Atalanta – Roma
Roma’s preparations have been overshadowed by scary developments for centre-back Leandro Castan, diagnosed with a cavernoma – a rare condition involving a cluster of abnormal blood cells – which has caused swelling in his brain. The player will undergo surgery in the coming days and is not expected to play again before March at the earliest, although frankly his return to the field feels like a secondary concern for the time being.
In footballing terms, his absence should not hurt Roma too greatly. He had only played one game so far this season, and with Davide Astori returning from injury, and Kevin Strootman making his return just before the international break, the Giallorossi ought to be in pretty good shape.
Away win – 1.85
Lazio – Juventus
New contracts for Gigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini helped to ramp up the feel-good factor for Juventus this week, but fans might still be feeling a hint of anxiety going into an important week. On Wednesday the club must win in Malmo to maintain control of their Champions league destiny. Straightforward enough in theory, but less so in practice for a team that drew away to both Copenhagen and Nordsjaelland in the last two editions of the tournament.
Before that comes a tricky league fixture away to sixth-placed Lazio. Although the Biancocelesti have not beaten Juventus in Serie A since 2003, they certainly boast a strong enough team to cause the champions problems at the Stadio Olimpico. Especially when the visitors are missing a host of players in defence – from Kwadwo Asamoah and Patrice Evra through to Andrea Barzagli and Martín Cacéres.
Double chance: home win or draw – 1.82
Torino – Sassuolo
Simone Zaza won his fourth Italy cap at the weekend, starting the Azzurri’s drawn Euro 2016 qualifier against Croatia. But it was his Sassuolo team-mate, Francesco Acerbi, who captured the headlines when he made his international debut during the friendly against Albania two days later. Having twice overcome testicular cancer at 26 years old, the defender was due a break, but this was no charity call-up. Acerbi has merited the opportunity after some impressive performances for his club side.
Sassuolo have conceded just four goals in six games with him in the line-up, looking like a very different side to the one that shipped 11 in five games while he was absent. The Neroverdi have kept clean sheets in both of their last two matches, and now come up against the least prolific side in Serie A.
Away clean sheet – 4.25
Cesena – Sampdoria
Another player making his Italy debut against Albania was Sampdoria forward Stefano Okaka, who marked the occasion with a match-winning goal. His club side will be happy to see his spirits lifted even further after an impressive start to the campaign, but the Blucerchiati must also guard against over-confidence. They are not a good enough team yet to take any opponent lightly.
And whilst Cesena might sit 19th in Serie A, it is also true that only one team, Inter, have beaten them at the Stadio Dino Manuzzi so far this season. They will not easily be brushed aside.
Draw – 3.40
Napoli – Cagliari
There has been much excited chatter about Rafael Benitez returning to Liverpool over the last few days, after he said he had not yet decided what he would do next season. But for now his focus remains in Naples, where fans are beginning to ask whether his team could yet challenge for the Scudetto after rising from 10th to third in the space of seven games.
Losing both Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens to injury is a blow, but the Partenopei retain plenty of potency up front now that Gonzalo Higuaín has rediscovered his shooting boots. Alongside José Callejón, he should run rampant against a Cagliari team that is often negligent in its defensive duties.
Napoli to win with a one-goal handicap – 2.02
Parma – Empoli
As if things were not going badly enough for Parma on the pitch, it emerged this week that the club had also been unable to pay players’ wages for several months. A statement on the team’s website suggested that the situation could be resolved by a takeover in the near future, although details of supposed potential buyers remain thin on the ground. In the meantime the Ducali are expected to face a points deduction.
It all provides a less than ideal backdrop ahead of a crucial game. Empoli sit just four points clear of Parma in 17th but, coming off a highly impressive win over Lazio, they look like the better team.
Double chance: draw or away win – 1.74
Udinese – Chievo
With just one win in their last six games, Udinese might have welcomed the international break more than most. They will be eager to recapture the early season form that saw them billed as dark horse European contenders. Having Antonio Di Natale back in the starting line-up – after he missed their draw against Palermo – will certainly do no harm. Nor will playing opponents who have conceded eight times in their last four away games.
Di Natale to score – 2.28
Verona – Fiorentina
Not for the first time this season, Fiorentina fans are pinning their hopes on the prospect of Mario Gómez making a successful return from injury. The striker has featured only sporadically so far, and has not looked especially sharp when present. But the team has struggled for goals in his absence, so he is expected to start alongside Khouma Babacar, most likely in a 3-5-2, for the Viola’s game against Verona.
The hosts have not won in Serie A since 4 October, but they are unbeaten in their last three games. Playing in front of what is always a vociferous crowd at the Bentegodi, they will certainly put up a fight.
Draw – 3.30
Milan – Inter
What better way could there be for Roberto Mancini to reintroduce himself to Inter’s fans than with a derby win over Milan? Of course, it is also hard to imagine a much worse start to his second spell at the club, than a loss to the Rossoneri. Inter will adjust immediately to a new formation this weekend, and Mancini hopes to see a new mentality as well. Mateo Kovacic told Gazzetta dello Sport on Friday that he had been shouted at by the manager for playing short passes in training when more aggressive options were available.
For Milan, the questions are the same as always: should Fernando Torres play? If so, where will Jérémy Ménez line up? And which of Adriano Galliani’s three lucky yellow ties should the Milan vice-president wear? One way or another, with both managers inclined towards direct, attacking football, it should be an entertaining match.
Over 2.5 goals – 2.04