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 key Sunday games.
Atalanta v Napoli (Sun 11.30am)
When you are top of the table in the second half of a season, every game becomes an examination of your title-winning credentials. Some tests, though, are sterner than others. “I’m convinced that Atalanta are the anti-Napoli,” reflected Kalidou Koulibaly in an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport on Thursday. “Every time we face them, we suffer.”
Not only suffer, but lose. Atalanta have won three of the last four head-to-head meetings between these teams, including a 2-1 triumph at the Stadio San Paolo in the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia at the start of this month. Napoli had rotated their starting XI, but it was nevertheless striking to see them outplayed on their own pitch.
Does Gian Piero Gasperini have Maurizio Sarri’s number? If there is a criticism to be made of this Napoli side, it might be that they are too tactically predictable – always lining up in the same 4-3-3. The Atalanta manager is one of the best in the business at tailoring his gameplan for each opponent.
And the league leaders will not be at full strength. Beyond long-term absentees Faouzi Ghoulam and Arkadiusz Milik, Napoli also have concerns regarding the availability of captain Marek Hamsik – absent from training since Monday after being struck down with the flu. With three goals in his previous four games, he had been their most in-form player.
- Atalanta 2, Napoli 1 (21-2, Unibet)
- Cornelius to score first (17-2, Unibet)
- Atalanta double chance (79-100, Unibet)
Sampdoria v Fiorentina (Sunday 2pm)
It was only two months ago that Sampdoria beat Juventus at Marassi, a result which fuelled dreams that the Blucerchiati might gatecrash the top four. They had won eight, and lost only two, of their 12 games to that point. They have won one, and lost five, out of seven since.
Bizarrely, that slide has not yet cost them in the standings. Sampdoria remain sixth – exactly the same position that they occupied after the Juventus win – yet the context around them has changed. Ten points now separate them from the Champions League places, whereas they could fall all the way to 11th if results go against them this weekend.
Fiorentina are one of the sides in position to overtake, though their form is a riddle all of its own. The Viola are unbeaten in eight games – surviving encounters with Napoli, Lazio and both Milan clubs in that run – but they have only actually won two of them.
Suspensions to Davide Astori and Jordan Veretout will hurt the visitors. Both players had started every game thus far. But Giovanni Simeone will not want for motivation up front. He never scored against Sampdoria whilst playing for their rivals Genoa, but leads Fiorentina with seven goals in this campaign.
- Samp 1, Fiorentina 1 (11-2, Unibet)
- Simeone to score first (43-10, Unibet)
- Under 2.5 goals (51-50, Unibet)
Cagliari v Milan (Sun 5pm)
Milan’s sporting director, Massimiliano Mirabelli, has made it plain that there will be no major additions this January to a squad already overhauled in the summer. If Milan are to salvage something from this season then it will be because Gennaro Gattuso finds ways to get more out of the likes of Hakan Calhanoglu – who delivered some of his best performances of the season just before the winter break.
Might we read such improvement as evidence that the manager is starting to break through? That feels like a step too far on such a small sample size. But Gattuso is at least diversifying himself from Vincenzo Montella by showing a little more consistency in his team selection. His predecessor, infamously, named 23 different teams in as many matches.
It stands to reason that a squad featuring so many new faces would benefit from a more settled line-up. The winter break, too, has afforded the manager more time to get acquainted with a group he inherited just eight weeks ago. Still, it’s hard to feel confident backing a side that sits only one point closer to the Champions League places than the relegation zone.
Cagliari are themselves battling to avoid the drop. They made life difficult for Juventus in Sardinia last time out, but failed to score for the second home game in a row. With joint-top scorer Joao Pedro still suspended, finding ways to get the ball in the net remains this team’s greatest challenge.
- Cagliari 0, Milan 2 (17-2, Unibet)
- Suso to score first (23-4, Unibet)
- Under 2.5 goals (23-25, Unibet)
Inter v Roma (Sun 7.45pm)
It was Inter’s 3-1 win at the Stadio Olimpico back in August that set the tone for a blazing start to the season, during which Luciano Spalletti’s team threatened to challenge for the Scudetto.
That no longer seems a realistic prospect after a catastrophic December, but Roma likewise came apart during the final act of 2017, and both teams are expected to move in this transfer window to at least reinforce their Champions League prospects.
Inter have already added Lisandro Lopez, and with Miranda back from injury find themselves with options at centre-back – a position where they had previously looked thin. But they are yet to find the alternatives they so desperately need up front. The Nerazzurri have scored just twice in their last five games.
Roma aren’t faring much better in that department. Edin Dzeko’s prolific start to the season helped to mask what this team had lost with the departure of Mohamed Salah. But the Bosnian has struck just twice in his last 16 games across all competitions. Roma, as a team, have not scored more than one goal in any of their last seven.
With Diego Perotti unavailable this weekend, the expectation is that Alessandro Florenzi may move up into the attack. The Italian would likely relish that opportunity. He always believed that he is better suited to the wing than defence, and on the one occasion that he has started on the right of a front three this season, he scored in a 2-0 win at Milan.
- Inter 2, Roma 2 (21-2, Unibet)
- Florenzi to score first (21-2, Unibet)
- Icardi to score any time (5-4, 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.