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 key Sunday fixtures.
Sampdoria v Inter (Sun 11.30am)
Inter delivered one of their most robust performances of the season last weekend, battling to a goalless stalemate with Napoli. But the Nerazzurri need more than draws from here to the end of the season if they are to muscle back into the Champions League places. Fifth in the table, they have Milan breathing down their necks for the first time as well.
This will not be an easy place to go chasing three points. Sampdoria have lost only twice all season at Marassi – and both of them during an off-colour December. They have beaten Juventus and Milan at home, as well as drawing with Roma.
Inter, meanwhile, are timid travellers. They have scored a modest 15 goals in 12 away games, and have not won outside of San Siro since their visit to Cagliari in November. Luciano Spalletti still has not found the right man for the No10 role in his 4-2-3-1, and is expected to give Rafinha another try here. The Brazilian had some encouraging moments against Napoli, yet his team did not score.
Samp have problems of their own, and are coming off a 4-1 reverse away to Crotone. Fabio Quagliarella is without a goal in three games, and the attack does not look as sharp overall as it did earlier in the season. But they have not lost at home to Inter since 2014, and after such a heavy defeat last weekend I expect a reaction.
- Samp 1, Inter 0 (10-1, Unibet)
- Quagliarella to score first (27-5, Unibet)
- Under 2.5 goals (9-10, Unibet)
Crotone v Roma (Sun 2pm)
Can Crotone build on that stunning rout of Sampdoria? It’s certainly a big ask as they are thrust straight into an even more daunting fixture against Roma. An optimist might say that they are fortunate to face these opponents at the end of a strenuous Champions League week, but the Giallorossi are also riding high after reaching the quarter-finals of that competition for the first time in 10 years.
Monchi called on Roma to keep their focus, the sporting director reminding us that his team does not have the best track record for sustaining performance from one match to the next. “This is Roma’s biggest problem,” he observed. “Every time we start to win we are champions, but every false step is a disaster. I go back to my message from four or five months ago: we need to find balance, the shades of grey.”
f they play anywhere close to their best then this will be a mismatch. The Sampdoria result was an outlier for Crotone, who had won two of their previous 15 games. But they have been scoring more freely of late despite the loss of top scorer Ante Budimir to injury. A devil-may-care approach cost them in successive 3-2 defeats to relegation rivals Benevento and SPAL, yet that same boldness reaped rewards against Samp.
Manager Walter Zenga is unlikely to back down now. Crotone have nothing to lose in a game that they enter as heavy underdogs. But I doubt that they have the tools to pull off a second consecutive upset, either.
Napoli v Genoa (Sun 7.45pm)
Were Napoli to drop points again this weekend, their Scudetto dreams might already be finished. It feels absurd to say that about a team which – as Marek Hamsik reminded us – could still make it to 100 points this season, yet those are the terms of this most ferocious title race.
The good news for supporters is that Napoli do not look like a spent force. To drop five points in two games against Roma and Inter was damaging, yet the Partenopei could draw encouragement from the way they attacked against the former, and how they defended against the latter. The same level of performance ought to result in a win over a stubborn but limited Genoa.
What Napoli do need to watch out for is an early strike by the visitors. Genoa are fast starters, scoring 29% of their goals this season within 15 minutes of kick-off. They are not a team you want to fall behind to, either, with Mattia Perin a defiant presence between the sticks.
Napoli, though, have the weapons to unpick most sides, and after two such high-profile games this feels like an occasion when they might profit from feeling that the pressure is off. There is something to be said, after a season of pace-setting, for slipping back into the more familiar role of underdogs.
- Napoli 3, Genoa 1 (21-2, Unibet)
- Laxalt to score first (45-1, Unibet)
- Insigne to score any time (37-25, 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.