Serie A: A Preview of this Week’s two Titanic Clashes

Juventus have set the pace in Serie A yet again. The Old Lady of Turin currently hold a 9 point lead over second placed Napoli and could see this increase if results go their way tonight. The Juventini will be looking to get back to winning ways after suffering elimination from the Champions League in the hands of Bayern Munich.

The German club destroyed their Italian counterparts, 4-0 on aggregate (2-0 H&A) to set up a mouth watering, eagerly anticipated, block buster clash with almighty Barcelona in the semis. Lazio on other hand, know that tomorrow’s game is the one of the last few opportunities to secure qualification to the next season’s Champions League.

Anything less than 3 points tonight and things will become very, very delicate. A.C Milan are one of the most in-form teams in the Italian League and it is no surprise that they have maintained third place for a long time now.

Victory over 2nd placed Napoli will take the Berlusconi owned outfit to within one point of tonight’s opponents and a chance to claim 2nd place in the next couple of weeks.

 

A.C MILAN-NAPOLI

The Milanese have won 4 and drawn of their last 5 Serie games and lie third in the League standings, four points behind 2nd placed Napoli. This would have been inconceivable at the beginning of the season with poor result after poor result coming for the 2011 Italian Champions. Allegri was on brink of a sack and things were going from bad to worse.

However, the ship has steadied ever since and it is a different Rossoneri now. The purchase of Mario Balotelli coupled with the rise to prominence of ‘Faraone’ Shaarawy has been very crucial to the Milan resurgence. El Shaarawy has carried the team all on his way at various times this season. The Egyptian-Italian’s phenomenal form has seen him earn caps with the Azzurri.

Today’s opponents, Napoli, also possess some of the deadliest footballers in Serie A. It is no accident that they sit a place ahead of Milan and still harbour the ambition of winning the Scudetto despite the 9-point lead Juventus have.

The Neapolitans, who have won three of their last 5 games, know that a win over the red and black will all but ensure 2nd place is theirs to lose. Edinson Cavani leads the scorers chart with 22 goals already this season. This means that two Uruguayans comfortably sit atop the marksmen list of two of Europe’s best leagues (England and Italy). He went scoreless for some time, but has come back strong to bang in the goals as he so regularly does.

Marek Hamsik provides the needed creativity from attacking midfield and chips in with some vital goals. Milan know all about these two guys. Stopping them tonight will not be a piece of cake.

Allegri must come to terms with the fact that ‘bad boy’ Mario will not be available for the next 3 games after he was suspended for collecting his 5th yellow card and insulting match officials in Florence. He is also set to face the disciplinary committee of his club for allegations of smoking on the train to the Artenio Franchi.

Consequently, ‘II Pazzo’ will lead the line with El Shaarawy and teenager, M’baye Niang. The EL-BA-NI partnership will have to wait until Mario returns from suspension.

Ricco Montolivo has been exceptional in the last month or so. The midfield pearl’s displays have caught the eye. A superb one again today and Milan could be singing the glory song.

 

PROBABLE LINEUPS

Milan:

Abbiati, Abate, Zapata, Mexes, Constant, Montolivo, Boateng, Flamini, Niang, Pazzini, El Shaarawy

The absence of Balotelli is a huge loss for Milan. Stephan El Shaarawy has not scored since the end of January. Well, Pazzini has goals in him.

 

Napoli:

De Sanctis, Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Britos, Maggio, Behrami, Dzemaili, Zuniga, Hamisk, Pandev, Cavani

Walter Mazzarri’s men use the wing-back system like Juventus. With Maggio and Zuniga marauding down the wings. Swiss duo, Behrami and Dzemaili will take the midfield roles with Hamsik ahead of them. Blerim Dzemaili has scored 4 goals in his last 2 Serie A games. He is a man in form.

The meeting at San Paolo ended all square (2-2).

 

 

LAZIO-JUVENTUS

Prior to midweek, the Laziali and the Bianconeri were Italy’s last two representatives in European Competitions. However, both of them have been thrown out with the Biaconceleste at least earning a creditable 1-1 draw at home to Fenerbahce. The extra motivation will be with the Rome based club.

The 5th placed team have lost three of their last five games. A draw in last weekend’s Rome derby was seen as two points lost. Hernanes has been tremendous for Petkovic’s side this season, but he let himself and Lazio down in that game by missing a penalty and conceding one at the other end that Er Pupone duly dispatched.

Miroslav Klose is back and that is a bonus for the Biancoceleste. His 10 goals before the long layoff helped the Sky Blues to Champions League places. They have since capitulated afterwards. The much travelled Sergio Floccari has deputised at times for the German Legend. It hasn’t been enough nonetheless.

