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Serie A: Lazio out to test Inter’s title credentials

first_imgThe two sides have drawn just twice in their last 22 meetings. (PHOTO/Courtesy)Hellas Verona vs UdineseStadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi, VeronaTuesday, 24-09-2019 @8pmThis is a huge game for the two relegation candidates, as both Verona and Udinese are fresh from narrow defeats at the weekend.Hellas Verona have impressed with their attitude and approach, giving the likes of Milan and Juventus a very hard time for the three points. Marash Kumbulla was sent off against Juve and is therefore suspended, with Salvatore Bocchetti, Emmanuel Badu and Daniel Bessa still on the treatment table. Mariusz Stepinski is available again after his debut against Milan lasted barely 20 minutes, leading to a dismissal for a high foot.Udinese started the season so strong with victory over Milan, but it has been all downhill with three consecutive defeats in which they scored just one goal and conceded five. The pressure is already growing on Igor Tudor and they look toothless in attack without suspended Rodrigo De Paul, who has another two games left on his ban for slapping Inter winger Antonio Candreva.Ignacio Pussetto should again be used in support of striker Kevin Lasagna, with Ken Sema becoming a fixture in midfield following his move from Watford. Hidde Ter Avest is on the injury list for the Friulani and Stefano Okaka still not considered fit enough for a starting role.Verona have not beaten Udinese since a 2-1 away result in December 2014, followed by a draw and four defeats, scoring one goal and conceding nine.Brescia vs JuventusStadio Mario Rigamonti, BresciaTuesday, 24-09-2019 @10pmMario Balotelli can finally make his Brescia debut and he does it against Scudetto holders Juventus, who look a long way from the finished article under Maurizio Sarri.The Rondinelle have done fairly well for a newly-promoted side, beating Cagliari and Udinese away from home, while only narrowly losing to Milan at San Siro. They had been 3-1 up against Bologna only to crumble 4-3 once Daniele Dessena was sent off. Despite that, there were still reports Coach Eugenio Corini could be up for the sack, although that is perhaps inevitable when the President is Massimo Cellino.In fact, Brescia are the first promoted club to achieve six points in the opening four Serie A rounds since Livorno (seven) and Verona (six) in 2013-14.Balotelli had arrived as a free agent from Olympique Marseille, but also with a four-match ban left over from his Ligue 1 days that had to be completed in Serie A. SuperMario is finally available to debut for his hometown club, so his mother and brother are sure to be in the stands of the Stadio Rigamonti.Balo will partner Alfredo Donnarumma, who is having a sensational maiden season in the top flight at the age of 28, scoring three goals in four games so far. Ernesto Torregrossa, Emanuele Ndoj, Mattia Viviani, Bruno Martella and Giangiacomo Magnani are still out of action.Juventus are struggling to get to grips with Sarri’s tactics, as their current performances seem to be a hybrid of his possession-based approach and Max Allegri’s counter-attacking determination. They are still getting positive results, but forced to work a lot harder than usual to beat Verona and squeeze a draw away to Fiorentina.Douglas Costa, Mattia De Sciglio, Marko Pjaca, Mattia Perin and captain Giorgio Chiellini are still on the treatment table, but Cristiano Ronaldo will likely be rested in favour of Paulo Dybala, who could form an old/new trident with Gonzalo Higuain and Juan Cuadrado. Federico Bernardeschi ought to be included in the squad rotation, but his form at club and international level has been very disappointing so far this season. Mario Mandzukic is also left out, as he continues negotiations for a potential transfer to Qatar.Aaron Ramsey scored on his first start at the weekend, but Adrien Rabiot is pushing for more playing time, even though Blaise Matuidi and Sami Khedira are doing better than expected under Sarri.Juve have won only three of their last 11 Serie A trips to Brescia, drawing six and losing two. The Bianconeri have not lost away to a newly-promoted side since May 2013 at Sampdoria, managing 14 wins and four draws.Roma vs AtalantaStadio Olimpico, RomeWednesday, 24-09-2019 @8pmIf recent form, playing style and ambitions are