Roma – Napoli
This was supposed to be a showdown between two teams with Scudetto aspirations. Instead it has become a showdown between two sides fighting desperately just to finish in the top three. Roma remain second for now, but have won only two of their last 11 Serie A matches. Napoli have slid to fifth after scraping together a mere five points from their last six.
The hosts will be missing a number of starters, from long-term absentees Kevin Strootman and Maicon through to the more recently injured Gervinho and Seydou Keita. Napoli are without only the suspended Gokhan Inler, who has endured an up-and-down season in any case. They have shown many faults under Rafa Benítez but a failure to raise themselves for the biggest games is not one of them.
Away win – 3.45
Atalanta – Torino
Bundled out of the Europa League before the international break, Torino’s challenge now is to push on and qualify for that tournament again. Seventh in the table, but also seven points behind sixth-placed Fiorentina, that goal is distant but not unachievable.
To reach it Torino would need to win games such as this one, against an Atalanta side who have not beaten anybody since 1 February and for whom starting centre-forward Germán Denis is suspended.
Away win – 2.60
Cagliari – Lazio
When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die. But when you play at being on the TV show Game of Thrones, the important thing to make it look like you are not having any fun whatsoever. This is what we learned when Lazio’s players were invited to take a seat on the Iron Throne at a promotional event this week.
The Biancocelesti might not be the kings of Serie A, but theirs is certainly a house in the ascendancy, and they have an opportunity to push Cagliari closer to their division’s Moon Door. Felipe Anderson has found the net nine times in his last 12 appearances, while the Sardinians have conceded the joint-most goals in the Italian top-flight.
Anderson to score – 3.10
Genoa – Udinese
Andrea Stramaccioni continued to talk about the threat of relegation at his press conference on Thursday, but a more detached observer might surmise that Udinese are no longer truly at risk. Fourteen points clear of 18th place with 10 games remaining, it is conceivable that the Zebrette could stay up even if they lost every game from here on out.
But both managers must work to motivate their players however they can as they drift towards mid-table finishes. Genoa’s European hopes have been dealt a crushing blow by their current run of four games without a win, and injuries to Mattia Perin and Andrea Bertolacci have weakened them. They have nothing left to lose at this stage, though, so ought to come out with all guns blazing.
Over 2.5 goals – 2.15
Inter – Parma
Lukas Podolski came off the bench to score his first goal in more than three months during Germany’s friendly against Australia last Wednesday. Roberto Mancini hopes it will provide the forward with the confidence boost that he needed to kick-start his Inter career. A meeting with free-falling Parma cannot hurt, either, and Podolski is expected to begin up front alongside Rodrigo Palacio at San Siro.
But whilst a home win seems the obvious outcome here, the odds have been set too short. One of Parma’s three wins this season came in the reverse fixture and even in a miserable campaign, they have raised their game for other high-profile opponents such as Roma and Fiorentina. Inter, furthermore, are without a victory in six matches.
Draw – 6.25
Palermo – Milan
Speculation continues to mount regarding an imminent takeover of Milan, but in the meantime Pippo Inzaghi must keep his focus on salvaging something from a miserable campaign. His team have won twice away from home all season but are at least meeting Palermo at the right time, the Sicilians having failed to score in four consecutive matches. Right now it seems safest not to trust either group.
At least one team fails to score – 1.88
Sassuolo – Chievo
One of Serie A’s most quietly impressive sides over the last month, Chievo have navigated away from the relegation zone by picking up eight points in four games. Better yet, they have kept four straight clean sheets along the way.
Sassuolo are moving in the opposite direction after losing five of their previous six fixtures, but that run has included meetings with Juventus, Napoli, Lazio and Fiorentina. They will be targeting this as an afternoon on which to rebound.
Draw – 3.20
Verona – Cesena
Antonio Conte’s decision to call up the foreign-born Franco Vázquez and Éder to his Italy squad during the international break served as a reminder of how few options the manager previously had up front. The leading Italian scorer in Serie A this season is Verona’s 37-year-old Luca Toni.
He will look to build on his 13-goal haul this weekend against a Cesena side that is running out of time to save itself from relegation. On average the visitors concede almost twice in every away game.
Toni to score – 2.43
Fiorentina – Sampdoria
Both of these teams remain alive in the hunt for a Champions League place but few would have predicted three months ago that the visitors would be the ones looking down on their hosts in the table. Samp were supposed to fade in the wake of Manolo Gabbiadini’s January departure, but have instead continued to soar with Éder and Luis Muriel leading the way. They arrive in Florence on the back of four consecutive league victories.
Fiorentina are weakened by injuries to starting defenders Stefan Savic and Manuel Pasqual, increasing the likelihood of a high-scoring game. These teams shared four goals in an entertaining reverse fixture last November, and I think we could be in for more of the same.
Over 2.5 goals – 1.94
Juventus – Empoli
Between Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League, Juventus will play eight games in the next three-and-a-half weeks. Massimiliano Allegri cannot be thrilled to be commencing this stretch with all three of Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio out injured.
It remains to be seen what tactical variation the manager deploys to deal with this situation, but one way or another the likes of Stefano Sturaro and Simone Padoin will have to stand up and be counted. These players, inevitably, are not of the same calibre as the ones they are replacing. Empoli have not lost a game in more than two months.
Draw – 4.80