Serie A preview: Week 5 (25th-26th September)

Saturday:

AC Milan v Genoa

Milan have been quite average of late, though their best form was saved for European football (Milan were the only Italian team, out of 7, to win their European game). That solitary win against Lecce back in August seems a very long time ago now. 2 draws and 1 defeat cast light on the problems facing Massimiliano Allegri. One bonus is that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is already scoring. The other is that, despite being 37, the ultimate goal-poacher Filippo Inzaghi can still be relied upon to score – the sooner Milan are able to cope without him, the better, though. Yet, with Robinho waiting in the wings, things do not look too bleak.

Genoa, like 5 other teams in Serie A, have the exact same results as AC Milan (1 win, 2 draws, 1 defeat). Their form isn’t particularly strong, especially since their summer spending was one of the highest in the league. Of the four big signings (Luca Toni, Rafinha, Eduardo and Andrea Ranocchia), Toni is the man Genoa will have to rely on in this match. At set plays, Milan look shaky, and Toni has a reputation for being a lethal figure in these situations.

Despite Milan undoubtedly being stronger, this match is headed for another draw – exactly what neither of them need. 1-1.

AS Roma v Internazionale Milano

This is the big match of the weekend. Seire A’s crisis club Roma have the unenviable task of playing top of the table, and treble-champions, Inter Milan.

Whatever plaudits Claudio Ranieri’s team won last year, Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and co. have not transferred that form to this season. A loss against Brescia, a draw against Bologna and a winless start to their campaign makes them extreme underdogs for tonight’s game, though they do welcome back FOUR key players: Totti, De Rossi, John Arne Riise and Nicolas Burdisso. But the loss of goalkeeper Julio Sergio will be a big miss.

Inter, on the other hand, have gone from strength to strength. It may have been an inauspicious start for the Milanese with a drab 0-0 at Bologna but Inter have won each of their subsequent 3 games to sit a point clear at the top of the table. The deadly quadruple of Samuel Eto’o, Diego Milito, Goran Pandev and Wesley Sneijder are all fit and raring to go.

Roma have home advantage and Totti, which are formidable things at the Olimpico, but this is Inter they are facing, who have been in much, much better form. 2-4 to Inter Milan.

Sunday:

Bari v Brescia

Bari are a good team but were horribly exposed against Inter Milan in their last match, losing 4-0. It is, however, a result to ignore as it is not indicative of how they usually perform. They have yet to concede at home this season and are renowned for their quick counter attacks flowing across the pitch. Losing Salvatore Masiello might just hurt them, though.

Brescia, like Chievo Verona, cannot believe their luck at the moment, nestling in 3rd place with 3 wins from 4 matches. Their stout resilience has been clear for all to see as they held on to beat Palermo, then beat table-toppers Chievo and then beat last season’s second-placed team Roma. Brescia are in excellent form and can thank Caracciolo for spearheading their attacks so effectively.

Bari will bounce back from their setback against Inter and begin their ascent up the table with this difficult match against a well-placed team. 2-1 to Bari.

Catania v Bologna

Catania are part of the current trend of so-called ‘minnows’ that have done themselves, and the league as a whole, proud. In 4th place, Catania have generally relied upon a negative, stilfing play to get them to where they are.

When Marco Di Vaio, the veteran striker, plays well, Bologna plays well. Having already found the back of the net 3 times, Di Vaio continues to roll back the years and will lead the mid-table outfit against a very tight defence. But if anyone can steal a goal, it’s him.

Neither team will want to lose this one but I have a feeling one goal should win it, with that going to the home side. 1-0 to Catania.

Cesena v Napoli

Humbled by Catania on Wednesday, Cesena had previously enjoyed an expressive and expansive style which caught their opponents out. But with their gameplan exposed, they lack ideas of how to fight back.

Napoli are in a state of flux, caught between exploiting their envied attacking talent (Marek Hamsik, Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi) and relying on the solid Paolo Cannavaro and Giuseppe Grava. This translates into very static periods in their play and is one of the major reasons for them being unable to score more than 2 goals in any of their games.

