WE'VE sealed another stellar signing for the season with Serie A don Paolo Bandini bringing his expertise to the site thanks to our partner Unibet.
Paolo is an Anglo-Italian sportswriter who pens a superb weekly Serie A column for the Guardian and his other credits include ESPN, the BBC and TalkSport as well as making regular appearances on the Football Weekly podcast.
He's a Trevi Fountain of knowledge and we're delighted to have him on board. Here he previews four crucial Sunday games.
Crotone v Lazio (Sun 2pm)
The finish line is in sight for Lazio, yet fresh obstacles keep getting piled up in front of it. Fourth in the table, they are on course to qualify for the Champions League group stages for the first time in a decade. All they have to do is maintain a two-point advantage over Inter, whom they face in Rome on the final weekend.
For the past fortnight, though, they have been playing without Serie A’s leading scorer, Ciro Immobile, who damaged his thigh during a win over Torino. Now Luis Alberto is injured as well. Between them, those players have contributed 40 league goals – almost half of the team’s total – and 23 assists.
Still, that is not yet all of it. Marco Parolo is also out in midfield, and now it has been confirmed that centre-back Stefan De Vrij has signed a pre-agreement to join Inter when his contract expires in the summer. Can he be relied on to produce his very best when doing so might have a negative impact on his own prospects for next season?
Even before the head-to-head with Inter, they face a tricky fixture here. Crotone, inspired by the prolific form of the Nigerian forward Simy, have lost just once in their past five home games. It is less than a month since they held Juventus to a draw at the Stadio Ezio Scida. Against this diminished version of Lazio, a repeat is hardly unthinkable.
- Crotone 1, Lazio 1 (6-1, Unibet)
- Simy to score first (15-2, Unibet)
- Crotone double chance (24-25, Unibet)
Atalanta v Milan (Sun 5pm)
There is no time for Milan to feel sorry for themselves after Wednesday’s bruising 4-0 defeat in the Coppa Italia final. Failure to win that tournament means they are still not guaranteed a spot in continental competition and, as fate would have it, their two remaining opponents are the teams fighting them for those final Europa League berths.
For now, Milan are sixth, one point ahead of Atalanta and three clear of Fiorentina. Even to fall to seventh would be painful – obliging the Rossoneri to begin their 2018-19 campaign in July. Having already done so last summer, nobody could want to repeat the process in a World Cup year.
A simple desire to avoid that outcome, though, will not be enough on its own. Atalanta outplayed Lazio on the way to a 1-1 draw at the Stadio Olimpico last weekend, and before that had won three in a row. The emergence of 19-year-old Gambian forward Musa Barrow has lent fresh potency to an attack that had been looking over-reliant on Papu Gomez.
Gian Piero Gasperini remains one of Serie A’s savviest tacticians, and although he is suspended from the touchline for this game he has still had a full week to prepare his team on how best to undermine Milan. Gennaro Gattuso, on a much tighter schedule, might have needed to focus his efforts just on getting his players’ heads right. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, in particular, looked distraught after his errors contributed to the cup final collapse.
- Atalanta 3, Milan 1 (13-1, Unibet)
- Barrow to score first (19-4, Unibet)
- Atalanta win (17-20, Unibet)
Fiorentina v Cagliari (Sun 2pm)
With Atalanta and Milan going head-to-head, Fiorentina have an opportunity to gain ground. But their opponents will not want for motivation, either: Cagliari dropped into the relegation zone last weekend. Even a draw could be invaluable for the Sardinians – with Chievo, Crotone and Udinese all just a single point ahead.
Fiorentina will back themselves. How could they not after scoring three goals in all but one of their last four games? True, their opponents had each seen at least one player sent off, and the risk of Cagliari suffering that same fate is diminished by the fact Luca Cigarini is suspended. Only one Serie A player – Torino’s Daniele Baselli – has been carded more often this season.
Even with a full complement, though, Cagliari may struggle to keep up. They are also missing Leandro Castán at centre-back, and in his absence appear likely once again to line up with a four-man defence to which their wing-backs are ill-suited.
With Federico Chiesa producing some of his best performances of the season over the past six weeks, Fiorentina will be only too happy to funnel play out to him regularly. Whether running at the indecisive Charalampos Lykogiannis on one flank or the too-quick-to-dive-in Paolo Faragò on the other, I like his chances.
- Fiorentina 3, Cagliari 0 (10-1, Unibet)
- Chiesa to score first (21-4, Unibet)
- Fiorentina to score 2+ (13-25, Unibet)
Roma v Juventus (Sun 7.45pm)
On paper, a draw would suit both teams. For Juventus, that would be enough to confirm a seventh consecutive Scudetto, as well as a fourth straight domestic double. For Roma, one point would guarantee a spot in next season’s Champions League. Then again, it is also possible – if Inter or Lazio slip up – that the Giallorossi will be assured of a top-four spot even before this game kicks off.
In any case, suggestions that these two teams might go easy do not feel realistic to me. It is hard to imagine Radja Nainggolan meekly allowing a team that he has spoken so openly of hating to pick up the Scudetto in his back yard. Roma’s manager, Eusebio Di Francesco, dismissed the idea out-of-hand, saying: “I don’t think about these things in an ‘Italian’ way. We need to win to get ourselves third place.”
Whether his team will get the three points is another question. Roma’s home results against Serie A’s best teams have been peculiarly bad. Already this season they have lost at the Stadio Olimpico to Napoli, Inter, Milan, Atalanta, Fiorentina and Sampdoria. The only top-nine side that they have beaten there is the one with which they share the venue: Lazio.
Juventus, meanwhile, have rediscovered a little bit of swagger since Napoli’s title challenge fell apart. They have scored 10 goals in their last three games and were even able to keep Gonzalo Higuaín fresh for this fixture, introducing him only as a very late substitute in the Coppa Italia final. He ought to find chances against a backline missing its best central defender, Kostas Manolas.
- Roma 2, Juve 3 (25-1, Unibet)
- Dzeko to score first (23-5, Unibet)
- Higuain to score any time (47-25, Unibet)
Anglo-Italian Paolo Bandini writes about Italian football for the Guardian and his tips appear here thanks to our football partner at MrFixitsTips, Unibet. They're making a big splash in the UK betting scene and if you join them today you can claim up to £30 in Welcome Bonuses when you deposit and place your first bet.