anything to go by, this is going to be a real thriller between Roma and Atalanta.Paulo Fonseca has brought with him an all-attack approach to the sport that has inspired goals galore in the first few games of this season, including 4-2, 4-0 and last gasp 2-1 victories between Serie A and the Europa League.On the other hand, we have Gian Piero Gasperini and his over-achieving Atalanta, who bounced back from their Champions League debut 4-0 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb by going from 2-0 down to 2-2 with Fiorentina on Sunday evening. They are the comeback kings, having also turned around a 2-0 deficit to beat SPAL 3-2, so can never be counted out.The same could be said about Roma after Sunday’s stoppage-time Edin Dzeko winner away to Bologna, achieved when down to 10 men following Gianluca Mancini’s second bookable offence. Because of that incident, Mancini will be suspended against his former teammates, so Juan Jesus is expected to step into the back four.Davide Zappacosta is another ex-Atalanta man on the treatment table, with Cengiz Under and Diego Perotti. Nicolò Zaniolo seems to be rotating with Justin Kluivert, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan has settled immediately into life at Roma. Bryan Cristante is becoming a key figure – another former Atalanta player – with Jordan Veretout in midfield.Gasp has a full squad to choose from, as Timothy Castagne made his full comeback from a knee injury in style, scoring the last-gasp equalising volley against Fiorentina on Sunday. Papu Gomez and Josip Ilicic were rested from the start of that game, but ought to be back in the XI with Duvan Zapata.Atalanta are unbeaten in eight Serie A away fixtures, winning six of them, which matches their club record set in 1992. This is a particularly special game considering Gasperini was on the verge of taking the Roma job this summer before signing a contract extension, which allowed them to move on to Plan B in the form of Shakhtar Donetsk boss Fonseca.Atalanta are unbeaten in their last five Serie A trips to the Olimpico, winning three and drawing two. Home and away, they lost only one of their most recent nine top flight encounters with Roma.Fiorentina vs SampdoriaStadio Artemio Franchi, FlorenceWednesday, 25-09-2019 @10pmFiorentina are now without a victory in 18 Serie A games and host a Sampdoria side who just picked up their first points of the season.It has been a very rough start for these two clubs, who are usually more accustomed to challenging for Europa League places rather than propping up the table. Yet after four rounds, they are right down there, with the Viola bottom and still without a win following draws with Juventus and Atalanta, while Samp had lost all three before scraping past Torino 1-0 at the weekend.Vincenzo Montella is already facing sack rumours, which are perhaps unfair considering the fixture list he’s had to deal with. In the first four matches, he has played Napoli, Juventus, Genoa and Atalanta, scoring six goals and conceding eight. They have all been very tight results and, certainly against Juve and Atalanta in the most recent stalemates, strong performances.Franck Ribery scored his first goal in a Viola jersey and had put them 2-0 up against Atalanta on Sunday before a stoppage-time comeback to 2-2. The veteran is forming an impressive partnership with Federico Chiesa, bumping Kevin-Prince Boateng and new arrival Pedro Guilherme to the bench.Eusebio Di Francesco transformed his usual approach in order to end the Sampdoria crisis, moving from 4-3-3 to a 3-4-1-2 formation. It seems to have done the trick, with Manolo Gabbiadini’s goal the only difference against Torino, completing the trio upfront with Emiliano Rigoni and last season’s Capocannoniere Fabio Quagliarella.Gonzalo Maroni is still out of action with a sprained ankle, while Alex Ferrari limped off during the Toro game and is also expected to miss out.This could be only the fourth time in their history that Fiorentina have gone without a win in the opening five Serie A rounds after 1935-36, 1946-47 and 1977-78.Genoa vs BolognaStadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris, GenoaWednesday, 25-09-2019 @10pmGreat things were expected of both teams, but Genoa and Bologna are trying to find their feet after disappointing defeats at the weekend.The Grifone started the campaign under new boss Aurelio Andreazzoli with a 3-3 draw