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- Off The Pitch
Serie A returns to action on Saturday as clubs around the peninsula gear up for the stretch run of this year’s campaign with just 10 rounds of fixtures remaining.
Three Italian clubs set the table for another feast of calcio fixtures midweek, taking part in continental play with varying results. AC Milan lived out their prospective nightmare at the Camp Nou on Tuesday, as Lionel Messi and company overturned the Rossoneri’s 2-0 advantage from the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie with relative ease, smashing four past the San Siro outfit to send them crashing out of the competition in shutout fashion. Inter attempted to stage a dramatic comeback of their own against Tottenham in the Europa League after being thrashed 3-0 at White Hart Lane the previous week, but came up just short in bowing out on away goals with a 4-1 victory. Conversely, Lazio tasted success in moving on to the quarterfinals of Europe’s secondary championship with a 3-1 win over Stuttgart in Rome, but were without any supporters at the Stadio Olimpico as they faced a UEFA ban for unsavory fan behavior in prior matches.
Catania and Udinese get the domestic front’s twenty-ninth round under way Saturday night at the Stadio Angelo Massimino with each club looking to revive their dwindling hopes of finishing in a European place. Francesco Guidolin’s men sit one point behind their imminent rivals in ninth place in the table, and will be boosted by their quite respectable record at the Sicilians’ hostile home, having won twice and picked up a draw in their last four visits.
However, the Zebrette will be without a great deal of key players due to injury and suspension, including Dusan Basta, Maurizio Domizzi, Andrea Lazzari, and talismanic captain Antonio Di Natale. The Elefanti are sure to be disheartened after succumbing to defeat in each of the last two weeks, though they were facing tough tests in taking on Inter and Juventus and are sure to be motivated under the guidance of Rolando Maran.
Bologna welcome Juventus to the Stadio Renato dall’Ara in the second match of the evening. Each side comes into the match in good form, sharing an identical haul of 13 points from their last six league bouts. Both coaches will be able to field their ideal lineups, the sole exception being the absence of defender Frederik Sorensen, himself 50 per cent Bianconeri property, for Felsinei boss Stefano Pioli.
The Rossoblu have a horrendous historical record against the Turin giants, losing 20 of their 31 meetings dating back to 1991, and last defeated the Old Lady at home in November 1998. Bologna’s best chance to snag points lies in the scintillating form of playmaker Alessandro Diamanti, who has menaced defences with his wide range of offensive talents with remarkable regularity since January, and the hope that Juventus are distracted by the spectre of facing Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals just upwards of two weeks’ time.
Sunday’s lunchtime game features Cagliari against Siena at the Stadio Artemio Franchi – Montepaschi Arena. The Isolani have been excellent in recent times, whilst eighteenth-place Robur now have safety in their sights following a crucial win over Palermo last week, sitting two points shy of Genoa. Beppe Iachini’s men will look for some help from Fiorentina later in the day when their fellow Tuscans take the pitch against the Grifone at Florence’s similarly named ground. The Viola have their full complement of players available for the match, but the competition will have to contend with the losses of Thomas Manfredini, Francelino Matuzalem, and potentially Marco Borriello to injury. Vincenzo Montella’s side has dominated this fixture over the past six editions, emerging victorious five times and conceding just three times in the process.
Elsewhere, seemingly relegation-doomed Pescara will do battle with giant slayers Chievo by the sea at the Stadio Adriatico, whilst last week Goliath to the Flying Donkeys’ David, Napoli, will look to finally halt their winless streak in Serie A at five against a resurgent Atalanta. Orobici boss Stefano Colantuono will watch from the Stadio San Paolo stands as he serves a suspension and key playmaker Luca Cigarini is at risk of missing out with a neck problem, but the Partenopei will be at maximum strength save for Miguel Britos. The boys from Bergamo came out on top in their last clash with the Vesuviani in Naples, rising to the occasion to snatch a 3-1 victory in April 2012.
AC Milan will be happy to meet crisis-plagued Palermo in the final afternoon match as they inch ever closer to second place in the midst of Napoli’s recent demise, but were dealt a serious confidence blow midweek against Barcelona. Prolific young striker Stephan El Shaarawy has called for the Rossoneri to move on and now focus their energies on the domestic front from this point foward, demonstrating his position of leadership within the squad despite his tender years.
The Rosanero are the perfect rejuvenation victim for the Diavolo given the incomprehensibly rash actions of club president Maurizio Zamparini, who sacked Gian Piero Gasperini this week for the second time this campaign, replacing him the season’s original manager, Giuseppe Sannino. The Sicilians are without a win since 24 November as their situation continues to become increasingly desperate, whilst Milan are undefeated in Serie A since 22 December in an extremely polarised tale of two cities that seems to have only a single predictable ending.
Roma will take on Parma Sunday evening in hopes of, with some measure of outside help, climbing back into the European places. The capital club sit three points behind fifth-place Inter after a run of three wins and a draw under caretake manager Aurelio Andreazzoli and boast a fantastic record against the Ducali at the Stadio Olimpico, having won eleven of the last twelve editions of this home fixture.
Roberto Donadoni’s men were able to stop the bleeding at last in week 28 with a comeback triumph over Torino on the back of a second half Amauri brace, but found themselves winless in their eight previous matches in domestic play. Miralem Pjanic will be on the treatment table for the Giallorossi once again, meaning Michael Bradley will likely get the start in central midfield alongside Daniele De Rossi. Andreazzoli appears ready to field Francesco Totti as a false 9 for the second week on the bounce with Pablo Daniel Osvaldo in poor form and looking primed for a summer exit. On the opposite end, the Crociati will most likely begin with Nicola Sansone and newfound hero Amauri up front, with versatile January signing Djamel Mesbah the most significant injury casualty in the Parma camp.
A mentally drained Inter will come together with Sampdoria at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in the night’s second matchup, the Nerazzurri likely to be sluggish in having played 120 minutes against Tottenham on Thursday with an injury plague continuing to ravage their ranks. Gaby Mudingayi, Walter Samuel, Matias Silvestre, Yuto Nagatomo, and long-term sufferer Diego Milito will all be unavailable to boss Andrea Stramaccioni, whilst Juan Jesus will also be sitting out due to yellow card accumulation. Delio Rossi will undoubtedly have his team fired up for the encounter, as they will be facing a wounded opponent and are coming off their first loss since January 20. The Beneamata will have to dig deep in order to attain a positive result despite the surrounding circumstances, as a loss would be a massive blow to their ambitions of qualifying for next season’s Champions League, something club president Massimo Moratti has demanded of the team and its young tactician if the famed Milanese giants are to have a bright near future.
Capping off the weekend is Lazio’s trip up north to play Torino, a crucial game for the Aquile if they are to mount a serious charge for a top three finish after winning just one of their last six on the domestic front. The capital club’s troubles in Italy have been intertwined with stellar results in the Europa League, a double-edged sword in that advancing to the final eight of the continental competition means that Vladimir Petkovic’s men will be forced to further contend with midweek challenges. Vital cogs Miroslav Klose, Abdoulay Konko, Andre Dias, and Hernanes all miss out on the clash with the Granata, who themselves will be sans influential defender Angelo Ogbonna. The Biancocelesti have downed the Toro in 10 of the clubs’ last 11 meetings, but have also been defeated in their last three away matches in Serie A, meaning either history or form will have to give in a match that likely will be decided by the side that can control the midfield.