In Italian football, an “allenamento di rifinitura” is the final training 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 conditions teams get there.
Odds look in favor of Napoli this weekend, with the Partenopei facing SPAL at home tomorrow, after “having relieved themselves” of the Europa League burden. Yes indeed – Maurizio Sarri’s squad lost 1-3 to RB Leipzig on Thursday, confirming that their European duties were all but a priority, and that the real target for President Aurelio De Laurentiis’ club is the Italian title.
Maurizio Sarri, who still showed to be pretty upset at the way his boys conceded the Europa League match, is ready to deploy his Invincible Eleven, some of whom took rest during the match against Leipzig. Small chances for Leonardo Semplici’s Biancazzurri to come out of San Paolo Stadium with some points in their pockets. SPAL will need to win their battle for relegation somewhere else.
On the other hand, the weekly task is much tougher for Juventus, as the Bianconeri must battle city rivals Torino in the Derby della Mole (the “Mole Antonelliana” being a landmark building of Turin). This Torino is a different animal from the one Juventus trashed only a few months ago. Claudio Mazzarri replaced Sinisa Mihajolvoci on the Granata’s bench, and regenerated a Team which can still potentially run for a Europa League spot.
Plus, the Granata will play home at their Grande Torino Stadium, and can count back on Andrea Belotti – who is hungry for a comeback after an injury kept him out of the pitch for some time. The Gallo already showed last week, with an impressive coast-to-coast goal, that he is ready to reclaim his spot back among Italian top scorers.
For Massimiliano Allegri, doubts are most on the psychological side – with his boys called to bounce back after allowing Tottenham to reopen a Champions League playoff that they seemed to have won after just ten minutes.
The first match of this calcio weekend, kicking off at 3.00 PM today, is an interesting Udinese-Roma. The Giallorossi found their way back to victory last Sunday trashing Benevento 5-2, but since there is no such thing as a “quiet” day in Roma, Kevin Strootman’s unfortunate remarks about him “wanting to stay in Rome (…) but, in football, you never know” forced coach Eusebio Di Francesco to call everyone to focus on “facts, not talks” earlier this week.
Massimo Oddo’s Udinese can be the best party pooper – a mid-standing team, playing well, already safe, already too far from the top positions. Nothing to win, nothing to lose. The usual Udinese, one could say.
Chievo-Cagliari at. 6.00 PM is an important crossroads for the relegation battle. The home side Clivensi are in desperate needs for points, after having collected only two in the last eight games. Conversely, an away victory for the Islanders would push them out of danger zone, and make Rolando Maran’s life terribly complicated.
Inter goes to Genoa on Saturday night to check if they have left their dark period behind. Luciano Spalletti’s band broke their non-winning curse last week, and need to defend their third spot from the assaults of Roma and Lazio. But the home Rossoblu are a team that can trip anybody, especially when playing at their home ground Marassi Stadium.
Plus, Spalletti must renounce to Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic, both out due to an injury. New chance for winger Yann Karamoh then, whereas the central striker spot will be taken by Italian-Brazilian Eder. Marcelo Brozovic, after his quarrel with supporters, will start from the bench – together with Rafinha Alcantara.
The Sunday afternoon menu features another key game to book a ticket for next Season’s Serie A: Benevento-Crotone at the Ciro Vigorito Stadium. The Giallorossi have changed much in the last transfer market window, but still with no results. Failing to make any point today would almost mathematically mean the end of their first adventure in the top tier. On the other hand, Crotone was unexpectedly regenerated by the arrival of Walter Zenga on their bench: If they leave Campania with full score this weekend, another big step towards their second consecutive permanence in the elite division is taken.
Bologna-Sassuolo is a regional derby that promises little emotions. Bologna are already too far from the top positions, despite an encouraging campionato start, whereas the Neroverdi have a six-point margin over the relegation area: Too few to consider themselves “safe” already, but still the level of the clubs battling behind them should keep the Emilian side safe.
At 6.00 PM on Sunday, watch out for Atalanta-Fiorentina, with the Viola coming from their encouraging match with Juventus opposed to a Dea which continue to send their supporters in awe when playing in Europe. Atalanta left Dortmund on Thursday with a bitter 3-2 defeat, after playing Borussia openly, and even being in the lead at one point.
Question of the day is: Will the Bergamaschi eventually pay a toll due to their European duties? The qualification is still open, with Borussia coming to Bergamo next week for the second leg. Interesting to see how Gian Piero Gasperini will prepare the match, and how this will affect the campionato round against Fiorentina – which will count on figli d’arte Giovanni Simeone and Federico Chiesa to try to climb the standing.
Milan-Sampdoria, a game that traditionally grants emotions until the very last minute, will constitute an important play off for a slot in the next European season, between two teams in great shape. Gennaro Gattuso needs to renounce to pubalgia-affected Nikola Kalinic, but with Patrick Cutrone in such an amazing shape, that is the last of the problems for the Calabrian coach. Frank Kessié is facing a one-match ban, so who between Riccardo Montolivo and Manuel Locatelli will replace him, is a more pressing issue.
Marco Giampaolo will be able to count again on Gastòn Ramirez to support forwards Fabio Quagliarella and Duvan Zapata to keep the Rossoneri at safety distance.
The Monday night posticipo between Lazio and Verona is also an important game. Simone Inzaghi’s Biancocelesti were one of the most pleasant realities of this season – until a few weeks ago, when they started plummeting into a dark spiral of four losses in a row – including last Thursday’s Europa League one against Steaua Bucharest.
Verona are only four points away from safety, but what shown by Fabio Pecchia’s boys in the latest weeks does not trigger much optimism. The match at the Stadio Olimpico of Roma will not be a dull one, you can bet on that.