Cesena may have delivered in their opening games but Napoli will present a different kind of challenge if they can gel together. 1-2 to Napoli.

Chievo Verona v Lazio

Chievo have nothing to feel inferior about after some of the finest displays from any side in the league. Most impressive of all their players in Sergio Pellissier, their Italian striker; a loyal veteran, Pellissier is a club symbol for determination, having stuck by them through relegation. Against Lazio, Chievo will again look to Pellissier and Bogliacino to attack.

Lazio were subdued for large periods of the game against AC Milan but fought back well and even had chances to win it with the electric Hernanes. Now that Zarate has returned to the team, Lazio are at full strength, and will look to continue a good goal-scoring record.

A very decent game. Both clubs are exciting to watch and this should produce quite a few goals but neither will have the upper hand. 3-3.

Fiorentina v Parma

One of the worst teams in the league, Fiorentina are barely recognisable from the side that came only a poor refereeing decision away from reaching the quarter finals of the Champions League. They are visibly depleted, having lost influential Stevan Jovetic and Adrian Mutu – for very different reasons. The blame must rest with coach Sinisa Mihajlovic for the severe downturn in fortunes.

Parma have taken their foot of the gas a little since the opening day of the season. Some conservative displays have given draws when a little more effort would have yielded wins. Crespo is in line to test the Fiorentina defence alongside Valeri Bojinov but the suspicion is that Gamberini and co. will be more than ready for dealing with Parma.

Rather limp in recent games, Fiorentina will find strength from this game, where Parma will not. 2-0 to Fiorentina.

Palermo v Lecce

From being winless and hopeless to beating the most successful team in Italian history, one week has changed Palermo’s season. The whole team exudes assurance, especially young Javier Pastore and goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu. With Fabrizio Miccoli still feeling his way back to full fitness, Palermo will require the same spirit that saw them thrash Juventus in Turin.

Lecce are in decline already, though it may be difficult to tell from their results alone. Ricardo Oliveira is not working out to be a good signing and David Di Michele looks well short of match fitness, already this early in the campaign. Generally good in defending, they are coming up against a much better team.

Palermo looked the complete team on Thursday, even without talismanic Fabrizio Miccoli, whereas Lecce’s almost funereal approach will end up costing them dearly. 3-0 to Palermo.

Sampdoria v Udinese

With little fanfare, Sampdoria have gone from the upper echelons of the league to a less comfortable 9th place, courtesy of a lack of creativity. But with Cassano back in line to start, that problem will be fixed and the team can look forward to a game against rock-bottom Udinese.

Without sounding rude, Udinese appear to have no chance whatsoever in this match. 2 goals in 4 matches and already with a -7 goal difference, Udinese’s policy of selling talent each summer looks to have finally caught up with them.

3-1 to Sampdoria.

Juventus v Cagliari

Cagliari are doing well and are aware that they face a wounded lion in the shape of their opponents. But one thing Cagliari will need to remedy, and quickly, is a habit of churning out 0-0 results (3 of their 4 games have ended 0-0, the other being a highly unexpected 5-1 demolition of Roma). Cagliari are no fools. They know Juventus like time and space to play, so this game will be a case of stifling their opponents and counter-attacking – something which worked especially well for Palermo.

Juventus are even deeper in trouble than Luigi Del Neri is letting on. The expensive defence’s failure is one issue but the real problem lies in midfield communication. With the manager set to stubbornly pick the same side, nothing can be assumed about their luck against the Sardinians. With Del Piero probably in line for a well-deserved rest on the bench, the baton of scoring will again pass to Amauri and Vincenzo Iaquinta.

The misery looks set to continue for the hosts, and things will get worse before they finally get better. 1-2 to Cagliari.

In summary:

Saturday:

Milan 1 – 1 Genoa

Roma 2 – 4 Inter

Sunday:

Bari 2 – 1 Brescia

Catania 1 – 0 Bologna

Cesena 1 – 2 Napoli

Chievo 3 – 3 Lazio

Fiorentina 2 – 0 Parma

Palermo 3 – 0 Lecce

Sampdoria 3 – 1 Udinese

Juventus 1 – 2 Cagliari

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