juventus should pay the most attention to Valter Birsa because of set piece skills and his long passing.

Possible Juventus XI (4-2-3-1): Neto; Asamoah, Benatia, Rugani, Lichtstenier; Sturaro, Lemina; Alex Sandro, Pjanic, Cuadrado; Higuain

Possible Chievo XI (4-3-1-2): Sorrentino; Cacciatore, Gamberini, Dainelli, Frey; De Guzman, Radovanovic, Castro; Birsa; Inglese, Pellissier

Prediction: Juventus must be considered the favourites for this match even if they may rotate the majority of their squad. 2-0 Juventus final score.

Atalanta versus Sassuolo

Game Venue: Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia – Bergamo, Italy

Date and Time: April 8th, 2017 – 12:00pm EST (5:00pm GMT)

Atalanta will look to continue to build on their 5-0 win away to Genoa when they host Sassuolo on Saturday. They have created a three point gap for fifth place, which is the last automatic qualification spot for next season’s Europa League. Their captain Papu Gomez lead the line with a hattrick in their last game and Atalanta will need another similar performance for him against Sassuolo. The Neroverdi played well for the first forty minutes in their match against Lazio but eventually fell apart when Lazio pressed for the tying and the game winning goal. This perfectly defines Sassuolo’s season so far: they have plenty of attacking talent but no defensive rigidity to hold on desperately to gain points. Atalanta will line up in a 3-4-3 formation with the attacking trident of Gomez-Petagna-Kurtic upfront. Sassuolo will setup in their 4-3-3 formation with their own attacking trident of Politano-Defrel-Berardi looking to snap their five-game winless streak.

Possible Atalanta XI (3-4-3): Berisha; Rafael Toloi, Caladra, Masiello; Conti, Kessie, Freuler, Spinazzola; Kurtic, Petagna, Gomez

Possible Sassuolo XI (4-3-3): Consigli; Dell’Orco, Acerbi, Cannavaro, Pol Lirola; Missiroli, Aquilani, Pellegrini; Politano, Defrel, Berardi

Prediction: Both teams will score but Atalanta are better organized and will have a greater will to win. 3-1 Atalanta final score.