Empoli – Palermo
Neither of these two clubs has yet rustled up a win since returning to the top-flight, but nor have either of them been a pushover. True enough, Palermo did lose 4-0 to Lazio on Monday, but the scoreline was harsh on the Sicilians. Prior to that they had drawn with Inter, Napoli and Sampdoria.
Empoli also have three points from five games, despite having thrown two away after racing out to a 2-0 lead over Milan last Wednesday. Neither of these sides defends especially well, so with Franco Vázquez and Andrea Belotti both in solid goalscoring form for Palermo, just as Manuel Pucciarelli is for Empoli, goals may be on the agenda.
Over 2.5 goals – 2.23
Lazio – Sassuolo
Just one goal in five games so far for Sassuolo, whose fans must be wondering what on earth has happened to striker Simone Zaza since he marked his second Italy cap with a strike against Norway last month. The good news is that he will have Domenico Berardi back alongside him on Sunday, as his fellow forward returns from a three-game suspension.
Lazio will be missing a number of important players, with neither of Dusan Basta or Stefan Radu expected back until after the international break. The hosts are rightly favourites, but they have been inconsistent so far under Stefano Pioli. An upset is not as improbable as the odds suggest.
Draw – 4.10
Parma – Genoa
Were it not for a dispute over late tax payments, Parma would have been playing in Europe this season. Fans were aggrieved at first over the decision to deny them a Uefa licence, but nowadays some might even feel relieved. This team is struggling quite enough without having to play extra games on Thursday evenings.
The Ducali have shipped an extraordinary 14 goals already in Serie A, even if they have also scored 10 of their own. Injuries to Mattia Cassani and Gabriel Paletta have destabilised the defence, while Marco Parolo’s leadership is sorely missed in midfield. Genoa have not won away from home since February, but they have the tools to do damage against that weakened back-line.
Over 2.5 goals – 2.02
Sampdoria – Atalanta
Fourth in the table and still undefeated after five games, Sampdoria’s start to this season has exceeded all expectations. The challenge now is to prove that they are capable of sustaining such form. Tensions were high ahead of last week’s Derby Della Lanterna, and manager Sinisa Mihajlovic will have to make sure his players do not become complacent after winning such a highly-charged fixture.
Atalanta arrive off the back of a three-game losing streak in which they have failed to score, but their opponents in that time have been Fiorentina, Inter and Juventus. They are capable of better, and will punish Sampdoria if they are taken too lightly.
Draw – 3.25
Udinese – Cesena
Francesco Totti struck a blow for football’s old-timers at the Etihad on Tuesday night. Antonio Di Natale has been doing it all season for Udinese. The striker, who turns 37 this month, sits joint-top of Serie A’s scoring charts with four goals in as many starts. His team rest third in Serie A with 12 points under their belts.
Udinese have the chance to (very) briefly move level with Juventus and Roma in first place with a win at the Stadio Friuli. And they should get one of those against a modest Cesena team.
Di Natale to score – 2.16
Juventus – Roma
How soon is too soon for a title decider? It would probably be stretching things a little to suggest that the winner of this game will gain a major advantage in the Scudetto race, but at the same time it is hard to imagine anyone other than Juventus or Roma winning Serie A this season.
Both have been brilliant, claiming maximum points, while conceding just one league goal between them. Juventus’s defence was finally breached by Atlético Madrid’s Arda Turan on Wednesday, but they still have eight consecutive clean sheets in the league, dating back to last season.
If any team in Italy has the tools to end that run, then it must be Roma – with Juan Iturbe returning alongside Totti and Gervinho up front, while both Alessandro Florenzi and Mattia Destro provide potent options off the bench. Juventus have won 21 in a row at home, and beat the Giallorossi home and away last year. But there was a confidence to Roma’s performance against Manchester City in midweek that makes me believe they can pull off the upset.
Away win – 4.75
Fiorentina – Inter
Billed as Champions League contenders back in August, both Fiorentina and Inter have struggled so far to live up to the high expectations placed upon them. The Viola are having trouble sticking the ball in the net. The Nerazzurri have had a hard time stopping their opponents from doing the same.
Both won comfortably in the Europa League on Thursday, although Fiorentina were a good deal more impressive than Inter – who relied more on good finishing from Danilo D’Ambrosio and Mauro Icardi than any coherent team play. They will need more coherence if they are to avoid what would be just their second defeat in 19 meetings with their Tuscan opponents.
Home win – 2.45
Napoli – Torino
Also successful in Europe this week were Napoli and Torino. Marek Hamsik scored one and set up another for the Partenopei against his old club Slovan Bratislava, a performance which ought to have pleased Napoli’s fans, but instead might just have made some of them wonder why he has not been so decisive lately in Serie A.
A first home win of the season would go some way towards improving the mood of a supporters’ base that feels let down by the club’s failure to invest more aggressively in the playing squad this summer.
Home win – 1.50
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