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 Saturday games.
Fiorentina v Milan (Sat 11am)
How quickly the narrative turns. This week began with Italian newspapers speculating that Gennaro Gattuso might not make it to 2018 as manager of Milan. After a Coppa Italia win over Inter on Wednesday, Gazzetta dello Sport led their football coverage with a two-page spread acclaiming him for “relaunching” the Rossoneri.
Premature? Just a touch. Milan have every right to enjoy victory over their rivals, but this was hardly a performance to convince us that their troubles are past. Gattuso’s team was committed and aggressive, but still heavily reliant on individual moments of skill from the likes of Suso: who picked out Patrick Cutrone for the game’s only goal. And Inter, it must be said, were dreadful.
There is a real risk that Fiorentina could bring Milan crashing straight back down to earth. The Viola exited the Coppa Italia with defeat to Lazio on Tuesday, but they have not lost a league game in almost two months. They will be at full-strength, too, where Milan have a number of injury doubts.
Ignazio Abate has been ruled out, meaning that (with Andrea Conti a long-term absentee) third-choice right-back Davide Calabria should start. We might see Antonio Donnarumma in goal again, too, after an impressive debut in midweek, unless his brother Gigio can shake off a thigh complaint.
Nikola Kalinic will be eager to play against his former club, but the striker’s status is also up in the air. If nothing else, Milan might draw encouragement from knowing that they deprived Fiorentina of their own most reliable source of goals when they signed the Croatian in the summer. Although hard to beat, the hosts have scored once in their last three games.
- Fiorentina 0, Milan 0 (21-2, Unibet)
- First scorer (if there is one): Cutrone (15-2, Unibet)
- Under 2.5 goals (19-20, Unibet)
Inter v Lazio (Sat 5pm)
So much for the idea that Luciano Spalletti had taken the ‘Pazza’ (crazy) out of Pazza Inter. The Nerazzurri began December with a commanding 5-0 win over Chievo. Since then, they have scored one goal in five matches.
It is a statistic that becomes even more bewildering when you consider that two games lasted for 120 minutes, and one of those was against third-tier Pordenone.
Fatigue is playing some part. Spalletti has been reluctant to rotate at Inter, with only 13 members of the first-team squad playing more than five league games so far. It cannot be a coincidence that several of those who have featured in every game – Mauro Icardi, Ivan Perisic, Antonio Candreva and Borja Valero – are struggling most obviously for form.
But the truth is Spalletti does not have many alternatives up front. Eder, the first alternative to Icardi, is neither the same type of player, nor anything close to the same quality. Reinforcements will be sought in January, but in the short term Inter are likely to approach this game cautiously – taking the view that a draw is no disaster against top-four rivals over whom they currently enjoy a four-point advantage.
If Inter’s recent form has been poor, then their record against Serie A’s biggest clubs this season is solid. They have taken five points from three games against Juventus, Roma and Napoli – all of which were played away from home. Fans might prefer to see them play with more ambition at San Siro, but at this stage any positive result would be an improvement.
- Inter 0, Lazio 0 (12-1, Unibet)
- First scorer (if there is one): Immobile (21-4, Unibet)
- Both teams to score – No (69-50, Unibet)
Verona v Juventus (Sat 7.45pm)
This one ought to be obvious, right? The reigning champs, second in the table and riding a run of eight consecutive clean sheets, up against a team that sits 19th and just got thrashed 4-0 by Udinese.
But here’s a stat that might give you pause: Juventus have not won away to Verona since 2007 – back when both teams were playing in Serie B.
The Bianconeri lost the most recent edition of this fixture 2-1, in May of last year, with Luca Toni opening the scoring. If nothing else Juventus should be grateful that the forward has since hung up his boots. He had struck in all of his last three matches against them at the Bentegodi.
Paulo Dybala grabbed the Old Lady’s consolation goal in the aforementioned defeat, and the hope in Turin is that this game might help him kick out of his current funk. The Argentinian has not scored a league goal in more than a month, and did not make it off the bench during the 1-0 win over Roma.
Dybala is expected back in the starting XI on Saturday, and should be able to carve out opportunities against opponents who have conceded twice per game on average this season. Without Toni, Verona will struggle to extend their run of positive results in this fixture. But it will be fun to see whether they unleash the on-loan Moise Kean against his parent club.
- Verona 1, Juventus 3 (10-1, Unibet)
- First scorer: Kean (17-1, Unibet)
- Dybala to score any time (4-5, 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.