Rifinitura: Chancy Away Tests for Inter and Napoli

Round 14 of Serie A will not feature any big match, or partita di cartello to say it the Italian way. Yet, top ranking Inter and Napoli should better not underestimate their away games in Cagliari and Udine. A recent coach change did bring some benefits to the Islanders, whereas Udinese will see their new trainer Massimo Oddo debut tomorrow. On paper, Juventus have good chances of reducing their gap with the lead as they face Crotone in a home match at Allianz Stadium.

This round kicks off today with a match unusually scheduled at 3.00 PM between Bologna and Sampdoria. The spotlight in on Marco Giampaolo’s Blucerchiati, which shocked the Italian footballdom last week by inflicting Juventus their second seasonal league defeat. Injured Daniel Praet is the only defection among Giampaolo’s lines. For the rest, the Samp coach will rely on his usual lineup – and can you blame him? – with Gaston Ramirez supporting strikers Fabio Quagliarella and Duvan Zapata.

Roberto Donadoni broke the spell of four losses in a row last Monday overcoming Verona 3-2, and today will deploy a similar 4-3-3 module. Simone Verdi, Rodrigo Palacio and Mattia Destro will be his trident forks. No chance to see Federico Di Francesco back on the pitch before the new year.

Later in the afternoon, Verona’s coach Fabio Pecchia will put his remaining chances to sit on the Scaligeri bench at stake in an away match in Sassuolo. A five-game losing streak is not the best calling card for him, difficult to imagine that president Maurizio Setti will tolerate one more, especially against a direct rival in the relegation battle.

The Neroverdi’s situation is only slightly better, with the late 1-2 win in Benevento last week giving Christian Bucchi some break after three losses in a row. The return of Domenico Berardi may be Bucchi’s ace in the hole for this sensitive match.

Chievo-Spal, also starting at 6.00 PM today, is a totally unprecedented match – having the two teams never crossed their paths either in Serie A or Serie B. A tough task for Leonardo Semplici’s Ferraresi, who are in desperate need for making points, but will need to renounce to three first choice players like Marius Oikonomou, Federico Viviani, and Marco Borriello.

The Saturday night match will be Cagliari-Inter, with the Nerazzurri having the chance to spend one night as lone Serie A leader, should they leave the Sardegna Arena with three points.

Luciano Spalletti managed to square the circle with his Inter side, to which he gave a precise identity and solid lineup. The new challenge for the Tuscanian coach now seems to be rejuvenating left back Davide Santon: Inter’s home-grown player came back to his original club one year ago with little ambitions, after some meager experiences abroad. Former coach Stefano Pioli didn’t give him much space, but Spalletti decided to send him in last week against Atalanta. A convincing performance may have earned Santon a spot in tonight’s match at the Sardegna Arena, and that might be the only change within a well-tested eleven-man lineup.

Diego Lopez brought fresh ideas to Cagliari after substituting coach Massimiliano Rastelli in October. His work is starting to bear fruit, as the Isolani won three of their last four games, building a six-point margin over the relegation zone. For tonight, first choice goalkeeper Alessio Cragno will still not be available, but experienced Rafael de Andrade provides a good alternative.

On Sunday at 3.00 PM, we are curious to see what happens at the Dacia Arena in Udine, with Massimo Oddo replacing Gigi Del Neri to receive a new chance on a Serie A bench, after last year’s disastrous experience with Pescara – 23 games with no wins before being sacked.

The 2006 Azzurri World Champion is likely to opt for a 3-5-1-1 module, deploying Bosnian Riad Bajic as lone striker. A one-match ban inflicted to Albano Bizzarri will give a new chance also to Simone Scuffet between the posts. Three years ago, the home-grown goalie had had a stunning Serie A debut at 17, only to spend the following seasons between loans and bench time. With the departure of Oscar Karnezis, Scuffet was again given the task of defending Udinese’s goal this year, but quickly lost his spot due to a series of disappointing performances.

No changes within Maurizio Sarri’s lineup, with Mario Rui expected to be preferred to Christian Maggio as left back.

Sinisa Mihajlovic will face his recent past as his Torino pay visits to Milan in San Siro. The former Rossoneri coach can count on his best possible eleven-man lineup, including recovered center back Lyanco. Another former Rossonero, striker M’Baye Niang, will probably sit on the bench.

Breathing some fresh European air did good to Milan, which secured their spot in the Europa League Round of 32 last Thursday. However, Vincenzo Montella is expected to leave out Patrick Cutrone and André Silva, the players who trashed Austria Vienna. Suso and Nikola Kalinic will take their regular attacking spots back, as well as Alessio Romagnoli in the three-man defensive line.

Roma will go to Genoa to conclude a rollercoaster week, started with a thrilling win in the Derby della Capitale, which was followed by an unexpected slip in Madrid against Atlètico. Lorenzo Pellegrini should get back on the bench, for Daniele De Rossi to retake his spot. Defender Kostas Manolas will support Federico Fazio as center back. Alessandro Florenzi was in doubt, but should make it.

On the Rossoblu side, Davide Ballardini will confirm the lineup that beat Crotone last week, with Adel Taarabt and Goran Pandev as forwards.

For the Lazio-Fiorentina match at 6.00 PM on Sunday, trainer Simone Inzaghi will send Ciro Immobile back on the pitch, after having conceded him some rest in the recent Europa League game against Vitesse. With Mauro Icardi getting closer, it’s time for the Azzurri striker to defend his lead in the race for the top scorer title. Fiorentina will come to Rome counting on recovered Milan Badelj and Cyril Thereau. The French should join Federico Chiesa and Khouma Babacar in Stefano Pioli’s trident, with Giovanni Simeone starting from the bench.

For the Sunday night posticipo, Juventus will receive Crotone, and Massimiliano Allegri will take the chance to operate a massive turnover: Wojcech Szczesny will replace Gigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Kwadwo Asamoah, Claudio Marchisio, and Blaise Matuidi should all get a spot in the starting lineup. Chances are we will also finally see center back Benedikt Howedes in action.

Dim chances for Crotone to make anything out of their trip to Turin. The Calabresi have conceded at least one goal in 24 out of their latest 25 away matches – it’s very difficult to imagine that the trend could be reversed this Sunday.

On Monday night in Bergamo, for the last match of Round 14, we will assist to a new chapter of Benevento’s quest to capture their first Serie A points ever. If another stop for Amato Ciciretti was not enough for the Streghe coach Roberto De Zerbi, the opponent name is Atalanta – a team that just inflicted the largest home defeat to an English club in a European competition since 21 years. Good luck with that, even if tiredness may take a tool on Gian Piero Gasperini’s troops.