Chievo – Palermo
Top-flight survival was the primary concern for each of these teams at the start of this campaign and, with 11 games to go, both are very much on track. Chievo moved eight points clear of the relegation zone with their highly impressive win away to Genoa, while Palermo are six points further ahead despite dismal recent performances. They have won only once in the last month-and-a-half, and have not scored a goal in three games.
Chievo, by contrast, are enjoying the best form of any team in the bottom-half, and have kept three consecutive clean sheets. The visitors’ dry run cannot go on indefinitely, and I suspect the likes of Paulo Dybala and Franco Vazquez will find a way to end the latter sequence. But I still expect the hosts to prevail.
Home side to win and both teams to score – 5.75
Milan – Cagliari
There might be a degree of empathy shared between these two clubs, after each saw a season-defining victory snatched away last weekend. Cagliari were seconds away from beating Empoli in Zdenek Zeman’s first match back as manager, but instead remain four points from safety after Matias Vecino’s injury-time equaliser. Milan looked set to revive their Europa League bid as they led 1-0 away to Fiorentina with eight minutes remaining, but contrived to concede twice before the final whistle.
Such lapses make it hard to feel confident about backing either side. The Sardinians will be strengthened in midfield by Albin Ekdal’s return from injury, but the frailty of each team’s defence makes goals at both ends seem likely. Mattia Destro – the Milan striker who learned from Zeman himself while at Roma – might be the most likely to profit.
Destro to score – 2.35
Empoli – Sassuolo
Eusebio Di Francesco was not content with his team’s 4-1 win over Parma last weekend. The Sassuolo manager felt that his team had eased up too early, and chastised them for not pursuing a fifth goal. “I don’t allow myself to feel satisfied,” he said, “and I don’t want my players to either.”
It will be interesting to see if he can stay true to such words in Sunday’s lunchtime game, or if pragmatism will prevail. Edging towards top-flight survival, both of these typically attack-minded sides might reason that, on this occasion, discretion is the better part of valour.
Draw – 3.40
Juventus – Genoa
The only fixture to be played this week in Serie A’s traditional 3pm (2pm UK) time slot, it will serve as a homecoming event for Juventus after their 3-0 victory in Dortmund. The Bianconeri will be missing Paul Pogba – out for two months with the hamstring injury he sustained in Germany – as well as the suspended Alvaro Morata, but might still have things easy if Genoa perform as limply as they did against Chievo.
With Andrea Barzagli back at his disposal, Massimiliano Allegri is expected to persist with the 3-5-2 he used after Pogba left the pitch in Germany, as well as in Juve’s last league game, against Palermo. It is a formation that lends itself to cautious, counter-attacking football, rather than all-out attack.
Under 2.5 goals – 2.08
Cesena – Roma
At least Roma do not have to play at home this weekend. The club’s fans were in open revolt by the end of Thursday’s Europa League mauling by Fiorentina at the Stadio Olimpico, demanding that players come under the Curva and remove the shirts that they were deemed unworthy to wear. Rudi Garcia said he would need 11 “true men” to “go to war” with him now and defend second place in Serie A.
Cesena, joint-18th in the table and expected to be without their key creative influence, Franco Brienza, due to an ankle injury, ought not to pose a threat. But we are past the point where we can take anything for granted with Roma, whose once solid defence has kept just a single clean sheet in eight games.
Both teams to score – 2.00
Lazio – Verona
No Serie A team is in better form than Lazio, up to third in the table on the back of five consecutive wins. The Biancocelesti have some daunting appointments left on the fixture list – including away trips to Juventus, Napoli and Sampdoria – but this is not one of them. Twenty-seven points behind Lazio in the standings, Verona also arrive in the capital without the suspended Jacopo Sala and Juanito Gómez.
Home team to win with a one-goal handicap – 2.04
Napoli – Atalanta
Through to the quarter-finals of the Europa League, Napoli must now urgently restore their focus to a faltering domestic campaign. Three defeats in five games have seen Rafa Benítez’s team slip out of the top three, and his decision to rest Gonzalo Higuaín, Manolo Gabbiadini and José Callejón against Verona last Sunday was a costly misjudgement. Expect to see his strongest team against Atalanta, even if the visitors have only scored eight goals away from home all season.
Home team to win without conceding – 2.35
Parma – Torino
Declared bankrupt on Thursday, Parma are presently still expected to complete their season with the help of the €5m emergency fund granted to them by the league – although this story has taken enough turns already that you might not want to count on it. With the club in turmoil and the process of what happens next still not entirely clear, I am going to revert to my previous advice that bettors should steer clear.
Sampdoria – Inter
There was an air of defeatism to Roberto Mancini on Thursday, as he suggested in the wake of defeat to Wolfsburg that his team might be better able to rebuild if they failed to qualify for continental competition next year. On the surface, a return to the Europa League seems unlikely in any case, with the Nerazzurri eight points adrift of fifth-placed Samp.
But a win this weekend would close the gap, and, given the strong likelihood that both of this season’s Coppa Italia finalists will already have qualified, it is likely that an additional berth will become available to Serie A’s sixth-placed team. Mancini kept Xherdan Shaqiri on the bench on Thursday, a gesture that suggested he already had one eye on this game.
Away win – 2.70
Udinese – Fiorentina
Welcomed back by a thousand cheering fans as they returned home in the small hours of Friday morning, Fiorentina’s players will barely have had time to grab a shower and pick up some fresh underwear before preparing to head on to Udine. Still in the running for the Europa League, Coppa Italia and a top-three finish in Serie A, Vincenzo Montella’s team are having a brilliant season, but must be careful to avoid burnout.
Udinese are having an undistinguished campaign, but reminded us that they are not to be taken lightly when they squashed a Torino side that had just returned from its historic triumph at San Mames. A rotated Fiorentina team will not have it easy.
Draw – 3.30