Serie A action returns this weekend with a mouth-watering clash at the San Siro grabbing all the headlines. Leaders Juventus lost their 100 percent winning record last Saturday at the Mapei Stadium and Max Allegri will be hoping his boys react positively after the draw against Sassuolo. Roma manager Rudi Garcia similarly will demand a reaction from his players after their mauling at the hands of German Champions Bayern Munich on Tuesday. Here is a look at some of the important clashes in Italy this weekend.
Rossoneri seek their third straight victory against struggling Fiorentina
Milan secured a convincing 3-1 win at the Stadio Bentogodi on Sunday thanks to a well-taken brace from Japanese international Keishuke Honda. After last year’s struggle, Honda has now become a vital cog in new manager Fillipo Inzaghi’s system. He has scored six goals so far this season and his double against Verona displayed the supreme nature of his confidence at this moment. Milan have based their attacking play mostly in wide areas with both the fullbacks Mattia De Sciglio and Ignazio Abate putting on impressive displays so far. After enduring a frustrating spell on the bench, Stephan El Shaarawy was restored to the starting line-up and delivered a quite decent performance against Verona registering an assist to his name. Milan have displayed more solidity as the season is progressing and have conceded only two goals in their last three outings. Scoring goals have not been a problem for Milan and with 16 goals they are the highest scorers in the division after seven games. The spirit and determination of the players have been praiseworthy and the team will be eager to get back on the pitch with Fiorentina this Sunday.
Fiorentina have made a struggling start to their campaign so far. Ravaged by injuries to stalwarts like Guisepppe Rossi, Mario Gomez and Borja Valero, La Viola have picked up only two wins out of the seven matches played. They were unfortunate to lose 2-0 at Artemio Franchi against Lazio last Sunday and Vincenzo Montella’s task does not get easier as they travel to Milan this weekend. The new ‘B2’ pair of Khouma Babacar and Federico Bernardeschi have looked lively in certain matches but they lack the maturity to carry the team on their own. Juan Cuadrado missed the opening few games because of an injury and is slowly getting back to his best. Montella will be hoping that Fiorentina re-produce their 3-0 hammering of Milan’s cross-town rivals Inter at the San Siro on Sunday. Milan have won 7 out of their last 8 home games and they will be confident of securing all the three points against an injury-hit struggling Fiorentina side.
Probable Starting Line-ups
AC Milan [4-3-3]: Abbiati; Abate, Rami, Alex, De Sciglio; Poli, De Jong, Muntari; Honda, Torres, El Shaarawy
Fiorentina [4-3-2-1]: Neto; Tomovic, Rodriguez, Savic, Alonso; Aquilani, Valero, Pizarro; Fernandez, Cuadrado; Babacar
Roma looking to bounce back after Champions League humiliation
A look at the top half of the table after match week 7 will come as no surprise as the peninsula’s powerhouses Juventus and Roma occupy the first two places. However, just one spot below them sit Sinisa Mihajlovic’s Sampdoria who have dropped just 6 points from a possible 21 and are unbeaten so far. They would be kicking themselves for throwing away a two goal lead last Sunday against Cagliari but that does not take away anything from their solid start to the season. They have looked a completely different side from last year and have conceded just 4 goals in 7 matches which is an excellent improvement for a team which let in 62 goals last season, even more creditable considering the sale of World Cup winner Shkodran Mustafi to Valencia in the summer. The Serbian has settled on a 4-3-3 formation this year with midfield trio Angelo Palombo, Pedro Obiang and Roberto Soriano providing the steel and creative options in the middle. Manolo Gabbiadini and Stefano Okaka have begun the season superbly and have been vital to this good start. Sampdoria are due to square off against Roma, Inter, Milan and Fiorentina in four consecutive matches starting from Saturday which will determine whether they are contenders or just pretenders.
Rudi Garcia will be hoping for a response from his players after the 7-1 humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Roma have looked quite unstoppable in the league but they were humbled by a harsh lesson meted out by the German Champions. The best way to get over the result would be a win this weekend but Rudi Garcia’s men would be fully aware of the task ahead of them as they travel to the Marassi where the Blucerchiati have picked up maximum points. Mattia Destro will return to the starting lineup after his goal last weekend against Chievo. Francesco Totti might be rested which would mean a debut for Argentine Leandro Paredes. Roma have the chance to go top of the table temporarily with a win ahead of Juventus’ game against Palermo on Sunday.
