Feature Photo: Marco Rosi / Getty Images
There is no easy game in Serie A, and all top clubs should better keep that in mind as they approach a Round 23 which does not feature any clear partita di cartello on paper. Take Napoli, for instance: The will go to Benevento mindful of their 6-0 win from the first leg – but the Giallorossi have eight new players to choose from since then. Or Juventus, which will receive a hungry-for-points Sassuolo, and their brand new striker Khouma Babacar. Roma and Inter have learned this lesson the hard way, and you can be sure that they won’t underestimate their low-standing opponents Verona and Crotone.
Round 23 starts today at 6.00 PM with an interesting Sampdoria-Torino, a key match in view of the Europa League qualification. Marco Giampaolo’s sparkling Bluecerchiati against the Granata rejuvenated by Walter Mazzarri’s treatment. It could be a duel between bombers – Fabio Quagliarella versus Andrea Belotti, but while the home player has fully recovered from his injury and will make it to the starting lineup, the Gallo will probably start again from the bench.
Time for a comeback for Torino and Azzurri’s striker Andrea Belotti? “Il Gallo” has been missing from the pitch since mid December due to a knee sprain (Photo: Getty Images)
Later in Saturday, Inter receives Crotone with the hope of breaking their nine-game non-winning streak. Roberto Gagliardini find his place back in the midfield, Mauro Icardi is out due to an injury so coach Luciano Spalletti will include Eder in the starting lineup. New joiner Rafinha should start again from the bench. For Walter Zenga, a few doubts between Davide Faraoni and Stefan Simic in defense, and Ante Budimir and Marcello Trotta on the forward line.
For the Sunday midday match, Verona faces a Roma which are in desperate needs of making points – after six games with three draws, and three losses. The Scaligeri were galvanized by last week’s unexpected 4-1 win in Florence, but will miss their best scorer Moise Kean, so Daniele Verde will support new joiners Bruno Petkovic and Ryder Matos in Fabio Pecchia’s 4-3-3.
The only good news for Roma is that Edin Dzeko is still their center forward: Offers from Chelsea didn’t convince him in the end, so the Bosnian will maintain his place in the Giallorossi’s trident along with Stephan El Shaarawy and Diego Perotti.
At 3.00 PM, Atalanta play at their home Atleti Azzurri d’Italia ground to confirm their magic moment. All set for Gian Piero Gasperini, whereas visitors Chievo and their coach Rolando Maran must face a few defections: Fabrizio Cacciatore and Samuel Bastien, both sent off last week against Juventus, will obviously not be of the match. Key striker Roberto Inglese is almost 100% recovered, but still not ready to make it from the start. New arrival Emanuele Giaccherini may make his debut to support Maran’s two-men front line.
Bologna-Fiorentina is a match between two sides still scorned and battered at their last round games’ outcome. The Rossoblu are furious at some referee decision that propitiated their 1-3 setback in Napoli, and will need to renounce to their injured captain Simone Verdi. Let’s see then how 21-year-old Riccardo Orsolini, on loan from Juventus via Atalanta, adapts himself to Roberto Donadoni’s module.
The Viola are facing a true crisis, having conceded seven goals in their last two games. Defender Bryan Dabo and former Sassuolo forward Diego Falcinelli moved to Florence during this Winter market session, but none of them is expected to be among the starting line up yet. Only change for shaking Stefano Pioli should be Nikola Milenkovic to replace banned Germàn Pezzella in defense.
Cagliari receives SPAL, conscious that three of their key men – Niccolò Barella, Joao Pedro, and Leonardo Pavoletti – will be available again from the start. SPAL surfs on enthusiasm after having caught a late equaliser last week against Inter. This match is going to be a key crossroads in the battle to remain in Serie A.
As far as the battle for the title goes, this round should be in favor of Juventus, which play at home against Sassuolo, if it wasn’t that Massimiliano Allegri must face multiple defection among his offensive players – with Paulo Dybala, Federico Bernardeschi, and Juan Cuadrado all out. The right winger in his attacking trident will be Alex Sandro. 40-year-old monument Gigi Buffon takes his place back between the posts.
Among Sassuolo lines, watch out for their new striker Khouma Babacar, the most expensive player in this (indeed meager) transfer market session. Matteo Politano seemed on the verge of transferring to Napoli, but nothing happened in the end. Let’s see if the Neroverdi striker will help the Partenopei in a different way…
Udinese will be a new test for Gennaro Gattuso’s Milan on their way to recovery. The Bianconeri appeared literally transformed since Massimo Oddo replaced Gigi Del Neri as head coach. Oddo’s only doubt regards who will support Kevin Lasagna as striker: Will it be Maxi Lopez or Rodrigo Depaul?
Same doubts for Ringhio Gattuso, who seems inclined to deploy Nikola Kalinic, supported by Hakan Calhanoglu, and Suso. However, how can you leave out a Patrick Cutrone in such a good shape?
Benevento-Napoli is a match between the team which changed more (eight new players, including last-minute hit, former Manchester City and Arsenal right-back Bacary Sagna!), and the one that didn’t change anything in the recent transfer window, much to the disappointments of their fans. Napoli didn’t do anything to strengthen their panchina corta. Will it be enough to keep chasing their Scudetto dreams?
Lazio-Genoa is the Monday night posticipo, and will see the Biancocelesti finally able to count again on Ciro Immobile. However, Simone Inzaghi will miss Sergej Milinkovic Savic and Nenad Lucic, both facing a one-match ban: New chances for Jordan Lukaku and Felipe Anderson, then.
Davide Ballardini’s problem is an injury that will keep midfielder Miguel Veloso out for one month. Luca Rigoni is ready to take his spot.