Serie A action returns this midweek after the winter break. A new year and many new challenges await title contenders and relegation strugglers alike.


JUVENTUS
v
PARMA

Stadio Olimpico, Turin
January 6, 2011, 5:00 PM IST

In the early kick off Juventus will be  locking horns against Parma at the Stadio Olimpico on Thursday. After having enjoyed a good first half of the season, the Old Lady will be looking to keep their unbeaten run of 18 games intact. Juventus, currently occupy 4th position in the league knowing that a win would catapult them above Lazio and Napoli into second place and two points behind league leaders AC Milan.

Parma, on the other hand, have endured a difficult season and are sitting in a disappointing 16th place just four points off the drop zone. Under new coach, Pasquale Marino, Parma have gone down hill ever since their decent start to the season and has come under heavy criticism in recent weeks.

Team News and Tactical Brief

Juventus

Thursday’s game could well mark the return of a certain Gianluigi Buffon after having spent seven months on the side line with a back injury. This looks unlikely though as Juve wouldn’t want to rush back their star keeper and current first choice Marco Storari has performed admirably between the sticks. Midfield General Felipe Melo returns from suspension and should slot in alongside Alberto Aquilani in the centre of midfield flanked by Claudio Marchisio and Juve’s star man this season Milos Krasic.Young fullback Paolo De Ceglie is recuperating from his knee injury and should return in late January or early February which would allow Fabio Grosso to continue his role as De Ceglie’s replacement. Leo Bonucci is ruled out for the game as he suffered a knee injury in training, Nicola Legrottaglie is expected to take his place in the centre of defence alongside the monstrous figure of Giorgio Chiellini. Despite a poor showing against Chievo Verona, teen sensation Fredrik Sorensen should get the nod over Marco Motta in the right fullback position.

Vincenzo Iaquinta suffered yet another injury setback and is ruled out for up to 20 days with a thigh injury. Striker Amauri could make a return to first team action after overcoming various injury problems which saw him out of action for two months. In form Fabio Quagliarella and Alex Del Piero could be Del Neri’s picks as starting forwards.

Form Guide: DWWDW

Juventus Formation (4-4-2): Storari; Sorensen, Legrottaglie, Chiellini, Grosso; Krasic, Melo, Aquilani, Marchisio; Quagliarella, Del Piero

Parma

The Gialloblu have been heavily reliant on former Inter Milan striker Hernan Crespo who is undergoing a rennaisance to bang in the goals for them having scored 6 goals already this season. Goalkeeper Antonio Mirante has been solid all season as have former Palermo defender Cristian Zaccardo and Alessandro Lucarelli in defence although the latter will have to sit this game out. New signings Francesco Modesto and Raffaele Palldino could make their first starts for their new club.

All eyes will be on former Juve primavera star Sebastian Giovinco who will be making a return to his old hunting ground. Expectations were high of Giovinco after moving to Parma this season which was considered to be his ‘breakthrough season’. However, Giovinco has blown hot and cold so far with injuries hampering his progress. He is expected to play alongside former Juve player Antonio Candreva in midfield.

Parma Formation (4-3-3): Mirante; Zaccardo, Paci, Palleta, Gobbi, Marques, Morrone, Candreva, Giovinco, Valiani, Crespo.

Form Guide: DLWLD

TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch Out For:

Can Giovinco haunt the Old Lady?

Sebastian Giovinco

Giovinco was considered to be Alex Del Piero’s heir at Juve, however, past managers have often been reluctant in offering him starting roles and he found himself relegated to the bench far too much for his liking. He will return back to Turin with under the spotlight and has even promised to celebrate if he were to score against the Bianconeri.

TheHardTackle’s Prediction:

Juventus 2-1

Juve go into the first game of the New Year as favorites considering their unbeaten run and their good home form whereas Parma have been dismal away from home. The Bianconeri should come out on top in this clash.

TheHardTackle’s Blast from the Past:

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CAGLIARI
v
AC MILAN

Sant’Elia, Italy
January 6, 2011, 7:30 PM IST

AC Milan pay a visit to the Sant’Elia stadium with a mission to stay top of Serie A. New Cagliari coach Roberto Donadoni will be looking to get one over his former side with whom he won every major club honour. Having ended 2010 in 13th position, Cagliari will look to take all three points when they face a Milan side missing key players. Cagliari will be dependent on their stand out performers so far in the campaign who have been tiny playmaker Andrea Cossu and midfielder Radja Nainngolan who has been impressive this season.

Milan coach Max Allegri makes a return as well to face the Sardinian side he managed for two successful seasons before leaving for Milan earlier in the summer. Milan’s biggest strength this season has been the central defensive pairing of Thiago Silva and Alessandro Nesta who have been rock solid at the back for the Rossoneri. Milan will have the hunger they have been lacking in last seasons for the scudetto and will be determined to maintain their pace and win their first Serie A title since 2004.

Team News and Tactical Brief

Cagliari

Roberto Donadoni should stick to his 4-3-1-2 formation with Michele Agazzi in goal who has been a commanding presence this season. Young Italian defender Davide Astori has improved leaps and bounds this term and is ably partnered by Michele Canini in the centre of defence. Nainngolan and Davide Biondini will be looking to marshall the midfield.

Midfield dictator Andrea Cossu leads the assists charts in Serie A with an extraordinary 9 assists this campaign. Reported Milan and Juve target Alessandro Matri has been the shining light for Cagliari for the past two seasons, has managed to notch up 8 goals so far this season.  Brazilian striker Nene has won plaudits for his performances in recent weeks, managing to bag a hattrick against Catania in mid December.

