Serie A Round 27 Preview: The Clash of the Titans
Serie A round 27 is going to be an exciting one, as the all the teams from first to eighth place will face each other in a sort of “Clash of the Titans”. Before taking a closer look to the games to watch this matchweek, let’s see how has changed the situation in the table after last round of games. On the highest step of the podium there are still Napoli with 69 points, four points above Juventus that had their match against Atalanta postponed due to bad weather. Well behind them, Lazio, Inter and Roma continue their game of “Snakes and Ladders”: this time are Lazio (3rd with 52 pts.) and Inter (4th with 51 pts.) that go up, while Roma remain at 50 points. The Giallorossi were defeated 2-0 by a new and unexpected contender in the race for a Champions League spot: Milan. Gattuso’s side is joint in 6th place with Sampdoria, six points behind Di Francesco. In the relegation zone things are getting interesting as SPAL managed to take a vital 3-2 win against Crotone away, reigniting hope both for them (18th with 20 points, just one point behind Zenga’s team) and for Hellas Verona (19th with 19 points). Here are all the games of round 27:
Saturday March 3rd
15.00 SPAL - Bologna
18.00 Lazio – Juventus
20.45 Napoli – Roma
Sunday March 4th
12.30 Genoa – Cagliari
15.00 Chievo – Sassuolo
15.00 Udinese – Fiorentina
15.00 Torino – Crotone
15.00 Benevento – Hellas Verona
15.00 Atalanta – Sampdoria
20.45 Milan – Inter
(time is expressed in local time - GMT + 1)
GAMES TO WATCH
Lazio vs Juventus (March 3rd at 18:00 local time)
The first chapter of this Serie A “Clash of the Titans” is between Lazio and Juventus, and is about strength. Both teams have played the second leg of the Coppa Italia semi-finals, but their morale won’t be the same . Only Juve, in fact, managed to go through to the final, beating Atalanta 1-0 at home (2-0 on aggregate), while Lazio gave up against Milan only to penalty kicks. It will definitely be an interesting game, as Lazio is arguably the most similar team to Allegri’s side. Both teams have in fact a strong midfield, with many muscular players and one man directing the orchestra (Pjanic for the Bianconeri and Lucas Leiva for the Biancocelesti), two players on the wings with different characteristics (skilled Felipe Anderson and Douglas Costa on one side, strong Mandzukic and Lulic on the other), flair trequartistas in Luis Alberto and Dybala and finally lethal strikers in Immobile and Higuain. The latter Argentinian, though, will miss out on the trip to Rome, as he has not recovered from his injury yet.
LAZIO (3-5-2): Strakosha; Wallace, De Vrij, Radu; Basta, Parolo, Lucas Leiva, Milinkovic-Savic, Lulic; Felipe Anderson, Immobile
JUVENTUS (4-3-3): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Benatia, Barzagli, Asamoah; Khedira, Pjanic, Matuidi; Douglas Costa, Dybala, Alex Sandro
Players to watch
Lazio – Ciro Immobile
The current top goalscorer of this Serie A campaign gets ready to meet once again the club where he grew up. Last time they faced each other, Immobile managed to score two past Buffon, but this time he could have a hard time as Juventus have shown no intention to concede in their last few league games. Anyways, Ciro remains Lazio’s most dangerous man, capable not only of scoring at any given chance, but also providing his teammates with assists and clever movements to open the space for the midfielders’ runs in the opponent box, that are one of the secrets to Inzaghi’s success.
Juventus – Paulo Dybala
After being sidelined for more than a month, la Joya is ready to return on the pitch from the first minute and take on the responsibility to be Juventus’ goalscorer in Higuain’s absence. Cutting inside from the right wing, he could cause all sort of trouble to Lazio’s defence, not one of the quickest in the Serie A.
Prediction: Lazio 1 – 3 Juventus
December 6th, 2003. That’s the date of Lazio’s last win in a Serie A game against Juventus at the Stadio Olimpico. Despite winning two in a row against Verona and Sassuolo, edging Allegri’s side could be too much to ask from the Biancocelesti. A tactical key of the game could be Khedira’s and Matuidi’s pressing on the main playmaker of Inzaghi’s team Lucas Leiva, that could leave isolated Lazio’s upfront pair.
Napoli vs Roma (March 3rd at 20:45 local time)
The Clash of the Serie A Titans continues with Napoli-Roma, and this will be all about creativity. Napoli are in a ten-game winning streak and they will be more motivated than ever, should Juventus drop some points against Lazio. On the other hand, Roma seem to have gone in a downward spiral again. The Giallorossi defeat against Milan was the result of a dull performance, the carbon copy of their second half against Shakhtar. Di Francesco’s side has now plunged in 5th place and, should they lose against Napoli, his position on Roma’s bench could be not as safe as before. Anyways, it will be a really enjoyable match as both teams have plenty of quality players that can ignite the game with a single touch of the ball.
NAPOLI (4-3-3): Reina; Hysaj, Koulibaly, Raul Albiol, Mario Rui; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik; Callejon, Mertens, Insigne
ROMA (4-3-3): Alisson; Florenzi, Manolas, Fazio, Kolarov; Nainggolan, De Rossi, Strootman; Under, Dzeko, El Shaarawy
Players to watch
Napoli – José Callejon
His movement to cut inside behind the last defender’s back and collect Insigne’s crosses from the other side is one of the most well-known movements in the league and yet one of the most lethal. Thanks to his tireless runs and ability to be at the right place at the right time, the Spanish winger is heading towards another season where his scoring tally reaches double figures, since his goal against Cagliari was the 8th of his once again impressing campaign. Roma’s defence need to be more than focused if they want to avoid this number to increase.