away to Roma, then beat Fiorentina, but suffered back-to-back defeats with Atalanta and Cagliari.As for Bologna, perhaps they are starting to miss Sinisa Mihajlovic during this second course of chemotherapy. Even giving team talks via videolink is not the same as a touchline presence during the match. His men fought back admirably from 3-1 down to beat Brescia 4-3, but capitulated to Roma with the last kick of the game. That 2-1 home defeat ended a run of eight consecutive victories at the Stadio Dall’Ara.Mitchell Dijks went off during that match and is an injury doubt, while Danilo remains on the treatment table, so Ladislav Krejci and Mattia Bani are set for defensive duties. Rodrigo Palacio was rested at the weekend and should start against his old club, with either Mattia Destro or Federico Santander in the centre-forward role.There is an issue for the superstitious to deal with, because Bologna have lost each of their last five Serie A games played on a Wednesday, failing to find the net in the most recent three.Stefano Sturaro remains the only Genoa absentee, as Christian Kouame and Andrea Pinamonti continue to work on their strike partnership with ex-Ajax star Lasse Schone pulling the midfield strings.Bologna have lost only two of their last 11 Serie A meetings with Genoa, home and away, winning five of them. They kept seven clean sheets during that time.Inter Milan vs LazioStadio Olimpico, RomeWednesday, 25-09-2019 @10pmInter are looking to maintain their perfect start to the Serie A season with a fifth straight victory, but have a poor home record with Lazio.Antonio Conte has already made this team his own and the commanding Derby della Madonnina victory over Milan was the clearest signal yet that they are in this Scudetto race. There was a stutter in the Champions League, drawing 1-1 with Slavia Prague, but other than that their results have been ideal with four wins out of four, keeping three clean sheets.Romelu Lukaku has settled in marvellously with three goals in four Serie A games, but won’t get to play against his little brother Jordan, who is still recovering from knee surgery. The former Manchester United man said one of the reasons for moving to Italy – along with finally getting to work with Conte – was being closer to his sibling. Stefan de Vrij, Antonio Candreva and Samir Handanovic are all former Lazio players.This will be goalkeeper and captain Handanovic’s 300th competitive game in an Inter jersey.There could be some squad rotation for this midweek round, resting Lautaro Martinez, Nicolò Barella and Kwadwo Asamoah in order to move Stefano Sensi and Matteo Politano into supporting roles, with Cristiano Biraghi making his Nerazzurri debut on the left. The Sensi-Politano experiment has been mooted for a while and is yet to be used in a starting XI, but this might be the occasion for Conte to try it out.Lazio got back on their feet with a 2-0 victory over Parma on Sunday, having rather lost their way for a few weeks with a Rome Derby draw and turnaround defeats to SPAL and CFR Cluj.The Biancocelesti have opened the scoring in all five of their competitive games so far this season, but only won two of them. It’s still not clear how much of their second half slump is down to fitness problems or a psychological issue, a question Coach Simone Inzaghi is struggling to answer.Inconsistency is a huge concern, as Lazio have not won two consecutive matches in one competition since March, when they beat Parma and Inter.The tension got to Ciro Immobile, who had a touchline row with his tactician after an angry reaction to being substituted against Parma. The irony is that he was only taken off to preserve his stamina for this much more important match at San Siro. Joaquin ‘Tucu’ Correa should again be his strike partner, with Felipe Caicedo and Bobby Adekanye ready to come off the bench.Adam Marusic and Manuel Lazzari are battling for the right wing slot, while Marco Parolo challenges Lucas Leiva in midfield. