Sassuolo – Cesena
Only Parma’s disastrous start has kept Cesena from sliding to the foot of the Serie A table. The Seahorses beat Roberto Donadoni’s side on the opening weekend, but have not won a game since. They have shipped 10 goals in their last three, and will need to upgrade their squad this January to have any chance of not slipping straight back down to the second tier.
That said, Sassuolo will be missing both their goalkeeper, Andrea Consigli, and one of their starting centre-backs, Paolo Cannavaro, through suspension on Sunday. If nothing else, Cesena have at least been scoring goals lately, and they should have opportunities against a remodeled defence.
Both teams to score – 2.10
Roma – Milan
After Pippo Inzaghi had protested that he did not have a magic wand with which to fix all of Milan’s problems, a group of journalists decided to give him with one at his press conference on Thursday. The manager accepted his gift in good humour, brandishing it with enthusiasm, but warned that he would not be impressed if it turned out to bring him bad luck.
As impressive as the Rossoneri were in beating Napoli last week, they might need some wizardry to defeat second-placed Roma at the Stadio Olimpico. The hosts’ performances have dipped in recent weeks, but they still have more than enough talent to expose a Milan back-line that will be missing Adil Rami – one of few defenders who has played to an acceptable standard this year.
Roma to win – 1.75
Verona – Chievo
The first edition of the Verona derby was played 20 years ago this month. Chievo had just been promoted to Serie B for the first time in club history, while Hellas were rebuilding in the wake of a bankruptcy. Since then the two clubs have alternated periods in the ascendancy, but right now both are experiencing mixed fortunes.
Chievo are 17th, but a loss to Inter on Monday was their first in six games. Verona are four points, and four places, ahead in 13th, but conversely had not won in eight matches before they beat Udinese on Sunday. Luca Toni’s return to form is a huge boost, the striker scoring four times in his last seven appearances. His tussle with former Fiorentina team-mate Dario Dainelli could be a compelling subplot.
Toni to score – 2.65
Atalanta – Palermo
Unbeaten in seven games, Palermo have quietly climbed into the top half of the table. And yet they have won just once away from home all season, suggesting that a happy Christmas for the Sicilians is far from guaranteed. Atalanta are a modest team but their only home defeats this season have come against Fiorentina, Juventus and Roma. Palermo are not in that category just yet.
Draw – 3.30
Fiorentina – Empoli
A derby, of sorts, in Tuscany. Fiorentina and Empoli are certainly close neighbours, separated by little more than 30km by road, but in footballing terms they have tended to operate on different planets. The Viola are one of Italy’s leading clubs, with two Scudetti, six Coppa Italias and a Cup Winners’ Cup in their trophy cabinet. Empoli have never won a competition more prestigious than Serie B.
The two do not often find themselves in the same division, and this is just the seventh time they will meet at the Stadio Artemio Franchi. Only once have Empoli come away with a win, back in 1997-98. Their chances of a repeat here look slim, but a draw is not out of the question. The visitors are unbeaten in five and just last week grabbed a point away to Napoli.
Draw – 4.20
Sampdoria – Udinese
Sampdoria could be forgiven for getting a little bit cocky. The Blucerchiati have heard almost since the start of this season that their squad would fall away in the race for a Champions League berth, that it lacked the quality to stand up to the likes of Juventus, Roma, Napoli and Milan. Over the past two months, they have taken points off all of those teams – culminating in last weekend’s 1-1 draw away to the champions.
They are legitimate contenders for third, and while Udinese might consider themselves the same, I expect a home victory on Sunday – especially with Allan suspended.
Home win – 1.82
Torino – Genoa
Defeat to Roma ended a nine-game unbeaten run for Genoa, but perhaps even more damaging will be the bans earned by Mattia Perin and Diego Perotti. The goalkeeper has been a major factor in the club’s success so far this season, making more saves than anyone else in the division, but so has his versatile Argentinian team-mate, deployed all across the attack and even, on occasion, at full-back.
Without those players, this becomes a much trickier fixture, but the odds on Genoa taking something from the game are still tempting. The Grifone have the second-best away record in the league, with four victories, three draws and no defeats, whereas Torino have only won two of eight home games so far.
Double chance, draw or away win – 1.78
Inter – Lazio
The last Serie A game of 2014 takes place at San Siro, where Roberto Mancini will aim to close out the year on a bright note. Asked this week why he had decided to return to the club, the manager admitted with a smile that, “I don’t really know.”
A win this Sunday might make him feel a bit better about his decision, and should be a realistic goal. Lazio arrive without the injured Antonio Candreva – their best player so far this season – as well as Lucas Biglia and Edson Braafheid.
Home win – 2.15