Serie A kicks-off the new decade on Wednesday with a rare mid-week programme of matches designed to coincide with the religious festival of epiphany. As ever, there are a number of intriguing clashes taking place up and down the country as the league looks set to continue the high levels of drama and excitement produced during the pre-Christmas period.
The most significant game of the weekend takes place at the Stadio Ennio Tardini where Parma will host Ciro Ferarra’s beleaguered Juventus side. Juve, who went into the Christmas break on the back of an awful run of form, will be desperate to take the points in an attempt to close the gap on league leaders Inter and prevent their opponents from leap-frogging them in the table. Indeed, if the Bianconeri are unsuccessful on Wednesday it is widely rumoured that Ferrara will be sacked and replaced by Guus Hiddink who, if the rumours are to be believed, has been in talks with the Juve board over a proposed £8m contract. Parma are currently sitting in fifth place, just outside the Champions League places after a highly impressive start to the campaign by the newly-promoted Ducali. Such is the strength of confidence in Francesco Guidolin’s team and the huge pressure on Ferrara’s job, few would bet against the home side coming out of the game with at least a point.
On Wednesday evening Milan and Genoa will clash at the San Siro in what should be an exciting game between two of Serie A’s most entertaining sides. David Beckham is likely to be the centre of attention as he returns for his second loan spell with the Rossoneri and, such is the current lack of options Leonardo has in the position, may even be asked to fill in at right-back. Milan went into the Christmas break in fine form having won three of their last four games, a run which has seen the club go past Juventus into second place, one point clear of the Old Lady and with a game in hand. Conversely, Genoa have struggled for consistency in recent weeks with defeats to Lazio and Livorno having taken some of the momentum out of what was a solid start to the season. With Juve facing a difficult trip to Parma, Milan will undoubtedly see this game as an opportunity to extend their lead of their Turin rivals and close the gap on Inter during this crucial phase of the campaign.
League leaders Internazionale face a trip to twelfth-placed Chievo as José Mourinho’s side bid to extend their eight point lead over Milan. However, the trip to the Stadio Bentegodi will not be an easy one for Inter, the Mussi Volanti having already beaten Fiorentina, Genoa and Palermo at home this season. With Mourinho’s relationship with the Italian media falling apart at the seams and his rapport with owner Massimo Moratti reported to be strained, it is unlikely that the Portuguese will remain in Milan beyond the end of the season, but it is vital that he continues to pick up results if he is not to find himself unceremoniously sacked before that point. Mourinho will not have Samuel Eto’o, who is away at the African Cup of Nations with Cameroon, at his disposal on Wednesday, and will also miss Walter Samuel through injury and Thiago Motta and Dejan Stankovic through suspension. Chievo have fewer selection headaches, Fabio Moro the only player missing out for Domenico Di Carlo’s side. The Verona club have had an inconsistent season thus far, but if they can rise to the occasion against the Nerazzurri then the San Siro club could be in for a difficult afternoon.
Claudio Ranieri’s Roma, a team enjoying a fine run of form which has seen the Capitolini rise rapidly up the table into fourth, travel to Sardinia to face Cagliari in their mid-week clash at the Stadio Sant’Elia. In light of the possible absence of Francesco Totti, Giallorossi fans will be hoping that Luca Toni, recently taken on loan from Bayern Munich, will rediscover his form of old and help the club consolidate a Champions League spot as the campaign enters the new year. Cagliari, on the other hand, have struggled of late and have seen much of their early-season endeavour come to nought. That said, the Isolani’s strike force of Nené and Alessandro Matri have been in fine form all season and have the potential to cause i Lupi some defensive problems during Wednesday’s match.
Week 18 Fixtures in Full:
Atalanta v Napoli (Prediction: Draw)
Bari v Udinese (Draw)
Cagliari v Roma (Roma Win)
Catania v Bologna (Draw)
Chievo v Inter (Inter Win)
Lazio v Livorno (Lazio Win)
Milan v Genoa (Milan Win)
Parma v Juventus (Draw)
Sampdoria v Palermo (Sampdoria Win)
Siena v Fiorentina (Fiorentina Win)