Roma – Alisson
It will be a busy evening for the Brazilian goalkeeper. Napoli’s front trio could be the nightmare of every goalkeeper but he has shown that he is more than capable to rise to the occasion and keep Roma’s boat floating. With his ability to read the game and distribution, Alisson is proving to be one of the, if not the, best keeper in the Italian league right now.
Prediction: Napoli 3 – 1 Roma
It will be an open match, with Roma desperate for a win in order to keep the Champions League race alive, but Napoli’s motivations and quality football will make the difference. Di Francesco’s defence seem more shaky than usual and, against a mobile and quick attack like Sarri’s one, their defensive walls could crumble very easily. Anyway, Roma will have their chances to score, they will have to be ready to take them and create some troubles on the wings with Under and Perotti.
Atalanta vs Sampdoria (March 4th at 15:00 local time)
The Serie A titans’ saga will continue at 15.00 (GMT +1) with the battle of two tactical masterminds. This match will be about strategy. Gasperini and Giampaolo are in fact two of the most experienced and organised coach in Serie A, two football professors. Both teams are built on precise tactical ideas and that is reflected on the pitch, where every player seem to have exactly clear what his assignment his. After being eliminated by Juventus in the Coppa Italia semi-final, Atalanta want to try and return in the Europa League and to do that they will have to face one of the major candidates for a European spot Sampdoria. Giampaolo’s side have been struggling to get results away from home, while they are just behind Napoli for points made in home games. This match could be a small compendium of all the distinctive characteristics of Italian football, so if you are passionate about tactics you can’t miss this masterclass.
ATALANTA (3-4-1-2): Berisha; Toloi, Caldara, Masiello; Hateboer, De Roon, Freuler, Spinazzola; Cristante; Ilicic, Gomez
SAMPDORIA (4-3-1-2): Viviano; Sala, Silvestre, Ferrari, Murru; Barreto, Linetty, Torreira, Alvarez; Quagliarella, Zapata
Players to watch
Atalanta – Josip Ilicic
The Slovenian, who was very close to joining Sampdoria this summer, is enjoying a very positive season under Gasperini. Having scored 7 goals, he is, together with Cristante, Atalanta top goalscorer: a signal that his performances are more consistent than in the past. In a difficult and tactical game like tomorrow’s one, his flair and technique could be the right weapons to use against Sampdoria’s defence.
Sampdoria – Fabio Quagliarella
After wandering across Italy and playing in many teams, Fabio Quagliarella continues to be one of the most prolific strikers in Serie A. At the age of 36, the ex-Torino player is having the season of his life with 17 goals scored already and 11 matchdays yet to play. Scoring past Atalanta’s defence won’t be the easiest task of his career, but he has showed everyone that there’s no such thing as an impenetrable defence for him.
Prediction: Atalanta 2 – 1 Sampdoria
It will be an even game, one where both teams will play good football. Sampdoria’s away record, anyway, speaks for itself as they have collected just 12 of their total 44 points away from home. On the other hand, Atalanta play much better in front of their supporters than away, so they might end up edging out Sampdoria this time. The duel between two of the most surprising midfielder of this campaign, Cristante and Torreira, will definitely be an interesting one.
Milan vs Inter (March 4th at 20:45 local time)
The story of this Serie A matchweek will end with the battle of the wounded giants that are desperately trying to go back to what they were before. And, like most books, the last chapter will be the most tense: it’s about passion. In front of more than 76 thousand people, Milan and Inter will compete in the “Derby della Madonnina” for a Champions League spot. The teams approach to the game in completely opposite form. Rossoneri are flying under Gattuso: they are now only seven points behind their city rivals and with morale over the roof after qualifying to the Coppa Italia final. The Rossoneri will rely on Spanish winger Suso, who has a particular knack for scoring against the city rivals. On the flip side, Inter’s series of poor performances has continued against bottom of the table Benevento, despite the final 2-0 scoreline. Anyways, Nerazzurri’s captain Mauro Icardi is set to go back on the pitch after missing three games due to a muscular injury. Behind him, Spalletti could make some changes, starting young French winger Yann Karamoh on the right and Candreva in the “trequartista” position.
MILAN (4-3-3): Donnarumma G.; Calabria, Bonucci, Romagnoli, Rodriguez; Biglia, Bonaventura, Kessié; Suso, Cutrone, Calhanoglu
INTER (4-2-3-1): Handanovic; Cancelo, Skriniar, Miranda, D’Ambrosio; Vecino, Gagliardini; Karamoh, Candreva, Perisic; Icardi
Players to watch
Milan – Giacomo Bonaventura
Bonaventura is probably the most consistent player in Milan side. His capability to play in many different positions of the midfield have made him one of the untouchable of Gattuso’s line-up and he has responded with good performances and vital goals, like the winner against Sampdoria. Just like Suso, he loves scoring against Inter and his deep runs and constant movement in the midfield could cause more than a headache to Inter’s midfield.
Inter – Antonio Candreva
Yes, him. Despite his hate-love relationship with Inter supporters, Candreva remain a player to watch for this game, especially in case he should play in a more central role. In the last 30 minutes against Benevento, Spalletti moved him in the trequartista position and he showed that some interesting things can come out of it. Against an organised defence like Milan’s one, Candreva’s longshots could be an alternative tactical solution to Inter’s usual cross-based playstyle.
Prediction: Milan 2 – 0 Inter
The derby is an unpredictable game, but this time the two teams are in a completely different state, both physically and mentally. Gattuso’s team are solid, have not conceded for six games in a row, and they are more confident than Inter. The Nerazzuri’s display against Benevento proved that they lack serenity to play like his coach want them to do and that could be a huge difference maker in the match. Motivation, passion and grit are the key factors in such games and, right now, only one of the two teams seem to have them.