Livorno 3.1, the draw 3.2, Udinese 2.3
“Our season starts in January,” said the Udinese owner Gianpaolo Pozzo this week. It was a well-intentioned message, but he probably ought to have waited a few more days to deliver it. He certainly would not want his team to take their eyes off the ball ahead of this game against opponents who could drag Udinese down towards the relegation zone right before the winter break.
Both sides are in miserable form. Livorno have picked up just one point from their last five games, while Udinese are coming off a 2-0 defeat at home to Torino. I expect a low-scoring draw.
Cagliari 3.7, the draw 3.3, Napoli 2.0
Rafael Benítez has only been at Napoli for six months, but already he is collecting awards. On Thursday he was given both the Vesuvio d’Oro – the Golden Vesuvius – and the Naples Sporting Citizen prize by the city’s Olympic committee. Those accolades were designed to recognise his success on the field, as well as his efforts to immerse himself in the local culture off it.
He used the opportunity to nudge his owner about January reinforcements. “I hope I deserve all these gifts,” he said. “I’m expecting my next one to arrive in the transfer window.” He could go some way to proving that he is worth such investment with another win here. Cagliari are unbeaten in five, but will be missing two important players in Victor Ibarbo and Mauricio Pinilla. Away win.
Bologna 2.05, the draw 3.25, Genoa 3.65
Stefano Pioli might not get to eat his panettone in Bologna. Nineteenth in the league, the Felsinei have gone six games without a win and only scored three goals in that spell. If the manager does not obtain a positive result against Genoa this weekend, there is a very real chance that he will get fired before he gets the chance to have a slice of Christmas cake.
Genoa have slowed down lately, too, picking up just three points from four games. But as the better team in this contest, they are worth backing in the double chance market at 1.72.
Atalanta 8.5, the draw 4.3, Juventus 1.4
As if Antonio Conte did not have enough talented players at his disposal, the Juventus manager gained another one this week when Simone Pepe made his first appearance for the club in more than a year. A series of injuries had threatened to end the midfielder’s career, but he made his first appearance in 396 days on Wednesday, coming on as a late substitute in Juve’s Coppa Italia win over Avellino.
After such a long lay-off, he will not be rushed back, but Pepe could make another appearance off the bench against Atalanta. It will be easy enough for Conte to introduce him if Juventus dominate this game as thoroughly as they have most others lately. The Bianconeri have won their last eight league matches without conceding a goal. Back them to do so again at 2.14.
Roma 1.22, the draw 6.1, Catania 12.0
Roma dropped another two points away to Milan on Monday, but things are still not as bad as they could have been. The Giallorossi had feared that they might lose starting centre-back Leandro Castan for an extended period after he limped out of that game shortly before half-time. It was perhaps no coincidence that this turned out to be the first match all season in which Roma conceded more than one goal.
Despite that draw at San Siro, Roma have played better over the last two games. Catania, meanwhile, have not only lost all of their eight away games so far, but conceded 21 goals along the way. Take Roma to win even with a one-goal handicap (1.75).
Sampdoria 2.45, the draw 3.1, Parma 2.95
Goals might be in short supply at the Marassi on Sunday, with both teams missing key men up front. Antonio Cassano is suspended for Parma (and may have played his last game for the club, if rumours of an imminent transfer are to be believed), as is Manolo Gabbiadini for Sampdoria. It is not yet clear whether Eder, the home team’s leading scorer, will be fit enough to start either. Consider the under 1.5 goals bet at odds of 2.95.
Sassuolo 4.0, the draw 3.55, Fiorentina 1.85
Juan Cuadrado’s suspension means that the onus will once again be on Giuseppe Rossi to score the goals for Fiorentina this weekend. Thankfully, he has done a pretty good job of that so far, his 13 strikes representing three more than his nearest rival, Carlos Tevez, has mustered. It does not hurt Rossi’s cause to have Borja Valero serving up assists like this one.
This should be as good an opportunity as any for him to extend that tally, against a Sassuolo team who have conceded 35 goals in 16 games. Odds of 2.45 on Rossi to find the net at some point in the game look good to me.
Torino 1.77, the draw 3.4, Chievo 4.7
Alessio Cerci has not scored in a month and a half, and yet the wins keep on coming for Torino, who have 10 points from their last four games. Ciro Immobile and Alexander Farnerud have stepped up to fill the goalscoring gap, each player finding the net three times in his last five appearances. The latter is suspended, while midfielder Omar El Kaddouri is out injured, but I am still inclined towards the home win.
Verona 2.75, the draw 3.1, Lazio 2.6
Lazio have still not won a game away from home in Serie A this season. That record seems unlikely to change at the Bentegodi, where Verona’s only dropped points so far came in a surprise derby defeat against city rivals Chievo. Home win.
Inter 2.65, the draw 3.2, Milan 2.65
The first Milan derby of the season, but will Inter’s most vocal fans be there to see it? The Nerazzurri were ordered to shut the Curva Nord for this fixture as a punishment for the derogatory chants heard in that part of the stadium against people from Naples. Inter have appealed, and should find out the result of that action on Friday, but so far even many Milan fans have offered their support.
Either way, the match on the pitch will be contested by two teams struggling to re-establish their identities. After a bright start to the campaign, Inter have now gone four league games without a victory. Milan, struggling from the outset, have just one win in their last eight. But they played well against Roma on Monday, putting the division’s last unbeaten team in difficulty on a number of occasions. Just a hunch, really, but I like the away win.
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