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic will be eager to impress, as he was a transfer target for Inter over the last several years, but is reportedly prepared to sign a new Lazio contract.In recent years, the Biancocelesti have represented something of a taboo for Inter at San Siro, unbeaten here since a 3-0 result in December 2016. The Romans emerged with two Serie A wins and a draw, conceding only one goal.These sides also met in the Coppa Italia last season, the Aquile winning on penalties after a 1-1 draw at San Siro with dramatic and controversial last-gasp Mauro Icardi spot-kick in extra time. Stefan Radu was sent off for insulting the referee following that decision and handed a four-match ban, reduced to two on appeal. Lazio went on to lift the trophy.These teams shared the spoils in only two of their last 22 Serie A meetings, home and away, with 12 Inter wins and eight for Lazio.Napoli vs CagliariStadio San Paolo, NaplesWednesday, 25-09-2019 @10pmNapoli are marking their Scudetto and Champions League credentials with a series of confident victories, but Cagliari are find their feet with two wins on the bounce.Carlo Ancelotti needed a season to adjust his football and that of a team accustomed to three years under Maurizio Sarri, but those efforts are now bearing fruit. Along with a 2-0 victory over Champions League holders Liverpool, the Partenopei also beat Fiorentina, Sampdoria and Lecce, with only a last-gasp freak own goal from Kalidou Koulibaly denying them at the Allianz Juventus Stadium.So confident are Napoli at the moment, that they are even able to rotate the squad at will with no setbacks. Kostas Manolas, Allan, Dries Mertens, Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Alex Meret and Jose Callejon were all given the day off against Lecce, but Fernando Llorente bagged a brace on his full debut. It means the Spanish veteran has three goals in his first two Napoli games.Llorente is likely to go back on to the bench with Lorenzo Insigne, Fabian Ruiz and Eljif Elmas allowed some rest this time, as Mertens comes back to reunite with Arkadiusz Milik and Amin Younes should get a chance on the left wing. Manolas and Lorenzo Tonelli are the only injury absentees.Cagliari invested heavily over the summer, but had to transform their tactical plans after Leonardo Pavoletti’s serious knee ligament injury. Radja Nainggolan, Paolo Faragò and Alessio Cragno also miss out in this midweek round, with midfielder Luca Cigarini in doubt.Giovanni Simeone arrived on transfer deadline day from Fiorentina, but has found his long-lost confidence with two goals in his last two games, both 3-1 victories over Parma and Genoa. Cholito is again partnered by Joao Pedro, with Lucas Castro, Nahitan Nandez and ex-Napoli midfielder Marko Rog in support.Napoli represent good memories for Simeone, whose only Serie A hat-trick came against them in April 2018 for Fiorentina.Cagliari have lost their last six consecutive Serie A meetings with Napoli, home and away.Parma vs SassuoloStadio Ennio Tardini, ParmaWednesday, 25-09-2019 @10pmIt’s another Emilia-Romagna Derby for Sassuolo, fresh from thrashing SPAL 3-0, and they must improve their away record at Parma.Roberto De Zerbi’s men are very much all or nothing, as they’ve won both home matches convincingly by three clear goals against Sampdoria and SPAL, but returned defeated from Torino and Roma. This could well be the ideal opportunity to pick up their first away points of the season, as Parma are in trouble.The Ducali have lost three of their opening four games, the only victory coming away to Udinese. Juraj Kucka, Alberto Grassi, Luca Siligardi and Gianni Munari are out of action, while Gervinho and Roberto Inglese have so far failed to find their usual goal-scoring form. Dejan Kulusevski could be dropped into a deeper midfield role to rest Antonino Barillà, introducing Mattia Sprocati or Yann Karamoh in the trident attack.Sassuolo miss Marlon, Mehdi Bourabia, Rogerio and Filip Djuricic, but Jeremie Boga battles Gregoire Defrel for the third role upfront. There’s no budging star men Francesco Caputo and Domenico Berardi, who between them have scored eight of the Neroverdi’s 10 goals so far this season.The main issue with Sassuolo is their away form, which including last term now runs to four consecutive defeats, conceding at least two goals in all of them.The Ducali have just two victories in their last 14 Serie A home fixtures, drawing five and losing seven.SPAL vs LecceStadio Paolo Mazza, FerraraWednesday, 25-09-2019 @10pmThis is the historic first ever Serie A meeting between SPAL and Lecce, with both teams currently on three points after unexpected results.SPAL lost three of the opening four rounds, but the one victory they did get was probably the toughest test, fighting back to beat Lazio 2-1. They had come close in Week 