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.
Napoli v Verona (2pm)
For the second time in three years, Napoli are top of Serie A at the midway stage. Very often, Italy’s winter champions go on to lift the Scudetto, but the Partenopei were an exception to that rule in 2015-16. Two points clear of Juventus after 19 games, they finished nine behind the Bianconeri.
To write a different ending this time around will require relentless consistency. Napoli cannot countenance dropped points in a game such as this one, against a Verona team that sits 19th in the table and has conceded 19 times in nine away games.
The goals are not coming quite so easily for Napoli as they did at the start of the season, and they are expected to spend this January to reinforce an attack that is dangerously short on depth. But it is hard to imagine them falling into complacency here, just five days after they were knocked out of the Coppa Italia by Atalanta.
That was a surprising defeat at the Stadio San Paolo, but not a shocking one. Napoli had fielded a weakened side, where Atalanta have been giving the cup competitions their all. There is no comparison, furthermore, between last year’s fourth-place team, and this struggling Verona.
- Napoli 3, Verona 0 (13-2, Unibet)
- Insigne to score first (9-2, Unibet)
- Napoli to win both halves (4-5, Unibet)
Roma v Atalanta (5pm)
It is still too soon to talk about Roma slipping out of the title race, especially when they have a game in hand on the top three, but their form towards the end of 2017 was concerning.
The Giallorossi were disappointing in their defeat to Juventus, but dropped points against Chievo and Sassuolo offered greater cause for concern.
This is not a straightforward place to begin the new year, against an Atalanta team who just won away at Napoli. Radja Nainggolan will not feature after being suspended by the club following his boozy New Year’s Eve post on Instagram.
His absence will be felt against opponents who are adept at crowding the midfield – with Papu Gomez and Josip Ilicic dropping back to assist the hard-tackling combo of Marten De Roon and Remo Freuler. The last thing Roma will want is to be drawn into a physical battle. Daniele De Rossi is one yellow card away from a suspension, and their next game is away to Inter.
Atalanta will be at full strength, as well as full of confidence. There might be a few tired legs after the midweek win, but the prospect of a fortnight’s rest to come should be enough to offset that.
- Roma 2, Atalanta 2 (12-1, Unibet)
- El Shaarawy to score first (24-5, Unibet)
- De Roon to be carded (17-10, Unibet)
Cagliari v Juventus (Sat 7.45pm)
There have been seasons in which even Serie A’s leading lights feared a trip to Sardinia. This is not one of those seasons. Cagliari have picked up as many points on their travels as they have at home, but their 2-1 victory over Atalanta at the end of last year does make clear that they cannot be taken for granted.
They will be without a couple of potential starters against Juventus. Joao Pedro, Cagliari’s joint-leading scorer, is serving the second of a four-game suspension that he incurred for diving and then stamping on an opponent’s foot against Fiorentina. Left-back Senna Miangue was sent off in the win at Atalanta.
Juventus would have been prohibitive favourites in any case. They finished 2017 in dominant fashion, winning eight of their final nine games across all competitions. Their lone slip-up came in a 0-0 draw against Inter, whom they thoroughly outplayed, and they conceded only a single goal, in the 3-1 victory away to Verona.
The one question, as we enter into a new year, is what fresh trick Massimiliano Allegri has up his sleeve. Juve’s manager has tended to reinvent his teams’ tactics in the winter, ready for the Champions League knockout push. Will he see fit to do so again, or is recent form sufficient to deem such tinkering unnecessary?
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.