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 three big Sunday games.
Torino v Juventus (Sun 11.30am)
It was after a defeat to Juventus this January that Torino fired Sinisa Mihajlovic and hired Walter Mazzarri to replace him. That decision has been vindicated by a sharp improvement in form: the Granata are unbeaten under their new manager, with three wins and two draws from five matches.
This will be a sterner challenge against city rivals, but Torino do have reasons to believe in the upset. Mazzarri, for one thing, has taken more points off Juventus than any other current Serie A manager, losing just six out of 18 games against the Bianconeri.
Better yet, he finally has a fit Andrea Belotti at his disposal. The striker made his first start of 2018 last weekend, and marked it with a goal in the 2-0 win over Udinese. His availability does create some selection dilemmas for Mazzarri, who had previously deployed M’Baye Niang through the middle to good effect, but these are nice problems to have.
Juventus have questions of their own to answer after blowing a 2-0 lead against Tottenham in midweek, and are expected to revert to a 4-3-3 after a tired Sami Khedira was overrun at times in a two-man midfield. Having previously conceded just one goal in 16 matches, it will be fascinating to see what impact – if any – that result has on the Old Lady’s defensive resolve.
Atalanta v Fiorentina (Sun 5pm)
Painful stuff on Thursday night for Atalanta, as they allowed a 2-1 lead away to Borussia Dortmund to become a 3-2 defeat. Even in the immediate aftermath, however, manager Gian Piero Gasperini acknowledged that such a result would have been looked upon favourably before kick-off – leaving plenty of scope to turn things around in the return leg.
Ideally, he might prefer to rest one or two players this weekend in order to keep legs fresh for that game. But how far is he willing to push his luck against a Fiorentina side that is vying to steal away Atalanta’s European berth for next season?
The last three meetings between these teams have finished in a draw, but prior to that the Viola had won eight head-to-heads in a row. Although their recent form has been patchy, they played well in defeat to Juventus last week and will have fresher legs than their opponents – with only the right-back Vincent Laurini expected to miss out due to injury.
Atalanta have lost three of their last four home matches in all competitions, but two of those were against Napoli and Juventus. They are a better team than Fiorentina, but the suspicion is that they will at least rest Papu Gomez on Sunday, and that is enough to give me pause about backing them to take all three points here.
- Atalanta 2, Fiorentina 2 (12-1, Unibet)
- Cristante to score first (10-1, Unibet)
- Atalanta to score first (7-10, Unibet)
Milan v Sampdoria (Sun 7.45pm)
Make that nine games without defeat for Milan, a team transformed under Gennaro Gattuso. In isolation, a 3-0 win away to Ludogorets might not be much to shout about, but it was only two months ago that these Rossoneri were beaten comfortably by Rijeka and Verona.
This newfound capacity to brush aside lesser opponents is both hard-earned and essential for a team that still has further to climb if it wants to return to Europe next season.
To achieve that goal, Milan will need to get results in tougher spots as well. A win this weekend would pull them level with Samp in sixth place, but they lost 2-0 to these opponents at the Marassi last September. The Blucerchiati appear to have emerged from a midseason slump, and their own five-game unbeaten run includes both a win and a draw against Roma.
They will face a full-strength Milan – that emphatic first-leg win over Ludogorets ensuring that Gattuso need not worry about resting any starters for the return game. The expectation has to be that Patrick Cutrone gets the nod up front after he opened the scoring yet again on Thursday. He has struck four times in his last three starts.
Samp will continue to trust in the form of Duván Zapata and Fabio Quagliarella. Their only significant absence is Dennis Praet in midfield. As impressive as the 23-year-old has been, it must be said that they have done just fine without him thus far.
- Milan 3, Samp 2 (19-1, Unibet)
- Quagliarella to score first (13-2, Unibet)
- Both teams to score (33-50, 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.