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.
Milan v Napoli (Sun 2pm)
A long season is starting to take its toll on Milan, who began with a Europa League qualifier against Craiova all the way back on 27 July. This will be their 50th game of the campaign, six more than Napoli have got through.
Is it perhaps no coincidence that the Rossoneri’s players cover a modest 108km per game in Serie A – the fourth-lowest figure in the division?
Where Vincenzo Montella rotated his team endlessly, furthermore, Gennaro Gattuso has tended not to tinker too drastically with his starting XI. Some of the individuals he has relied on most consistently have looked leggy in recent games. Suso and Franck Kessié are two essential players who could do with a rest.
It is hard to imagine them getting one against Napoli, who continue to dream of an improbable scudetto despite their own signs of fatigue. In their case, the exhaustion might be more mental than physical – the need to keep on winning every week just to keep pace with Juventus taking its toll.
Arkadiusz Milik’s game-turning cameo off the bench against Chievo was an important rallying point, as well as a reminder of what a talent they have been missing for much of this season. But can we really trust Napoli to find a win at San Siro when they have done so just twice in their last five games, even then leaving it late to beat Genoa and Chievo at home?
- Milan 2, Napoli 0 (22-1, Unibet)
- Calhanoglu to score first (12-1, Unibet)
- Milan double chance (51-50, Unibet)
Juventus v Sampdoria (Sun 5pm)
What knock-on impact will that Champions League exit have on Juventus? Eliminated by Real Madrid after coming within touching distance of one of the all-time great European comebacks, will they be fired on by the rage that they showed after Michael Oliver’s late penalty award, or might they still be distracted?
One way or another, this is not a game that they can take for granted. Sampdoria’s form has dipped in the spring, yet they beat Juventus at Marassi earlier this season. Despite generally mediocre results on the road, furthermore, the few away wins that they have collected have come in some of the most unlikely spots: against Roma, Fiorentina and Atalanta.
Both teams will be absent a starting right-back, Bartosz Bereszynski serving a ban for Sampdoria, while Mattia De Sciglio recovers from the injury he sustained against Madrid. Juventus will, though, have the opportunity to reintroduce Paulo Dybala after he sat out the midweek game with a suspension.
Much of this game, for me, rests on Massimiliano Allegri’s ability to bring Juve’s focus back onto the task at hand. Frustration over events at the Bernabéu will linger for some time, but the manager has been as effective as any over recent seasons at manipulating his players’ emotions to keep them on track in difficult times. That is, indeed, a big part of why they were able to make things close in Madrid in the first place.
- Juve 3, Samp 1 (19-2, Unibet)
- Quagliarella to score first (13-1, Unibet)
- Both teams to score (28-25, Unibet)
Lazio v Roma (Sun 7.45pm)
Given the magnitude of this game, there has been curiously little build-up in the Italian media. Both clubs have been too distracted with their European commitments.
Where Roma pulled off an epic comeback against Barcelona to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League, Lazio produced an equivalent collapse as they went from a 5-2 aggregate lead to a 6-5 defeat against RB Salzburg.
And yet, this is a huge match in its own right. Roma and Lazio sit level in third place on 60 points. For now, the Giallorossi would hold the tie-breaker thanks to a 2-1 win in their ‘home’ derby last November, but all that could change on Sunday night.
To beat Barcelona can only boost Roma’s confidence, yet is there also a risk of arrogance for a side that had taken only a point from its previous two league games? As brilliant as they are at their best, Eusebio Di Francesco’s team sometimes struggles to turn domination into goals.
There is a heavy reliance on Edin Dzeko: all the more so with Diego Perotti injured and Cengiz Under still not necessarily ready for 90 minutes after his recent hamstring strain.
Lazio, conversely, have been the most prolific team in Serie A this season, but Thursday’s game was only the latest illustration of a corresponding frailty at the back. They have conceded more goals than Juventus and Napoli combined, and have kept only a single clean sheet in their last nine games. With two fewer days to prepare than Roma, can they make all the adjustments they need?
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.