Hernanes has been the shining light all season and bar the 2nd half performance v the Giallorossi last time out, he has rarely put a foot wrong. Federico Marchetti in goal has been one of the Aquile’s most consistent performers. The Italian goalie’s exploits haven’t gone unnoticed by Cesare Prandelli. Only that Gigi Buffon will be very difficult to displace. PSG’s Salvatore Sirigu has found that a futile mission too.

If the Coppa Italia finalists still want to qualify for the UCL, today’s game is a must win.

Juventus are no easy ride for anyone. Well, except you are Bayern Munich. Apart from the German destroyers, no side has been so dominant against the Old Lady since Antonio Conte took over and came back from a 4 month suspension in December.

Tomorrow night against the Biancoceleste, the league leaders have it all to do in order to restore the confidence that was nowhere to be found on Wednesday. Andrea Pirlo will not want to see Bastian Schweinsteiger anytime soon. The German midfielder gained revenge over the Italian master in both legs of the European tie. It was a performance that drew comparisons with some of the very best ever. A virtuoso display of excellence.

Marchisio cut a forlorn figure in both legs and his ineffectiveness when playing against Europe’s finest footballers showed to a great extent. The absence of Giorgio Chiellini is another minus for the Juventini. The defence without him have coped….with him, they are water tight.

Mirko Vucinic and his strike partners were no match for Dante and Danny Van Buyten who effortlessly kept them very quiet. A Cana-Ciani partnership might be weaker on paper, but can put on a similar show. Tonio Candreva is that stunning winger these days. He knows the Old Lady very well, having spent a season there on loan some seasons ago. His form this campaign has been great.

Ogenyi Onazi has shown flashes of what he is capable of, especially in the European stage. A vital squad member who can come in handy at any time.

 

PROBABLE LINEUPS

LAZIO:

Marchetti, Gonzalez, Cana, Ciani, Stankevicius, Candreva, Ledesma, Onazi, Hernanes, Mauri, Klose

The prominent Senad Lulic is suspended for this tie, so Alvaro Gonzalez comes in for him. The return of the imposing Klose is a massive boost for Vladimir Petkovic’s team.

 

JUVENTUS:

Buffon, Peluso, Bonucci, Barzagli, Asamoah, Marchisio, Vidal, Pirlo, Lichtsteiner, Vucinic, Matri

The return of Arturo Vidal and Stephan Lichtsteiner will be music to the ears of Conte. Although Chiellini is out through suspension, the old lady have enough in their arsenal to wreck havoc at the Stadio Olimpico.

Alessandro Matri is set to replace the Quag in attack, while Kwadwo Asamoah at left wing back is an automatic choice when fit.

 

Written by Ohireime Eboreime

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Lazio: The Biancocelesti may fall short but can’t deny Petkovic’s upward curve

The last decade hasn’t been the smoothest of rides for the fans of Lazio who have had to endure the gradual disintegration of their 2000 double-winning side as a result of financial problems concerning Sergio Cragnotti, the club’s owner since 1992 who was forced to leave ten years later.

There have been a total of nine managers, and just three trophies, since Sven Goran Eriksson delivered their last Scudetto at the turn of the century. Since then, they have only finished as high as third as the Italian club has seen their place in Serie A, held since 1988, threatened by their involvement in the Calciopioli match-fixing scandal of 2006.

It was Edoardo Reja who managed to transform Lazio’s fortunes from a 12th placed finish in the season before his arrival that saw the club rise to fifth in his first year. Reja then guided them to fourth a year later before his May resignation that went against the wishes of President Claudio Lotito.

The Biancocelesti then took a huge gamble on 49 year old Bosnian Vladimir Petkovic in the summer, a coach most recently of Swiss side Sion and whose only managerial achievement is a promotion from the third tier of Swiss football with Malcantone Agno back in 2003. Incidentally, Petkovic became the club’s first foreign manager since Eriksson.

Reja’s success was based on the revival of Christian Ledesma and Stefano Mauri, as well as signing the likes of Brazilian playmaker Hernanes who has continued his excellent form under Petkovic to the reward of his first call up to his national team for just under a year thanks to the new era of Luis Felipe Scolari.

It is the form of the gifted South American who has hit 8 goals from attacking midfield, as well as 3 assists, that has seen the Reja-guided renaissance built upon remarkably, as Lazio sit third in Serie A, nine points off leaders Juventus, after 23 matches.

Last weekend’s defeat at Genoa, eventually succumbing to a stoppage-time Marco Rigoni header after fighting back from a half-time deficit of 2-0, as well as a defeat at home to Chievo the week before, has all but eradicated their challenge for the title that had been gathering pace via a run of ten games without defeat. Before the 0-1 reversal to Chievo at the Stadio Olimpico, Lazio had lost just four games in 21 matches, sparking talk that Petkovic could deliver the impossible of a first Scudetto for twelve years.

A trophy may still come in the form of the Coppa Italia as a 3-2 aggregate defeat of Juventus ensured they will take their place in the May final at the Olimpico, the stadium in which they hold this season’s best home record, but with a squad that has been assembled on a shoe-string budget, that may be achievement enough.

