Serie A Round 24 Preview: three matches to watch
Serie A matchday 24 is set to an unusual Friday start, as Juventus will travel to Florence before hosting Tottenham on Tuesday in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16. The Scudetto race seems now only a matter between the Bianconeri, that sit in second place with 59 points, and Napoli, currently one point above them. Behind the two Scudetto contenders, the competition for the two remaining Champions League spots is closer than ever this season, with Lazio, Inter and Roma fighting in the space of just 3 points (46, 45 and 44 points respectively). Here are three matches to watch this weekend:
Fiorentina vs Juventus (February 9th at 20:45 local time)
After the trashing win at home against Sassuolo, Juventus prepare to face Fiorentina in one of the biggest rivalries of Italian football. The Viola have gone back to winning ways against Bologna, 1-2, after a spell of four consecutive matches without a win. Juventus, on the other hand, have returned the perfect machine of the past six campaigns, as they’ve not dropped any points in the last eight fixtures. Their last match without a win dates back to early December, 0-0 draw against Inter.
FIORENTINA (3-5-2): Sportiello; Pezzella G., Victor Hugo, Astori; Chiesa, Benassi, Badelj, Veretout, Biraghi; Simeone, Thereau
JUVENTUS (4-3-2-1): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Benatia, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Khedira, Pjanic, Marchisio; Bernardeschi, Mandzukic, Higuain
Players to watch
Fiorentina – Federico Chiesa
Chiesa is certainly one of the most exciting prospects for the future of Italian football. After Bernardeschi’s departure, Federico has done a great job on the right wing, replacing the current Juventus player also as Viola supporters’ favourite. This game could be the perfect occasion for him to show his qualities against a tough opponent.
Juventus – Federico Bernardeschi
The prodigal son returns to Florence, but this time as a rival. His coach Allegri believes Fiorentina fans won’t affect his performance, so it will be interesting to see if he will manage to stay calm and come out victorious in the duel with the other Federico, his former teammate Chiesa, who filled in his spot on the wing and in the hearts of Fiorentina supporters.
Prediction: Juventus 2-0 Fiorentina
Juventus seem unstoppable: they are strong, focused and always hungry for wins. Their squad depth is also a huge element in their favour, as they can replace the injured Dybala and Matuidi with players of the caliber of Bernardeschi and Marchisio. Fiorentina have struggled at home lately and against an organised defence like Juventus’s one (four consecutive clean sheets) they could hit a brick wall trying to find the back of the net.
Napoli vs Lazio (February 10th at 20:45 local time)
This match has all the elements to be the most entertaining of the matchday. Napoli and Lazio are, in fact, arguably the teams that play the most enjoyable football in the Serie A, thanks to the philosophy of their coaches. After comfortably winning against Benevento last week, Sarri’s team have to keep the foot on the gas pedal in order to keep Juventus distant. On the other hand, Lazio want to put the loss at home against Genoa behind them as soon as possible and keep the fight for a Champions League spot alive. Simone Inzaghi’s team will not count on Felipe Anderson, as the Brazilian won’t be selected for the trip to San Paolo, after a quarrell with the coach.
NAPOLI (4-3-3): Reina; Hysaj, Koulibaly, Albiol, Mario Rui; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik; Callejon, Mertens, Insigne
LAZIO (3-5-1-1): Strakosha; Caceres, De Vrij, Radu; Marusic, Parolo, Lucas Leiva, Milinkovic-Savic, Lulic; Luis Alberto; Immobile
Players to watch
Napoli – Allan
Napoli side has lots of talented players and choosing one of the front three as one to watch for this game would have been easier. But it will be very interesting to see how Allan will cope with a muscular midfield like Lazio’s one. The Brazilian is having a magnificent season so far, proving to be a tireless box-to-box midfielder, fundamental to Sarri’s orchestra.
Lazio – Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
That Milinkovic-Savic is a key player in Inzaghi’s team was evidenced by the game against Genoa, that the Serbian midfielder missed due to a one match ban. With his strong body and delicate feet Milinkovic has been one of the stars of Serie A so far and the player who could cause many problems even to an organized side like Napoli.
Prediction: Napoli 3-1 Lazio
It will definitely be an entertaining match, with many goals and scoring chances. Napoli seem a more mature team than last season and they haven’t lost to Lazio for almost two years. On the flip-side, after the back-to-back losses against Milan and Genoa, Lazio seem to be suffering the same dip in form that the other two Champions League contenders, Inter and Roma, have experienced lately. Felipe Anderson’s situation could also be an indicator that the Biancocelesti could not be as serene as they were in the first part of the season.
Inter vs Bologna (February 11th at 15:00 local time)
After an almost flawless start to the season Inter have plunged from top of the class to fourth place and they haven’t managed to get a win in their last eight matches in the Serie A. Many players have lost their initial good form, so coach Spalletti could ponder a change in formation to try and turn things around for the Nerazzurri. Their opponents, Bologna, are struggling to find some continuity in their results as well and will also miss their key player Simone Verdi. The Rossoblu, anyway, are off to a comfortable second part of the season, as they sit at 12th place with 27 points, ten points clear of the relegation zone.
INTER (4-2-3-1): Handanovic; Cancelo, Skriniar, Miranda, D’Ambrosio; Vecino, Borja Valero; Candreva, Rafinha, Perisic; Icardi
BOLOGNA (4-3-3): Mirante; Mbaye, Gonzalez, Helander, Masina; Poli, Pulgar, Dzemail; Krejci, Palacio, Di Francesco
Players to watch
Inter – Rafinha
The Brazilian midfielder, arrived from Barcelona on loan with an option to buy in January, could be just the player Inter need right now. With his precise passes and quick feet, Rafinha could, in fact, be the spark that ignites Nerazzurri’s football, too slow and predictable at the moment.
Bologna – Blerim Dzemaili
After returning to Bologna from Montreal, Dzemaili has had an immediate impact for the Rossoblu, scoring on his debut this season against Benevento. His constant movements and ability to work the space could cause some problems to Spalletti’s side.
Prediction: Inter 2-1 Bologna
It will be a close game but Inter could finally edge it a get a win after an 8-games winless streak. The return of Mauro Icardi in the team, after missing Crotone due to a minor injury, could be a key factor in solving Inter offensive problems. On the other hand, Bologna will surely put up a fight, trying to exploit the current poor form of Candreva and Perisic on both sides with their agile and skilled wingers Krejci and Di Francesco and the ex-Inter Palacio, who is always tireless in opening gaps for his teammates.