Rifinitura: Roma-Milan Main Event, but Watch for Crotone-SPAL

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.

Photo Credit: © Alessandro Castaldi

The main event of Serie A Round 26 takes place on Sunday night at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, where Giallorossi and Rossoneri will stage a new act of a classic duel with much at stake: Roma to consolidate their third spot, Milan to see if they can catch the last train for a potential Champions League slot. That same slot that Inter have a golden chance to defend, playing at home with Benevento.

The title battle between Napoli and Juventus continues, both teams coming from nine wins a row – but neither able to afford a single misstep. The Old Lady plays against Atalanta, the first of two acts that will culminate on February 28 – with the second leg of the Coppa Italia Semi Final. Napoli travel to Sardinia to face Cagliari on Monday night.

Crotone-SPAL is a lowland match not to be missed: Those who win, take a huge step towards their permanence in Serie A.

This weekend of calcio kicks off at 6.00 PM tonight with Genoa-Bologna – a match between two clubs that are already comfortably safe with 30 points each. Europa League is 11 points away, the relegation danger zone 13 behind. That’s the problem with a 20-team league, many of which end up having nothing more to ask to their season in February already.

Let’s keep our eyes open then to see how Bologna’s young Italian stars perform: Federico Di Francesco will maintain his position on the front line, together with lost talent Mattia Destro. Simone Verdi will start from the bench. Both Verdi and Di Francesco have just been invited by Italia interim coach Luigi Di Biagio to join a technical stage next week.

At 8.45 PM tonight, Inter will be served an easy chance (on paper…) to recover from their long-lasting crisis, as they receive Benevento at San Siro Stadium. Luciano Spalletti will take Mauro Icardi with himself, but Maurito will likely sit on the bench. The Streghe appear galvanized by their thrilling win over Crotone last week, but – to put it simply – Nerazzurri cannot miss this chance to make points.

The lunchtime match on Sunday is one that could shape the destiny of both teams involved, with Walter Zenga’s Crotone receiving Leonardo Semplici’s SPAL at their Enzo Scida home ground. The Sharks have a four-point lead over the Estensi – in case of victory, Crotone will start to clearly see the possibility to avoid relegation for the second year in a row. On the other hand, should SPAL prevail, the battle not to fall in Serie B would become even more interesting.

The outcome of tomorrow’s Crotone-SPAL will say much about both teams’ chances to maintain their Serie A spot for next season. The first leg played in Ferrara on September 30, 2017 ended with a 1-1 tie (Photo: © Alessandro Castaldi)

Walter Zenga will go all-in, with a three-man all-Italian, young attacking line composed by Federico Ricci, Marcello Trotta, and Andrea Nalini. On the midfield left flank, watch out for Juventus home-grown Rolando Mandragora – who also earned the right to participate to the Nazionale upcoming stage. SPAL coach Semplici will reply with a more aged pair of strikers, 36-year old Sergio Floccari, and 33-year-old Mirco Antenucci.

Chievo will go to Florence in an attempt to put more distance between themselves and relegation threats. The chance is a good one, as Fiorentina will be missing two key men in their usual line up – disqualified Nikola Milenkovic, and Milan Badelj.

The other club from Verona, Hellas, receive Torino at Marc’Antonio Bentegodi Stadium, the Scaligeri trying to keep their faint hope to remain in the elite division still alive. The Granata’s trident, composed by Iago Falque, Andrea Belotti, and Mbaye Niang should leave few chances to their opponents – with Torino being only five points away from Europa League, and therefore well-determined to make full score.

However, Hellas Verona have been the wild card of the season so far, capable of performances like their 4-1 win over Fiorentina, and 3-0 trashing of Milan. Never say never.

Sampdoria and Udinese are both called to a quick come back, after losing their last week games to Milan and Roma. No doubts at all for Marco Giampaolo, who will have Gianluca Caprari replacing Duvan Zapata to join Fabio Quagliarella on the front line, supported by Gastòn Ramirez. A few more problems for visiting coach Massimo Oddo, who will be still missing Kevin Lasagna and Adrien Perica: Argentinian Maxi Lopez will be his lone striker, supported by Rodrigo Depaul, and Jakub Jankto.

In the first leg played on September 30, 2017, Udinese caught a sounding 4-0 win. Tomorrow’s match at Marassi Stadium promises not to be a dull one.

Sassuolo-Lazio at Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia looks like a promising chance for Ciro Immobile to increase his seasonal scoring tally: the Nazionale’s leading striker has already scored 22 times in this league – which is more than all Sassuolo players combined! –  and is just back from pushing his side into Europa League Round of 16, with a hat trick scored to Steaua Bucharest.

Will Sassuolo’s trident, with Matteo Politano, Domenico Berardi, and Khouma Babacar help their coach Giuseppe Iachini gaining some precious points, and cast relegation anxiety away from the remaining games? The first time the two teams faced each other this season, Lazio won 6-1. That’s not exactly a good precedent…

Serie A will end in a crescendo this weekend. At 6.00 PM on Sunday, Juventus receive Atalanta at the Allianz Stadium. Interesting to see how the Bergamaschi will be doing, both physically and mentally, after narrowly missing the accomplishment of pushing Borussia Dortmund out of Europa League.

Image result for atalanta borussia dortmund
Atalanta played a courageous match against Borussia Dortmund last Thursday. After leading for most of the match, La Dea conceded a late equaliser that gave the qualification to the German side (Photo: Twitter @BVB)

Gian Piero Gasperini can count on his full squad, and is expected to line up his best possible formation – except for Alejandro Gomez, who will start from the bench. So, no rest for those unfortunate protagonists of last Thursday’s match against the German powerhouse. As Atalanta is expected to face Juventus again only three days later for the ritorno of their Italian Cup Semi Final, one could wonder whether such a heavy schedule will eventually take a toll on Atalanta’s extraordinary season so far.

Massimiliano Allegri, with Juventus still running for all their three competitions –  Serie A, Champions League, and Coppa Italia – has a long injury list to deal with. Gonzalo Higuain and Federico Bernardeschi joined the club last week, however Paulo Dybala has finally recovered and should take his place back in the middle of the Bianconeri’s attack. Midfielder Blaise Matuidi should also see the pitch again.

The calcio weekend culminates on Sunday night, as Roma receive Milan – both clubs coming from a winning streak in campionato, but with different moods due to the opposite outcome of their weekly European trips. Roma dangerously teetered in Kharkiv, conceding their away Champions League game to Shakhtar. Milan played sul velluto their retour match against Ludogorets, and caught an easy qualification to the Europa League Round of 16.

Roma Coach Eusebio Di Francesco has “rediscovered” Turkish winger Cengiz Under, and the 20-year old (five goals in the last four games for him) will keep his spot among the three man supporting the punta centrale (“center forward”) – which should be Edin Dzeko, even if Di Francesco could surprisingly deploy Patrick Schick.

Five goals in the last four games for Roma’s 20-year old winger Cengiz Under. The Turkish suddenly became an essential presence among Eusebio Di Francesco’s lineup, after having been invisible for the first half of the season (Photo: © Federico Gaetano)

On the Rossoneri side, Gennaro Gattuso seems to have found his ideal 4-3-3 lineup, the only doubt being the presence of Davide Calabria – who is not in top shape. Recovered Nikola Kalinic is among the starting list, but Patrick Cutrone is untouchable at the moment.

Curtains down on Monday night, with Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli going to Cagliari with the advantage of already knowing the score of title contenders Juventus. With the Partenopei relying on their usual eleven men, questions are all on the Islanders’ side: Will North Korean jewel Han Kwang-song make his seasonal Serie A debut with the Rossoblu?