Rifinitura: Milan Host Napoli as Both Desperately Need Points

In Italian football, an “allenamento di rifinitura” is the final training session before a match. In the Cult of Calcio’s Rifinitura column, we take a look at what the weekly Serie A menu has to offer and in what condition the teams are in.

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First, let’s take a moment to rejoice at the fact that the international break is over, and that we won’t have to face that horrible, boring period again until late March of next year.

Ahhh…that feels good!

Now, let’s get down to business.

Club football is back which means Serie A is back, and back with a bang. Round 13 of the Italian league features many important match-ups, the biggest of which surely is the game at the San Siro Stadium. We are talking about Milan vs. Napoli.

Unfortunately, this battle has lost some of its glare in recent years. Milan have lost their mojo and their high rank among Italian giants recently in the annual battle for the Scudetto. They have already sacked manager Marco Giampaolo who lasted only four months on the job, and his replacement Stefano Pioli hasn’t given the squad the jolt it needs to kickstart its campaign.

Napoli, as well, are suffering from their own set of troubles. Inability to win matches has resulted in President Aurelio De Laurentiis’ ordering to put the whole squad in “constructive retreat,” forcing them to stay for a whole week at the team’s training ground Castelvolturno. This, in turn, sparked mutiny among the players who refused to follow these orders. Manager Carlo Ancelotti found himself in a tricky situation as he expressed his disagreement with the club’s president, only for him to follow the rules a day later. Ancelotti must hope his Napoli find the win against the opponent whom he spent most of his glory days with.

It’s safe to say that not everything is going according to plan either in Casa Milan or in Casa Napoli. Both teams desperately need to win this match if they don’t want the gap with the top places to widen even more. At this stage last year, Milan were eight points better off than today. Napoli, nine. Will Milan’s misery continue? Or will Napoli’s worst start of the season in eight years extend for another week?

Last Milan-Napoli matchup at San Siro ended in a goalless stalemate. Chances are that we will see a more entertaining match tonight, as both clubs are in desperate need of the three points…

On Saturday at 3.00 PM In Bergamo, Atalanta host leaders Juventus in the battle between the league’s best attack (Atalanta with 30 goals) and its best defense (Juventus conceded only 9 goals).

Maurizio Sarri has adapted well to life in Turin, even though he hasn’t yet squeezed the full potential of his squad this campaign. Serie A’s only unbeaten team face a tough assignment as they go against an Atalanta side that is firing on all cylinders. Juve are leading the table with 32 points – one above Inter – and Atalanta have 22, just 2 points short of third-placed Lazio.

Antonio Conte’s Inter travel to the Grande Torino Stadium in Turin to play Juventus’ city rivals Torino. The Nerazzurri have won 10 out of their 12 matches this season, something they had last achieved 30 years ago. Inter have also won their first six away matches this season. Only one team in the last seventeen seasons managed to win its first eight away matches – Juventus last year.

Torino will be relying on the attacking force of their striking-duo Andrea Belotti and Alex Berenguer, who have both participated in 11 of Torino’s 15 goals this season. Coach Walter Mazzarri of Torino will be looking to get one over his old employers Inter, who sacked him just five years ago after a disappointing start to the campaign.

Sunday games kick off with a Derby dell’Emilia as Bologna play host to region rivals Parma. Bologna manager Sinisa Mihajlovic was released from the hospital on Friday after successfully undergoing a bone marrow transplant, and it will be a delight to the eyes if this fighter manager can go back to guiding his squad from the bench on Sunday. One Bologna player, Rodrigo Palacio, will be more than glad to face Parma as he has scored 9 goals against them in 13 appearances, his best against any side.

On the other hand, Parma coach Roberto D’Aversa will be missing his main strike force in the shape of Roberto Inglese and Gervinho. However, the Gialloblu can still rely on Andreas Cornelius, who has been a revelation this season scoring five goals in his last four appearances.

Hellas Verona welcome Fiorentina as La Viola try to cut the gap between them and the European qualification places. However, Vincenzo Montella and his men won’t have a walk in the park as they will face the league’s second meanest defense in the shape of the Scaligeri, who have conceded only 10 goals so far this season.

Roma host last-placed Brescia as they battle to keep the chase for the top places which are filled with competition. Their young starlet Nicolò Zaniolo has been in good form lately, scoring in each of the Giallorossi’s last three wins. Roma have had a slip-up against Parma a fortnight ago, but they will want to bounce back at home and reward their fans with the W.

Brescia are one of five teams so far this season to have changed manager, with Italian legend Fabio Grosso taking the helm earlier this month. All of Brescia’s seven points in the league came when they kept a clean sheet, and the hero of Berlin in 2006 wouldn’t mind keeping one at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday.

What I like the most about myself is that I don’t give up.” Those are the words of the current Serie A capocannoniere (top scorer) Ciro Immobile. The October MVP is leading the charts with 12 goals this season and hopes to help his Lazio side overcome a testing Sassuolo group in Reggio Emilia. Immobile is the first Lazio player to score in seven straight league matches since Giorgio Chinaglia in 1974. No Lazio player has ever scored eight times in a row for the Biancocelesti. Keep an eye on a certain blonde striker this week…

Sampdoria host Udinese as they try to salvage their season and climb out from the relegation zone. The Blucerchiati have been performing well recently under new coach Claudio Ranieri, with five points collected from three matches. Compare that to the terrible start under Eusebio Di Francesco when they accumulated only four points from nine games. Udinese are the league’s third weakest attack with eight goals (only Sampdoria and SPAL did worse than that with seven). Still, the Bianconeri sit comfortably in 11th place with 14 points, the second best point per goal ratio across Europe’s top five leagues (1.75), only behind Reims of France (2.11).

Lecce welcome Cagliari as the Pugliese side are searching for their first home win of the season. Cagliari have been the surprise package this year as they currently share the third place with Lazio at 24 points. The return of Radja Nainggolan to the Sardinian side and his brilliant relationship on the pitch with teammates João Pedro and Giovanni Simeone have made them the league’s fourth best attack, better than the likes of Juventus and Roma.

This week of Serie A football concludes with a Monday night match between SPAL and Genoa in Ferrara. This matchup has relegation scrap written all over it as both teams are lying in the bottom places of the league table. SPAL have recently had the upper hand with results, as the last four meetings between these two ended in three draws and one win for SPAL.

All in all, this looks to be yet another fantastic weekend of Serie A football, and we can’t wait for it to begin!

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