Serie A Matchday 34 Preview
Here we are, the day of decisive clash for the Scudetto race has finally come. In matchday 34, in fact, Juventus and Napoli will face each other in the most important match of the season so far. Allegri’s side reignited Napoli’s hopes on Wednesday, as in the space of six minutes Crotone’s striker Simy scored the equaliser for his team with a spectacular bicycle kick while Sarri’s band managed to come back from 2-1 down against Udinese, with the final result of 4-2 to the Azzurri. Now the gap between the two teams has shrunk by 2 points, as the Bianconeri lead the standings with 85 pts. and the Azzurri trail behind them with 81. In the Champions League zone all the three contenders got 3 points in their midweek fixtures: that means that Roma and Lazio remain in 3rd and 4th place with 64 points, while Inter sit just behind them with 63 pts. Below them Milan, Fiorentina, Atalanta and Sampdoria’s battle to book a place in the Europa League continues.
Here are all the matches of Serie A matchday 34:
Saturday, April 21st (time GMT +1)
SPAL – Roma
Sassuolo – Fiorentina
Milan – Benevento
Sunday, April 22nd (time GMT +1)
Cagliari – Bologna
Udinese – Crotone
Chievo Verona – Inter
Atalanta – Torino
Lazio – Sampdoria
Juventus – Napoli
Monday, April 23rd (time GMT+1)
Genoa – Hellas Verona
GAMES TO WATCH
SPAL - Roma
The opener of this matchday will be one between two teams that have still a lot to play for. On the one side there are SPAL, who desperately need points to stay in the top flight; on the flipside, Roma have to get a positive result in order to keep their 3rd place and the consequent qualification to next season’s Champions League, before playing Liverpool on Tuesday at Anfield in one of the most important games of their recent history.
SPAL (3-5-2): Meret; Cionek, Vicari, Felipe; Lazzari, Kurtic, Viviani, Grassi, Mattiello; Paloschi, Antenucci.
ROMA (4-3-3): Alisson; Florenzi, Manolas, Fazio, Jonathan Silva; Nainggolan, De Rossi, Strootman; Under, Schick, El Shaarawy.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
SPAL – Manuel Lazzari
In his first season in the top flight of Italian football, SPAL’s right midfielder Manuel Lazzari is making a name for himself in Serie A. With his tireless work up and down the right wing, the 24-year old has been one of the main assets in Semplici’s side race to avoid relegation so far. His good performances have caught the eye of many clubs, including big ones, on him and I’d be very surprised if he remained to SPAL next season.
Roma – Jonathan Silva
After joining Roma from Portuguese side Sporting CP in January to replace Emerson Palmieri as backup left-back, Jonathan Silva seem set to make his Serie A debut in a Roma shirt. The Argentinian spent his first three Italian months trying to fully recover from an injury and getting fit again. Now, with Kolarov out of the squad for this game, Silva will most likely be on the left side of Giallorossi’s defence, where he will face the aforementioned Manuel Lazzari. Not an easy task on a debut after a long injury.
SPAL 1 – 1 Roma
Leonardo Semplici’s team is currently on an eight-games unbeaten run, with six consecutive draws. On their home ground, the Spallini have also managed to draw with big teams like Juventus and Inter and the fighting spirit that they are showing to keep the division could lead to another upset against Roma. The Giallorossi, in fact, are nearing the first leg of the Champions League semi-final and their focus may already be more on Salah, Manè and Firmino rather than Lazzari, Antenucci and Paloschi. Therefore, this game may end with a point for both teams.
Lazio – Sampdoria
Lazio were the protagonists of what has been the most spectacular and enjoyable match for neutral eyes in the midweek round of fixtures. With their 4-3 comeback against Fiorentina, Inzaghi’s side has made a statement: they won’t give up the Champions League race until the end. However, this weekend’s opponents will give them a good run for their money. Sampdoria, in fact, are still in the battle for a Europa League spot and, despite their result away from home being poor, remain a well-organized and difficult opponent for any team.
