Rifinitura: Scudetto Race Ignited by Lazio Winning Streak

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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After a midweek of Coppa Italia football, Serie A returns as the second half of the season officially gets underway!

Lazio – Sampdoria

There is no team in Italian football that wouldn’t swap places with Lazio right now. The Biancocelesti have recorded 10 straight league wins, and their talisman Ciro Immobile is the league’s top scorer with 20 goals. Statistically-wise, Sampdoria are Immobile’s favorite opponent, as he has so far netted 10 goals against them.

It’s been 15 years since La Doria’s last league win at Lazio, and Fabio Quagliarella and co. have a huge task ahead of them. Quagliarella’s two strikes against Brescia last week made him the oldest player across Europe’s top five leagues to ever score a brace. Manager Claudio Ranieri’s recent record against the Laziali isn’t too bad, either. The Tinkerman has won his last five encounters with Lazio.

Sassuolo – Torino

Both teams enter this match with contrasting objectives. Torino have won four of their last six league games, and captain Andrea Belotti has scored in his last five matches against Sassuolo. Their manager Walter Mazzarri has never lost against the Emiliani, and will be seriously contemplating the idea that Europa League football next year is a possibility.

Conversely, Sassuolo’s form coming into this match-day is terrible. Their last three league matches have all ended in defeat, the Neroverdi have the fourth worst defense in Serie A, and Sassuolo have never ever beaten Torino at home. A daunting task is ahead of them.

Napoli – Fiorentina

These two sides had a thrilling opening match this season, sharing seven goals between them, and Napoli just barely edging out as winners at the end. Things have changed since then, as both clubs have substituted their managers who began this campaign.

Napoli’s management change hasn’t really worked out the way President Aurelio Di Laurentiis imagined it would. Gennaro Gattuso’s credentials as the right man to lead the Partenopei for the remainder of the season have been put under the microscope after a dismal start, losing three out of four matches.

On the other end, Giuseppe Iachini is yet to lose a game with La Viola after two matches in charge, guiding the Tuscan side to a draw and a win. Both teams need a win to boost team morale and improve their embarrassing league positions.

Milan – Udinese

After a 270-minute goal drought, Milan finally scored last week and ended up winning their match at Cagliari. Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his first league start since signing back with the Rossoneri, and the overconfident Swede didn’t disappoint and scored his team’s second goal. Udinese are also in good form as they have picked up full points from their last three matches, with Argentinian midfielder Rodrigo De Paul getting on the scoresheet in each of those wins.

Bologna – Hellas Verona

Since the turn of the century, both teams have faced-off one another on five occasions, with Bologna (Rossoblu) snatching three victories and Hellas Verona (Gialloblu) nicking two. Managers of both clubs – Sinisa Mihajlovic of Bologna and Ivan Juric of Hellas – are strong, temperamental coaches who will surely rally their respective squads towards collecting all three points.

Lecce – Inter

Last week, Inter missed out on staying top of the league with a disappointing home draw. They travel to Lecce in the region of Puglia having failed to win in their last two visits to the Via del Mare Stadium. One Giallorossi player will be looking forward to facing Inter is Lecce’s Khouma Babacar. The Senegalese striker has netted four goals against Inter in his career, and Antonio Conte’s Nerazzurri side need to keep an eye on him if they are to come out on top on Sunday.

Brescia – Cagliari

After a bright start to the campaign, Cagliari have lost track and can’t seem to find a win at the moment. Four straight defeats and only two goals scored are ringing alarm bells in the Sardinian island. Cagliari have, however, scored the most headed goals in Serie A (seven), and they will look to take advantage of that, as their hosts Brescia have conceded the most headers in the league so far (eight). Mario Balotelli will aim to help his Rondinelle side after having scored in his last three meetings against Cagliari.

Genoa – Roma

Two disappointing home defeats, coupled with Nicolò Zaniolo’s season-ending injury, have made for a difficult start to the new year for Roma. The Giallorossi aim to get back to winning ways when travelling up north to Genoa, as they will face ex-Romanista Mattia Destro. The Italian striker made 57 appearances for the Wolves, scoring 24 goals in the process. However, Destro will need his Genovesi teammates to step up their game and shut down Roma’s attack force, as the il Grifone are the league’s worst defense at the moment with 38 goals conceded.

Juventus – Parma

The Old Lady welcomes the Ducali having gone unbeaten in its last 30 home league games in Turin. Juventus where this year’s winter champions after taking advantage of Inter’s slip-up, and in the last 15 years, 90% of the teams who were on top after the end of the first half of the season went on to win the championship. The only exception to that was Napoli, in two seasons. And which coach managed them on those couple of occasions? You’ve guessed it, Maurizio Sarri!

Parma’s last defeat at the then-Juventus Stadium (now Allianz Stadium) was a 7-0 humiliation in November 2014. If they are to replicate anything like last season’s heroic comeback draw (3-3) at the home of the Bianconeri, they’ll definitely need to put out their best performance to salvage anything against the mighty Juve.

Atalanta – SPAL

Just like last week, Monday night football will be present as Atalanta welcome SPAL in Bergamo in an all-northern encounter. The Bergamaschi have had the upper hand recently, winning the last two games between the sides. The match will see the return of Andrea Petagna to battle it out against his former side Atalanta. He played 63 matches for the Nerazzurri, scoring nine goals across a two-year period. He will certainly be sniffing any opportunity to get one over his former employers.

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