Probable Starting Line-ups
Sampdoria [4-3-3]: Viviano; Gastaldello, Mesbah, Silvestre, De Silvestri; Obiang, Palombo, Soriano; Okaka, Gabbiadini, Eder
Roma [4-3-3]: De Sanctis; Torosidis, Astori, Yanga-Mbiwa, Holebas; Pjanic, De Rossi, Nainggolan; Iturbe, Destro, Paredes
Napoli host Hellas Verona amid fears of violent clashes
Napoli-Verona clash, one of the most violent games in Italy, is traditionally a huge rivalry. The police have deemed the fixture too high risk due to likelihood of clashes between the ultras and for the second season in a row Butei (Verona fans) will not be allowed to travel to the Napoli game. Napoli have recovered after a slow start to their season and are unbeaten in their last four games although Rafa Benitez will be disappointed to concede a late equalizer against Inter Milan last week. The problems in defence are still very much present and the atrocious defending from set-pieces continues for Napoli. Going forward the team looks much better although star striker Gonzalo Higuan still has a lot to offer. On the contrary Jose Callejon is the real driving force of this team. He has already registered six goals and his brace against Inter highlighted the confidence displayed by the Spaniard on the pitch. Lorenzo Insgine received some words of encouragement from national team coach Antonio Conte but Belgian international Dries Mertens will take his place in the starting lineup for this game.
Hellas Verona on the other hand slumped to their second defeat in three games at home against Milan last Sunday. The Gialloblu made a bright start to their season but lost their games against Roma and Milan. Now they are up against another big club Napoli and manager Andrea Mandorlini will be worried ahead of this fixture. Experienced Mexican skipper Rafael Marquez will miss the game due to a suspension. Up front Mandorlini will be tempted to give a start to Uruguayan youngster Nico Lopez who got on the score-sheet against Milan. Napoli have looked really shaky while defending set-pieces and Luca Toni will be looking to exploit this weakness on Sunday.
Probable Starting Line-ups
Napoli [4-2-3-1]: Rafael; Ghoulam, Koulibaly, Albiol, Zuniga; Inler, Lopez; Callejon, Mertens, Hamsik; Higuan
Hellas Verona [4-3-3]: Rafael; Moras, Marques, Agostini, Martic; Tachtsidis, Gomez, Ionita; Lopez, Jankovic, Toni
Elsewhere in Serie A
Inter Milan travel to Cesena for their first game after Massimo Moratti’s resignation as the honorary president ending an association of 20 years with the club. Inter have not won in their last three matches and are desperate for three points against a Cesena side without a win since the opening day of the season. New head coach Rolando Maran will be looking for a positive start to his new job as Chievo host Genoa on Sunday afternoon. Lazio will head into the weekend’s fixture against Torino with their eyes firmly on the third spot after three consecutive wins and an in-form Filip Djordjevic looking to keep up his goal scoring form. Giampiero Ventura’s side have endured a difficult start to the season which is not surprising considering the Europa league fixtures in midweek plus the loss of their two top scorers from last season. However a narrow 2-1 defeat at Naples in the last four games means that they have recovered from a dismal start but this clash against an in form Lazio side will be a tough test of their credentials
Champions Juventus host newly promoted side Palermo as they look to bounce back after two poor results against Sassuolo and Olympiacos in the Champions League. Anything less than three points is likely to increase the pressure on new manager Massimiliano Allegri who is under criticism after yet another disappointing defeat in Europe. Battle of the basement clubs sees Eusebio Di Francesco’s Sassuolo travel to the Tardini to take on under-fire Roberto Donadoni’s Parma. Sassuolo are still without a win this season but a creditable draw against Juventus must have given them confidence ahead of the trip to Parma. Parma are on a four game losing streak and a defeat here would surely mean the end of Donadoni’s three year reign with the Ducali.