Roma – Sassuolo
Time for Francesco Totti to complete his Serie A set? The Roma forward has scored against every top-flight club in Italy except Sassuolo, and the indications from training this week are that he will start on Sunday – despite the looming prospect of a do-or-die Champions League game against Manchester City.
He will not have things easy against opponents who have conceded just once in their last five matches. Sassuolo have risen to ninth in the table – the highest they have been in club history – and are dreaming of even more improbable achievements. Roma should still win, but do not expect a deluge.
Under 2.5 goals – 2.20
Torino – Palermo
Torino cannot catch a break at the moment. Against Juventus, they delivered one of their best derby performances in more than a decade, scored a goal of the season contender through Bruno Peres and still saw a draw snatched away from them by a moment of brilliance from Andrea Pirlo. In their previous Serie A game, the Granata had dominated Sassuolo but missed a penalty and wound up losing 1-0.
They face another tricky game here, with Palermo boasting one of the most in-form strikers in Italy. Paulo Dybala has scored in each of the Sicilians’ last four games, but rather than back him individually I might take his team to grab a point in Turin.
Draw – 3.40
Napoli – Empoli
Talk of a Napoli title challenge turned out to be short-lived. The Partenopei seemed to be closing the gap on the top two after a brilliant run of form, but consecutive draws with Cagliari and Sampdoria have seen Rafael Benitez’s team slip back to 11 points behind Juventus. At least the manager can console himself with a job well done on the team’s annual calendar.
A win over Empoli might also help, and should be expected. But with centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly missing out through suspension, there might be opportunities for the visitors to ruffle a few feathers.
Home team to win and both teams to score – 3.20
Atalanta – Cesena
Perhaps a cup game against lower-league opposition was just what Atalanta needed. Stefano Colantuono’s team beat Avellino 2-0 in the fourth round of the Coppa Italia on Wednesday, scoring as many times in 90 minutes as they had in the previous month-and-a-half.
Sadly, the man who got the goals, Richmond Boakye, will miss this game through suspension. The odds on a home win – for a team that has won just once at home all season – are too short in my opinion.
Draw – 3.60
Genoa – Milan
It will be yet another patchwork back-line for MIlan at the Marassi, with Alex, Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio all likely to miss this game due to injury. But the greater intrigue may be at the other end of the pitch, where Stephan El Shaarawy has the chance to strike down his former club. His only goal of the season so far came at the Marassi against Sampdoria.
Milan fought to a draw in that game, and will have another battle on their hands against opponents who sit two points ahead of them in Serie A. It is Genoa who have played the more consistent, and coherent, football so far this season.
Home win – 3.00
Parma – Lazio
Roberto Donadoni argued in the wake of Parma’s latest defeat that it was “excessive” to start talking about relegation so early in the year. But it is hard to imagine how else this season could end for last-placed Parma, who have conceded a staggering 32 goals in 13 games and still have a likely points deduction to come.
There is no obvious reason to expect results to improve, with players and staff clearly demoralised by their misfortunes on the pitch and unpaid wages off it. Lazio have not won a league game since the start of November, but unlike their opponents they remain a talented and motivated group.
Away win – 2.15
Inter – Udinese
Time for Roberto Mancini to start earning that €4m salary. The Inter manager was always going to get some leeway for failing to beat Milan or Roma in his first two games back with the club, but a home match against Udinese is another matter entirely. If the Nerazzurri seriously aspire to return to the Champions League next season, this is the sort of game they must win.
The manager has a few selection dilemmas on his hands, and especially that of who to start up front. Mauro Icardi leads the team with seven goals this season, but Dani Osvaldo is the man in form, with one in each of his last two games. Either way, the early evidence is that Mancini’s Inter will attack with vigour but leak goals at the other end.
Over 2.5 goals – 1.96
Cagliari – Chievo
Another lively game for Cagliari in the Coppa Italia on Wednesday, as they drew 4-4 with with Modena before winning a penalty shoot-out. “Nobody was bored,” declared a satisfied Zdenek Zeman afterwards, although some fans might have preferred a less eventful victory over lower-league opposition. Cagliari have now conceded 11 goals in their last three games.
Chievo are going about things rather differently, with just two goals allowed – and no defeats suffered – since the start of November. Their problem is at the other end of the pitch, where Alberto Paloschi and Sergio Pellissier are the club’s joint-top scorers with a total of four goals between them.
Draw – 3.50
Verona – Sampdoria
Stefano Okaka was persuaded by Gazzetta dello Sport to pull a prank on Sinisa Mihajlovic this week, phoning up his boss and stating that he needed the next day off training, in order to go to a wedding. Suffice to say, the manager was not impressed (if you speak Italian, the video is well worth a watch). One can imagine Mihajlovic being similarly unamused when he sees the newspaper reports claiming that Manolo Gabbiadini will be off to Napoli in January.
For now, though, he must continue to get the most out of both players, for whom the goals have somewhat dried up of late. Okaka and Gabbiadini have scored just once between them since 19 October.
Under 2.5 goals – 1.83