Rifinitura: Napoli Host Inter as Serie A Welcomes Back Ibra

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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The holidays are over and Serie A is back! The new decade begins with an exciting match-up as league table leaders Inter pay a visit to Napoli and Serie A welcomes back Swedish legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Napoli – Inter

Our position in the table is an embarrassment,” declared Napoli coach Gennaro Gattuso in his introductory press conference. “I want to get all the players back on board and get them to perform at their best.”

So far, the coach from the region of Calabria has had a shaky start at Napoli. A debut home defeat against Parma was followed by a last-minute goal win for the Neapolitans at Sassuolo. Gattuso knows he must make the pieces of the puzzle at Napoli to start winning again continuously, or he’ll be facing the similar fate of his predecessor and mentor Carlo Ancelotti.

Inter travel to the south as league leaders (on goal difference with Juventus) and as the best defense of the campionato. Antonio Conte will be relying on his star striker Romelu Lukaku in search for a win that Inter last achieved at the San Paolo stadium in 1997.

Brescia – Lazio

After finishing off 2019 on a high by winning the Italian Super Cup a fortnight ago, the Eagles of Lazio are seeking a ninth consecutive league win as they travel up north to struggling Brescia. New-old Coach Eugenio Corini has revived the Rondinelle and the city of Brescia after his return in early December with two victories on the bounce, but failed to win the following two games afterwards. Corini’s side will need to be at their absolute best if they want to halt the seemingly unstoppable train of Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio.

SPAL – Hellas Verona

SPAL achieved their first away win of the season in the last round as they came out triumphant against Torino. Striker Andrea Petagna has scored six goals so far in the league, which amount to 50% of his club’s total goals in the championship – the highest ratio in Serie A. Hellas Verona, on the other hand, will want to take inspiration from their heroic comeback against Torino before the holiday break, which saw veteran striker Giampaolo Pazzini open his account for the season, proving doubters wrong at 35 years of age!

Genoa – Sassuolo

Genoa, or il Grifone, start the new year with a new manager as old boss Thiago Motta got the sack and in his place, came Davide Nicola. The new coach’s objective will be to steer the team to safety positions in the league table ASAP. Sassuolo, or the Neroverdi, are unbeaten in their last five league away games, their joint-longest run in Serie A history. They’ll be praying for the return of top scorer Domenico Berardi to help them extend that unbeaten away league record.

Roma – Torino

With a new ownership on the horizon, Roma are flying on the seventh heaven at the moment. The Giallorossi are aiming for a tenth straight league win against Torino at the Stadio Olimpico. Young starlet Nicolò Zaniolo needs one more goal to surpass his best goal tally in Serie A. Torino’s last win at Roma was in 2007. They will need their captain and top scorer with seven goals Andrea Belotti on his best day to have any chance of not leaving the Italian capital empty-handed. However, the Italian national team striker has failed to score a goal from open play since September, which came in a win against Milan.

Bologna – Fiorentina

Fiorentina also changed managers as the heavy defeat by Roma last time out had its toll on club President Rocco Commisso, who decided to sack Vincenzo Montella and bring in Giuseppe Iachini to take charge. Fiorentina are the ninth Serie A team coached by Iachini. In the three-point era, this number of coaching Serie A clubs is only exceeded by Alberto Malesani, who oversaw 11 clubs in the competition. On the contrary, ninth-placed Bologna are stable in the managerial department, and coach Sinisa Mihajlovic is seeking a third straight league win for the Rossoblu.

Juventus – Cagliari

The Old Lady will be aiming to remove the wounds from the defeat by Lazio at the Super Cup just before the break. Maurizio Sarri’s men will hope rivals Inter stumble in Naples so that they can top the league with a win against Cagliari at home. The Sardinian side has only won two out of 38 matches at Juventus. Their last win in Turin came in 2009, under the guidance of Juventus’ former manager Massimiliano Allegri.

Atalanta – Parma

After blowing out Milan with a five-star show, Atalanta welcome Parma in their opening match of the new year. They finished 2019 with 81 goals scored in Serie A, their best tally in the league’s history. Roberto D’Aversa’s Parma are unbeaten in three games, sitting comfortably in seventh, and starting to think of a Europa League qualifying position for next year. The Ducali’s young Swedish sensation Dejan Kulusevski has been snatched by Juventus after performing brilliantly in the championship so far. However, he will finish off the season at the Ennio Tardini Stadium before moving to Turin in the summer.

Milan – Sampdoria

And he’s back! Zlatan Ibrahimovic has returned to Milan as the Rossoneri are still searching to salvage their season. The Swedish giant will certainly add character and leadership back to the dressing room which has lost those factors in recent years. He will also be providing goals, something the current Milan strikers have struggled to provide so far, this season. Sampdoria are hovering dangerously above the drop zone and they rarely win at San Siro. They’ll be relying on their manager’s experience and record at the iconic stadium. Claudio Ranieri has only lost once in eight games when visiting the city of fashion.

Lecce – Udinese

Only one of 26 Serie A meetings between these two sides ended in a draw, and that was in 2008. Udinese have had the lion’s share of those outings, grabbing 16 wins and Lecce winning 9. Stefano Okaka of Udinese hasn’t scored since October, while Lecce’s last seven league goals have been scored by seven different players.

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