1, leading Atalanta 2-0 only to lose 3-2, while falling to Bologna only in stoppages, but this weekend’s 3-0 hammering at Sassuolo left no doubts.Leonardo Semplici has to get his men into gear and the main issues seem to be upfront, where Federico Di Francesco is not yet forming a solid partnership with Andrea Petagna. Gabriel Strefezza has broken into the starting XI and could be followed by Jacopo Sala, following Marco D’Alessandro and Mohamed Fares injuries.Lecce were promoted this summer and had a very rough start, conceding four goals to both Inter and Napoli, while the home defeat to Hellas Verona is the one that could prove really costly. The one bright spark was a shock 2-1 victory away to Torino, who at the time were on a 100 per cent record.Cristian Dell’Orco and Biagio Meccariello are still on the treatment table, while Coach Fabio Liverani is keeping his options open. Khouma Babacar and Diego Farias are battling for the striker’s spot alongside Filippo Falco and Marco Mancosu, while Yevhen Shakhov is the favourite in midfield rather than Andrea Tabanelli. Former Stoke City midfielder Giannelli Imbula is still not fully fit, plus Andrea La Mantia and Gianluca Lapadula have slipped down the pecking order.These sides have met 14 times in Serie B and nine of those were stalemates, along with three Lecce wins and two for SPAL.Torino vs AC MilanStadio Olimpico Grande Torino, TorinoThursday, 26-09-2019 @10pmTorino and Milan are sliding down the standings and go head-to-head on Thursday night to avoid a full-blown crisis.Much was expected of the Rossoneri this season, but Marco Giampaolo’s side don’t seem to have an identity yet and the results have arguably been better than the performances. They lost to Udinese and Inter, beating Brescia and 10-man Verona 1-0 with practically their only shots on target. The main issue is in creating scoring opportunities, as their possession is often sterile, slow and focused on horizontal passes. They’ve scored twice in the opening four rounds, their worst start to a Serie A season since 1986-87 and the least prolific side in the current campaign.Giampaolo is also coming under fire for not using the new signings enough. Rafael Leao was a surprise starter in the Derby della Madonnina, considering his only previous appearance was for 15 minutes in the opening round at Udine, but was one of the more effective performers on the night. Suso is still getting to grips with the trequartista role and Lucas Paqueta picked up an injury during the derby, joining Mattia Caldara on the treatment table, although Davide Calabria returns from suspension.Theo Hernandez and Ismael Bennacer are expected to start, sending Ricardo Rodriguez and Lucas Biglia to the bench with deadline day signing Ante Rebic. Krzysztof Piatek looks a shadow of his former self and simply isn’t getting the service he needs.Torino entered the Europa League preliminary rounds in July because Milan pulled out of the tournament due to Financial Fair Play considerations, but were beaten by Wolverhampton Wanderers at the play-off stage. That seems to have had a knock-on effect for Walter Mazzarri’s side, who had started strong with victories over Sassuolo and Atalanta, but the performances in defeats to Lecce and Sampdoria were dismal.Cristian Ansaldi, Vittorio Parigini and Sasa Lukic are out injured, but Simone Verdi made a big difference when coming off the bench against Samp and is expected to get his first start since the last-gasp transfer from Napoli. It could also prompt a change of system, with Verdi and Alex Berenguer fanning out behind Andrea Belotti, dropping Simone Zaza to the bench.Diego Laxalt is tipped to start against his former club and will be very eager to make a point after barely featuring for Milan in his one season at San Siro. The crowd of defenders continue to push for playing time, with Bremer and Lyanco the favourites ahead of Nicolas Nkoulou and Koffi Djidji. Nkoulou tried to force a move to Roma in the final days of the transfer market, but has been forgiven after apologising to club, Coach and teammates.Milan have managed only four draws from their last five Serie A meetings with Torino, home and away. The last time they failed to beat Toro in six top flight encounters was back in 1978.Comments Tags: AC MilanInter MilanItalian Serie AjuventusLazionapoliRomatoplast_img read more

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