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.
Sassuolo v Lazio (Sun 2pm)
Were we ever truly worried about Ciro Immobile? The Lazio striker went five games without a goal after injuring his thigh in mid-January, but he has now scored five times this week.
His brace against Verona on Monday moved the Biancocelesti up to fourth in the Serie A table, and his hat-trick against Steaua Bucharest on Thursday helped put them through to the Europa League last 16.
His form will be pivotal as this team fights on both fronts for a route into the Champions League. Lazio last reached the playoff round of that competition in 2015, but they have not competed in the tournament proper for more than a decade. It is hard to say which path looks like the better bet. There are better teams than Lazio left in the Europa League, but not many, and they have thrived in cup competitions under Simone Inzaghi.
The race for the top four domestically, meanwhile, has been intense, but with Inter stumbling and Milan still eight points behind, the opportunity is there. Games like this one, though, must be won. Sassuolo are not an awful team but they have taken only three points from their last seven games and none of their players has scored more goals in this entire Serie A season than Immobile hit on Thursday alone. Lazio will have some heavy legs, but 5-1 wins have a way of making you feel that little bit lighter.
Juventus v Atalanta (Sun 5pm)
Atalanta had their hearts broken on Thursday night, knocked out of Europe after coming within seven minutes of a famous win over Borussia Dortmund. Perhaps we will see them take their frustrations out here, but more likely, I suspect, they will be shattered from expending so much energy – physical and emotional – in a losing cause.
Of course, they would not have been the favourites in any case. Despite being held by Tottenham in the Champions League, Juve are still on a nine-game winning run in Serie A – with just a single goal conceded in that time. And Atalanta have not beaten them in Turin since 1989.
The champions might be without Gonzalo Higuaín, still recovering from the knock that he took to his ankle against Torino. Although the injury is not especially serious, the impression is that Juve would prefer not to take any risks with that second leg against Spurs still looming on the horizon.
They should, however, have Paulo Dybala back in the starting XI after his cameo off the bench last time out. This while Atalanta contemplate whether their own most influential forward needs a rest. Papu Gomez is only recently returned from a back injury, though he of all players may be most keen to get back on the pitch and clear the memory of the chance he missed at 1-0 against Dortmund that might have changed the outcome.
- Juventus 1, Atalanta 0 (5-1, Unibet)
- Mandzukic to score first (22-5, Unibet)
- Under 2.5 goals (17-20, Unibet)
Roma v Milan (Sun 7.45pm)
For both teams, a pivotal test. Roma have righted the ship after an early winter wobble but their hold on third place remains precarious, and we were reminded of their frailties as they blew a first-half lead away to Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday.
Milan, by contrast, are unbeaten in 11 games across all competitions, but need to win some of these big head-to-heads if they are going to close the eight-point gap to the top four.
Eusebio Di Francesco called out his senior players this week, describing their timidity in the second half against Shakhtar as “incomprehensible”. It is a peculiarity of Roma’s recent form that two less experienced members of the starting XI have carried them. Cengiz Ünder is up to five goals in his last four games. Alisson has been sensational in goal.
Then again, you could say the same for Milan, whose improved results have an awful lot to do with the 20-year-old Patrick Cutrone. Gennaro Gattuso tried to make room for André Silva on Thursday, shifting the Italian out wide for the Europa League second leg against Ludogorets so that the Portuguese could start through the middle. Yet it was Cutrone who set up Fabio Borini for the game’s only goal.
Milan’s growth over the past two months has been impressive, and Gattuso deserves a great deal of credit. But they are yet to win a game like this, away to a real front-runner. A point is less than they really need in the hunt for a Champions League berth, but it would serve as further evidence of their growth.
- Roma 1, Milan 1 (6-1, Unibet)
- Under to score first (19-4, Unibet)
- Both teams to score (73-100, 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.