LAZIO (3-5-1-1): Strakosha; Luiz Felipe, De Vrij, Radu; Marusic, Parolo, Lucas Leiva, Milinkovic-Savic, Lulic; Felipe Anderson; Immobile.
SAMPDORIA (4-3-1-2): Viviano; Bereszynski, Silvestre, G. Ferrari, Strinic; Barreto, Torreira, Praet; Ramirez; Quagliarella, D. Zapata.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Lazio – Felipe Anderson
After the first stint of the season spent more in the treatment room than on the pitch, Felipe Anderson has added unpredictability and (even more) flair to Lazio’s performances since his return. Despite still being quite inconsistent, the Brazilian is a fundamental piece in Inzaghi’s masterplan both as a starter and as substitute. Due to Luis Alberto’s one match ban, Anderson will also play as trequartista behind Ciro Immobile: definitely a lethal upfront duo.
Sampdoria – Duvan Zapata
Arrived from Napoli for €20 million in the summer, the Colombian striker is living up to the expectations as he has scored 11 goals for Sampdoria this season. Thanks to his physicality, combined with an impressive speed for a “tank” like him, Zapata has been more than once Giampaolo’s battering ram against compact defences. The clash against De Vrij, one of the best Serie A defenders this season, promises sparks.
Lazio 3 – 1 Sampdoria
The game against Fiorentina gave Lazio a huge confidence boost in the race for the Champions League, the same boost that Sampdoria received from Zapata’s last-minute winner against Bologna. It will be an interesting game, between two very organized teams, but Lazio’s quality may be the difference-maker here. Moreover, Sampdoria’s abysmal form away from home this season (just 4 wins out of 16 matches played away from Marassi) is another element that tip the scales in Lazio’s favour.
Juventus – Napoli
The two antagonists are standing one against each other, at last. Like in one of those classic “Spaghetti Western” movies, their hands are on the holster and the duel is set to begin. What remains to be seen is who will be holding the smoking gun at the end of the 90 minutes. The Allianz Stadium in Turin will be the set of the biggest game of the match day and of the entire season, as Juventus and Napoli will battle for the Scudetto. A Juventus win would mean game over for Sarri’s side, while a Napoli success would put them just one point behind the Bianconeri, leaving the Scudetto race more open than ever.
JUVENTUS (4-3-2-1): Buffon; Lichsteiner, Benatia, Chiellini, Asamoah; Khedira, Pjanic, Matuidi; Mandzukic, Douglas Costa; Higuain.
NAPOLI (4-3-3): Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik; Callejon, Mertens, Insigne.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Juventus – Gonzalo Higuain
Higuain’s departure from Napoli wasn’t exactly what could be called a “separation on good terms”. After leaving the club for a €94 million record fee, the Argentinian striker, once worshipped as a hero in Naples, has become the villain for all the Azzurri’s supporters, scoring also 4 goals in 5 matches against his former team. His killer instinct seems to be amplified every time he plays against Napoli, so the Albiol-Koulibaly defence duo will have to watch him closely if they don’t want to see him putting another one past Reina.
Napoli – Marek Hamsik
Despite becoming Napoli’s all-time top goalscorer, Azzurri’s skipper Marek Hamsik has looked like the shadow of his former self this season under the Vesuvius. Often subbed-off in the 60’ minute for the younger and more mobile Zielinski, the Slovakian has the chance to become a legend for the city and his club in the most important game of the season. Napoli need all his charisma and footballing intelligence to get the three points against a machine war like Juventus.
Juventus 1 – 0 Napoli
It will be a nail-biter, a game where Juventus will most probably sit back and wait for Napoli attacks and then try to catch Azzurri’s defence on the break. Juventus coach Allegri is a master in preparing games like this one, while on the other hand Sarri’s side has shown that they find difficult to play against compact and defensive teams. The Bianconeri will probably play a very similar game to the ones they have played against Roma or Napoli themselves in the first part of the season, especially since they could also settle for a draw. Anyways, passion and adrenaline will be flying all over the Allianz Arena, in a duel that can’t definitely be missed.