Sassuolo – Fiorentina
This has been a frustrating campaign for Fiorentina, whose Champions League aspirations were fatally undermined by a calamitous start to the season. The sale of Juan Cuadrado to Chelsea during the winter transfer window might be viewed as tacit acceptance that a top-three finish was already looking unlikely. But the Viola are at least back on track for a Europa League berth, and have won two out of two since the Colombian’s departure – including a Coppa Italia victory away to second-placed Roma.
The signing of Alessandro Diamanti has brought fresh imagination to Fiorentina’s attack, but Sassuolo boast even more quality in that department with Simone Zaza, Domenico Berardi and Nicola Sansone. The hosts’ main concern is that they will be missing their starting right-back Sime Vrsaljko, and could be without left-back Federico Peluso as well. Nothing about these teams’ recent displays suggests a defensive encounter.
Over 3.5 goals – 3.50
Palermo – Napoli
If the Serie A season had begun on 1 January, Napoli would occupy first place. Instead they find themselves third – still 11 points behind the leaders Juventus. But the Partenopei are at least playing up to their status as Champions League aspirants, and have now won six games in a row.
New signing Manolo Gabbiadini has scored in each of his last two league appearances, and can do damage once more against a Palermo defence that will be missing suspended centre-back Giancarlo Gonzalez. The Sicilians look vulnerable, having won just one of their last five games, but it is worth remembering that only one team has beaten them on their own patch all season.
Draw – 3.45
Milan – Empoli
A crucial month lies ahead for Milan. Pippo Inzaghi can be forgiven for recent defeats to Lazio and Juventus, but if he hopes to maintain his position as manager of the Rossoneri beyond the end of this season then he will need something close to maximum points from a four-game stretch that features home games against Empoli (15th), Cesena (19th), and Verona (14th), along with a trip to Chievo (17th).
This week’s opponents might be the toughest of the bunch, Empoli demonstrating their resilience over the last fortnight by drawing with Roma and beating Cesena. But my hunch is that this could be the game where Mattia Destro, back from suspension, begins to make his mark on his new club.
Home win – 1.77
Atalanta – Inter
A 3-0 victory over Palermo last weekend ought to have soothed nerves at Inter, but Mauro Icardi’s refusal to celebrate either of his two goals made clear that underlying tensions remain. The striker’s subsequent announcement that such actions had been discussed and agreed upon with his agent beforehand has not done him any favours.
The Nerazzurri could at least draw encouragement from Xherdan Shaqiri’s impressive performance during that win, and he should continue to create opportunities for Icardi against an Atalanta defence that has not kept a home clean sheet since the middle of October. The trickier question for Inter is whether they will be able to keep their opponents out at the other end.
Both teams to score – 1.89
Genoa – Verona
Genoa restored life to their fading Europa League dreams with a win away to Lazio last weekend. It was their first victory in eight games, but they remain within three points of fifth-placed Fiorentina. Their challenge now is to improve a home record that shows just three wins in 11 matches at the Marassi. They will not have many better opportunities to do so than this, against opponents who have given up 12 goals in their last three away games in all competitions.
Home win – 1.90
Roma – Parma
For the second time in just over two months, Parma have changed owners. Giampietro Manenti was confirmed as the club’s new president this week, vowing to pay off the club’s tax bills by Monday – necessary to avoid a further points deduction – and all unpaid salaries by 22 February. Whether the latter date will be soon enough remains to be seen. Defender Massimo Gobbi warned on Thursday that players could take legal action if their money does not arrive at the start of next week.
It is a thankless position for Manenti, who can hardly be held responsible for mistakes made before he arrived but equally needs to be sympathetic to the frustrations of players who have been let down by successive ownership regimes. Parma’s results are unlikely to improve as long as morale stays so low – even if Roma do have problems of their own, with a flu bug afflicting several members of the first team, and both Gervinho and Seydou Doumbia returning late form the Africa Cup of Nations.
Roma to win with a one-goal handicap – 1.85
Torino – Cagliari
Four consecutive victories in Serie A constitute Torino’s best run of form since early 1978. Back then they beat Foggia, Genoa, Bologna and Napoli before finally being held to a draw by Perugia. They have every chance to go one better here, extending their winning sequence further by overcoming opponents who have collected just 10 points from their 11 away games.
Home win – 1.75
Udinese – Lazio
Felipe Anderson is expected to make his first start in more than a month this Sunday at the Stadio Friuli. Lazio will be anxious to see him recapture the form that saw him notch five goals and as many assists in his last five games before spraining his knee in January.
With the likes of Stefano Mauri, Lorik Cana, Federico Marchetti, Senad Lulic and Filip Djordjevic all absent, the Biancocelesti need Anderson now more than ever. Udinese are not exactly in ideal shape either, with Panagiotis Kone, Giovanni Pasquale and Guilherme all missing, but the odds on a home win look tempting when you consider that Lazio’s last two fixtures have yielded defeats to Genoa and Cesena.
Home win – 3.20
Chievo – Sampdoria
Chievo became the latest in a long line of teams to benefit from a meeting with Parma, beating the hapless Ducali 1-0 on Wednesday night to end a sequence of five games without a win. They lifted themselves out of the relegation zone in the process.
Further progress seems unlikely this weekend. Chievo have won just once at home all season, and although Sampdoria’s form has wavered of late, the visitors continue to occupy fourth place. They arrive without the suspended Stefano Okaka, but he had not scored a goal since 8 December in any case. Samp rely more heavily on Eder these days, and he has three goals in his last five appearances.
Away win - 2.80
Cesena – Juventus
A suspension for Carlos Tevez means that Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Morata could start their first league game together for Juventus. As Serie A’s leading goalscorer, the Argentinian will clearly be missed, but the champions still boast more than enough to puncture a Cesena defence that has given up almost two goals per game so far in its return to the top-flight.
Total goals by away team: over 2.5 – 2.18
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