Form Guide: LWLWL

Cagliari Formation (4-3-1-2): Agazzi; Pisano, Astori, Canini, Agostini; Biondini, Lazzari, Nainngolan, Cossu, Matri, Nene

AC Milan

AC Milan coach Max Allegri will be without the services of star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic who is suspended. Ibra has been pivotal to Milan’s successful first half of the campaign netting 9 goals and providing 6 assists. Inzaghi, Flamini, Sokratis, Pirlo, Boateng and Zambrotta round up the injury list for Milan. Abbiati has been excellent in goal this season and Milan will bank on him to continue his good form. The central defensive pairing of Thiago Silva and Alessandro Nesta have been rock solid as well and are considered to be the best defensive partnership in Serie A, however Nesta has surrendered to a muscle injury and will almost certainly miss the trip to Sardinia. Daniele Bonera should act as his replacement.

In midfield, Ambrosini will be the workhorse and the engine for Milan and he should be supported by the rejuvenated Gattuso and youngster Rodney Strasser who could make his first Serie A start. As far as the striking department is concerned, Antonio Cassano could make his first Serie A start for AC Milan since his recent arrival from Sampdoria although Allegri likes to have a forward option on the bench and should start with Robinho and Alexandre Pato.

Form Guide: LWWDW

Milan Formation (4-3-1-2): Abbiati; Abate, Silva, Bonera, Antonini, Strasser, Gattuso, Ambrosini, Seedorf, Robinho, Pato

TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch Out For:

Allegri will be counting on Robinho's skills

Robinho

In the absence of Ibra, Robinho will have to step up to the plate and showcase his vast array of attacking talent against Cagliari if Milan want to come away with a win. The former Real Madrid striker has shown great skill and has improved his work ethic under Allegri and will be decisive if Milan want to obtain a positive result.

TheHardTackle’s Prediction:

Cagliari 1-1 Milan

Both coaches will be determined to get one over their former teams but with the various injuries that the Rossoneri face, a draw looks the most likely outcome at the Sant’Elia.

TheHardTackle’s Blast From the Past:

________________________

INTERNAZIONALE
v
NAPOLI

Giuseppe Meazza, Milan
January 7, 2011, 1:15 AM IST

The game of Round 18 sees two teams who have gone through contrasting seasons face each other at the San Siro. After the disappointing Rafa Benitez phase, Inter Milan begin a new era under coach Leonardo, who faces a daunting task of overcoming a Napoli side who have enjoyed a brilliant first half of the season. Under Mazzari, Napoli have come across as one of the most entertaining sides in Serie A and are sitting in a remarkable 2nd position in Serie A. He has given the Napoli fans reasons to dream of Champions League Qualification since they are in the top three for the first time in the winter break since the Maradona days. Leonardo makes his debut as Inter Milan manager 13 points behind his old club albeit with two games in hand, he will be looking to win over the Inter Milan faithful. A victory against Napoli will certainly help his cause.

Team News and Tactical Brief

Inter Milan

Leonardo will certainly have his work cut out for him with injuries to Samuel, Coutinho, Sneijder, Obi, Mancini and recently Julio Cesar. Luca Castelazzi should start in goal and he has been decent this term. Leonardo will have to choose between new signing Andrea Rannochi and Ivan Cordoba to deputise in place of Walter Samuel along side Lucio in the heart of the Nerazzurri’s defence. Leonardo will depend on Stankovic to provide the creativity in midfield in the ‘Sneijder’ role with Esteban Cambiasso and Thiago Motta to be the anchormen in midfield.

Diego Milito has been a shadow of himself from last season and has managed to bag a meager 3 goals this season. He should be partnered by former Lazio star Goran Pandev. Samuel Eto’o serves his last game of suspension for Inter.

Form Guide: LWLLD

Inter Milan Formation (4-3-1-2): Castelazzi; Maicon, Cordoba, Lucio, Zanetti, Cambiasso, Motta, Stankovic, Milito, Pandev

Napoli

Mazzari has instilled in Napoli a ‘never give up spirit’, a testament to that is their countless number of goals they’ve scored beyond the 90th minute mark. The current team has also shown the kind of grit and determination that is required to succeed in Serie A. Edinson Cavani has exploded onto the scene this season and has portrayed all the qualities required to be a world class marksmen scoring 10 goals this term. His partner in crime, Ezequiel Lavezzi has provided 6 assists and incredibly stepped up his game this term. While the much sought after Marek Hamsik continued his good form this season and is part of the success Napoli have achieved so far.

Morgan De Sanctis has proven to be solid in goal and the midfield department have been Napoli’s unsung heroes this season. Pazienza has developed into a great player under Mazzari while Walter Gargano has been inspirational for the Partenopei alongside Hamsik and Maggio.

Form Guide: WWWLW

Napoli Formation (3-4-2-1): De Sanctis; Campagnaro, P. Cannavaro, Aronica, Maggio, Gargano, Pazienza, Dossena, Hamsik, Lavezzi, Cavani.

TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch Out For:

Cavani soaring Napoli to new heights this season

Edinson Cavani

Uruguyan International Edi Cavani is clearly the stand out player this season for the Naples based outfit. He has often turned out to be a match-winner this season and has scored 5 out of 10 goals in the last 5 minutes. Cavani is well on his way to being a world class striker and will have to combine his lethal pace and technical ability if Napoli are to come away from the San Siro with a fruitful result.

TheHardTackle’s Prediction:

Inter Milan 2-2 Napoli

We have an exciting game on the cards as both the managers are known for their attacking style of football. The Inter Milan players will be determined to impress their new manager while Napoli will have Champions League qualification and a possible scudetto dream within their sights.

TheHardTackle’s Blast From the Past: