Napoli - Genoa
Maurizio Sarri threatened to walk out of his Thursday press conference if anyone asked him a question about Real Madrid. The Napoli manager is doing all that he can to prevent next week’s visit to the Bernabeu from becoming a distraction, but the fact he felt compelled to make such a comment reflects how the sense of anticipation is threatening to overwhelm all else in the city.
He is right to sense the danger in looking beyond Genoa. The visitors are yet to win a game in 2017, but the return of Miguel Veloso to the starting XI after a six-week injury layoff should help to restore some of the midfield solidity that has been lost since the January departure of Tomás Rincón. Napoli, who will be missing first-choice right-back Elseid Hysaj, have not kept a clean sheet in seven Serie A games.
Both teams to score - 1.68
Fiorentina - Udinese
Eleven points adrift of the top three, and fresh from a 4-0 mauling by Roma on Tuesday, Fiorentina look rudderless once again. Paulo Sousa’s prospects of staying on as manager beyond the end of this season were already uncertain, but a similarly meek performance here could accelerate a decision.
He will at least have Nikola Kalinic back up front for this match, but I am expecting a low-scoring game. Udinese have conceded just six goals in nine outings since giving Brazilian left-back Samir Santos a fixed role in the starting XI.
Under 2.5 goals - 1.95
Crotone - Roma
There is a wide gulf in talent between second-placed Roma and second-last Crotone, and yet the Giallorossi have been distinctly mediocre away from home this season - winning just out of 12 league matches outside of the Stadio Olimpico. They have scored 16 times in those matches - a stark contrast with their 32 goals in 11 games at home.
I do not believe Crotone have the tools to spring an upset, but after seeing them dig in and oblige Juventus to grind their way to a 2-0 victory here in midweek, I do know that they are capable of making life uncomfortable.
Three-way handicap: Starts 1-0, draw - 3.60
Inter - Empoli
How bad will Inter’s Derby d’Italia hangover be? With Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic both suspended as a result of losing their heads at the end of their defeat to Juventus, and Marcelo Brozovic an injury doubt, the Nerazzurri are heading into this fixture without three players who have contributed more than two-thirds of their goals this season.
They have won seven in a row at San Siro, and I suspect they will still find a way to make it eight. But I am curious to see where the goals will come from.
Under 2.5 goals - 2.00
Palermo - Atalanta
Diego Lopez is off to a fast start at Palermo, with four points from two games in charge. For a team who had taken 10 from their previous 21, that is no small achievement.
Atalanta are a distinctly higher calibre of opponent than the Crotone team Palermo beat last week, but they have conceded seven times in their last four away games. And Ilija Nestorovski has scored in both of the Rosanero’s two games under Lopez so far.
Nestorovski to score - 4.10
Sassuolo - Chievo
Three wins in four matches have put some distance between Sassuolo and the relegation zone. The return of Domenico Berardi has given this team a much-needed shot of confidence, but the Neroverdi have also been fortunate to run into a string of meek opponents - with Palermo and Pescara foundering in the bottom three and Genoa winless in 2017.
Chievo, after a rough patch of their own, have looked more like their old dogged selves lately - keeping clean sheets against Lazio and Atalanta. If they choose to play for a point, they will not easily be broken down.
Draw - 3.45
Torino - Pescara
With just one victory in their last nine Serie A games, Torino are faltering. But this weekend’s opponents offer a reminder that things could be worse. Pescara have not won a league match on the pitch all season. I am being cautious with this bet, because the Granata have lost some of the attacking verve that they showed earlier in the campaign, and I don’t fully trust them to turn this into the rout that it ought to be. But I certainly expect them to win.
Home win - 1.37
Sampdoria - Bologna
“Disappointed and very angry”, is how Bologna’s owner, Joey Saputo, defined himself in the wake of Wednesday’s defeat to Milan. Arriving hot on the heels of a 7-1 thrashing by Napoli, his team’s failure to take advantage of a Rossoneri team that finished the game on nine men was troubling. On this form, it is hard to imagine Bologna winning away to Sampdoria - something they have not done since 1998.
Home win - 1.82
Cagliari - Juventus
Juventus are back to their all-conquering ways, making this match a foregone conclusion. Right? Well, maybe not. Cagliari have many flaws, and yet it remains true that only two teams - Napoli and Fiorentina - have beaten them on their own patch this season. And all of Juve’s losses in Serie A so far have come on the road after midweek fixtures.
The tough news for the hosts is that they are likely to be without Marco Borriello, their leading scorer and a man who used to play for Juventus himself. If he were present I might seriously think about taking a punt - at such long odds - on the home win. But even without him, I think Cagliari can get on the scoresheet.
Total goals by home team: over 0.5 - 1.82
Lazio - Milan
Gerard Deulofeu rode to Milan’s rescue on Wednesday, grabbing the late winner against Bologna after Gabriel Palletta and Juraj Kucka had been sent off for the Rossoneri. In doing so, he also ended his new team’s run of four consecutive defeats in all competitions. But does that allow them any cause to feel optimistic here?
With Palletta now suspended, and Alessio Romagnoli injured, Milan now travel to the Stadio Olimpico with a reserve central defensive pairing of Gustavo Gómez and Cristian Zapata. This against opponents who scored six goals in their last match. With Carlos Bacca and Gianluca Lapadula both out of form, I don’t see how Milan will keep up.
Home win - 1.74