The Lazio of last year faded away badly under Reja in the second half of a season where they suffered an injury to Miroslav Klose after allowing Djibril Cisse and Giuseppe Sculli to depart without replacement, leaving them short of goals.

That drop in form eventually led to Reja’s resignation as enthusiasm from the fans waned. This time around Petkovic appears to have full-backing from the Curva Nord unlike Reja, despite the Italian’s impressive work in transforming the Rome club.

Not only can Petkovic call on the full support from the stands, but also the superb form of wide-men Antonio Candreva and Senad Lulic who have registered a combined tally of six assists and four goals in support of Klose who produced his ten goals from 31 shots, a strike-rate of 32.26% that gave him the best strike-rate in Europe’s top 5 leagues.

Klose.... rolling back the years.

Klose…. rolling back the years.

 

Only Catania have scored less than Lazio’s tally of 34 in the top ten of Serie A, but with the ruthlessness of Klose and the quality of Hernanes, capable of the sublime, supporting him in a usual 4-1-4-1, Petkovic’s side only need a couple of chances to score.

Their £17 million signing Mauro Zarate meanwhile, remains in the cold of the bench having made just one league appearance following a contract dispute. It is suggestive of the quality they have in their attack-line that Lazio have reached as high as third without their rebellious Argentinean who had been so vital to Reja’s success.

Having a solid defence has helped greatly. Marshaled by the consistent excellence of a back four containing the experience of centre-halves Giuseppe Biava and Andre Dias, aged 35 and 33 respectively, they have the third best defensive record in Serie A having shipped just 25 goals.

Stefan Radu and Abadoulay Konko have also been ever-present at full-back as Petkovic has been able to reap the reward of continuity. In front of the back-line, Argentinean Christian Ledesma has offered a solid defensive screen throughout, having missed just one league game so far.

Stefano Mauri, Alvaro Gonzalez and Sergio Floccari have also proved able deputies in midfield while Michael Ciani and Luis Cavanda have filled in effectively at the back when needed, it is that depth in Petkovic’s squad that will serve the Bosnian well as his squad attempts to stay at the higher end of Serie A, as a well as embarking on the latter stages of the Europa League.

Lazio’s revival has been a great story starting with the early days of Edy Reja and is now continuing with this unknown 49 year old who is building a reputation very quickly.

Serie A may be out of reach this year, but it is now a realistic objective for the near future, a thought that would have been obscene just a couple of years ago on the blue side of Rome.

 

Written by Adam Gray

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Serie A: The Battle For This Season’s Scudetto

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12 weeks into the Serie A campaign, we see the defending champions Juventus on top of the League table. We can also see that this season there will be 5 teams in for the fight: Juventus, Inter, Napoli, Lazio and Fiorentina.

Let’s start off with Juventus, the defending champions look like the team to beat so far this year, or do they? Juventus had their 49 undefeated game streak snapped when Inter went into Torino and took all 3 points in a 3-1 win. So are they really the team everyone thinks they are? No, Juventus are 10-1-1 but having only played 2 strong teams, Napoli which they managed to take all 3 points, and Inter – you can’t really say they are the strongest side.

With only 6 points in Champions League, Juventus can see themselves knocked out of the competition if they don’t pull up their socks. On to Inter, for me the strongest side in Serie A so far, I say this because yes they are 9-0-3, but Inter are now a better side from the beginning of the season. With all the injuries and “bad calls” you can’t really say Inter deserved to lose any game. Inter clinched a spot in the Europa League with 2 games left and are now tied for first in Group H with 10 points. If Inter stay healthy and motivated then I believe they have the strongest side and a good chance to win their 19th Scudetto.

Now on to Napoli; for me Napoli isn’t a contender for the Scudetto because they always seem to start off well, and then choke in the end. With a lot of talk in this upcoming transfer window some star players could be departing the club; Cavani and Hamsik seem to be the most talked about of leaving in January. If true, Napoli will surely go down in the standings.

Lazio, we are starting to see a very strong Lazio side, Lazio may not be a Scudetto contender yet, but in the near future they will be on top of Serie A. Lazio are starting to build a very strong side, with Klose and Hernanes in the squad, they need a couple more players to become a real power house in Serie A.

Lastly there’s Fiorentina, a real underdog for the Scudetto. With young talent on this Fiorentina side it’s no surprise they are up in the standings. Stefan Jovetic is the future of this team, along with other young players. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fiorentina do win something this year, I believe this team could potentially win Coppa Italia and even finish with a Champions League spot.

I believe this is how the top 6 will finish come the end of the season.

1. Inter Milan (19th Scudetto)
2. Fiorentina (Champions League)
3. Juventus (Champions League)
4. Lazio (Europa League)
5. Napoli (Europa League)
6. Roma (Europa League)

 

Written by Peter Lodico

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