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 crunch Sunday matches.
Lazio v Sampdoria (Sun 2pm)
You could not fault the resilience of this Lazio team. Away to a good Fiorentina side on Wednesday, they lost Marco Parolo to injury during pre-game warm-ups, saw his replacement Alessandro Murgia sent off after 14 minutes (their opponents were, admittedly, also down to 10 men) and then fell two goals behind. Instead of folding, they fought back level at 2-2, conceded again and finally went on to win 4-3.
It is the sort of scoreline we have grown to expect from a team that has scored 79 times in Serie A this season, and 113 across all competitions – both figures representing club records. If recent history is a guide then they should add to those tallies this weekend. They have won nine of their last 11 home games against Sampdoria, drawing the other two. The corresponding fixture last May finished 7-3.
This Samp team, though, is better than most that they have faced in that stretch. The Blucerchiati continue to fight for a Europa League berth and have produced some brilliant performances this season, beating Juventus at home and taking three points off Roma on their last visit to the Stadio Olimpico.
Their form has faded through the spring, but in terms of personnel they will be close to full strength. That is more than can be said for Lazio, who as well as doing without Parolo and Murgia, will also lose Luis Alberto to suspension for this game. The only player in the league to have hit double figures for both goals and assists, his influence behind the attack will be missed.
- Lazio 2, Samp 2 (15-1, Unibet)
- Immobile to score first (11-4, Unibet)
- Both teams to score (18-25, Unibet)
Udinese v Crotone (Sun 2pm)
If you had looked at the league table on the morning of 11 February, the idea of Udinese getting dragged into a relegation scrap might have seemed fanciful. Ninth in the table, they were 16 points clear of the drop zone and instead contemplating a push for Europe.
Since then, though, they have lost 10 games straight. Today they hold a meagre six-point advantage over 18th-placed Crotone. A further defeat this weekend would make things very hairy indeed. The seriousness of the situation was acknowledged by the return to Udine of Gino Pozzo, whose family own the club but who typically resides in London to take care of Watford.
He played down suggestions that manager Massimo Oddo could be fired if the team loses on Sunday, saying “We are all together in the boat here and nobody gets off the boat”, though he prefaced that comment by stating that the team simply would not lose. His players might appreciate that projection of confidence, but can they find similar within themselves?
On paper, Udinese remain a stronger side than Crotone, but with top scorer Kevin Lasagna battling to get back from a thigh injury and the visitors in high spirits after their improbable draw with Juventus, I have a hard time seeing them as the favourites that they ought to be.
- Udinese 0, Crotone 0 (8-1, Unibet)
- First scorer (if there is one): Simy (17-2, Unibet)
- Crotone draw no bet (9-4, Unibet)
Juventus v Napoli (Sun 7.45pm)
So, here it is then: the game we have been waiting for all season. There were moments even as recently as Wednesday when it appeared that Juventus would effectively put the title race to bed before Napoli got to Turin.
Instead Simy’s overhead kick, combined with the Partenopei’s eighth come-from-behind victory of this season, trimmed their advantage back down to four points.
Maurizio Sarri has sought to take the pressure of Napoli, insisting that they have achieved their objective for this season already by qualifying for the Champions League. As well as relaxing his players’ minds, he also sought to rest some legs when he left Dries Mertens, Jorginho and Allan out of his starting XI for Wednesday’s win over Udinese.
All will return for this game, though only time will tell us how fresh those legs are. Napoli’s performances have dipped in recent weeks, but might we say the same of some Juventus players? Previously impenetrable, the Bianconeri have kept only one clean sheet in their past six games. At the other end, Paulo Dybala could not carve out the space for a single shot in his 87 minutes on the pitch against Crotone.
What makes this fixture so daunting for Napoli, though, is the location. Juventus have lost just seven games in as many years at the Allianz Stadium. This, indeed, was the scene of Napoli’s last away league defeat: all the way back in October 2016.
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.