Atalanta - Fiorentina
Atalanta hope to start 2005 with their first victory of the campaign, but they are the underdogs against fellow new boys Fiorentina. Both these clubs were promoted from Serie B in the summer with wildly differing experiences.
The Orobici are still without a win, making this their worst ever start to a top-flight season, while the Viola are currently battling for UEFA Cup spots. The arrival of new Coach Delio Rossi has so far failed to lift their fortunes, though the home side does have a game in hand to play against Messina later this month.
Rossi is forced to do without the suspended Michele Marcolini and injured Igor Budan, but Demetrio Albertini is set for his comeback from a thigh strain. It’s going to be an all-Under-21 front three with Riccardo Montolivo, Lazzari and Giampaolo Pazzini.
Fiorentina have not quite delivered on their travels this season, picking up just one point from their last three away games, including a 6-0 drubbing at Milan. Cristian Maggio is suspended for this trip to Bergamo, with goalkeeper Cristiano Lupatelli, Martin Jorgensen, Gianni Guigou and Luca Ariatti also sidelined.
Considering his fine performance in the 2-0 win over Chievo – scoring his first Serie A goal, hitting the woodwork and setting up another for Christian Riganò – it’s likely Javier Portillo has done enough to earn another rare start. This leaves question marks over Fabrizio Miccoli’s position and that of the disappointing Hidetoshi Nakata.
Atalanta (probable): Taibi; Rivalta, Sala, Natali, Bellini; Zenoni, Albertini, Bernardini; Montolivo, Lazzari, Pazzini
Fiorentina (probable): Roccati; Ujfalusi, Viali, Dainelli; Di Livio, Obodo, Maresca, Chiellini; Nakata, Portillo; Riganò
Brescia - Bologna
Carlo Mazzone makes an emotional return to the club he left two years ago and it will be a crucial relegation dogfight. Mazzone will always remain in the hearts of Brescia fans after taking them to UEFA Cup qualification and their longest ever run in the top flight, but now he must concentrate on Bologna’s wavering form.
Their travels have been particularly troubled with four defeats and two draws from their last six away games. Stefano Torrisi is suspended, so former Brescia man Fabio Petruzzi returns in defence, while Giacomo Cipriani spearheads the strike force with support from Mourad Meghni and Claudio Bellucci.
Brescia are hovering just above the relegation zone following two slender 1-0 defeats to Roma and Inter leading up to the Christmas break. Unlike most of the strugglers, their home form is the real problem with just two wins, one draw and five defeats in front of the local supporters. There are further worries for Coach Gianni De Biasi, as Andrea Caracciolo is ruled out by a one-match ban, so Giuseppe Sculli comes in alongside Mannini.
Brescia (probable): Castellazzi; Martinez, Di Biagio, Mareco, Dallamano; Stankevicius, Milanetto, Guana, Domizzi; Mannini, Sculli
Bologna (probable): Pagliuca; Juarez, Gamberini, Petruzzi, Sussi; Nervo, Zagorakis, Amoroso, Bellucci; Meghni, Cipriani
Cagliari - Messina
Both these teams were promoted from Serie B in the summer, though while Cagliari are fighting for places in Europe, Messina have fallen from grace.
The Sardinians have stuttered away from their island so far this season, including their 3-0 thrashing at Palermo before the Christmas break, but at the Stadio Sant’Elia there is a whole different atmosphere with five wins, two draws and a single defeat to Milan.
Mauro Esposito was beginning to tire towards the end of 2004, so he will be refreshed and ready to reunite with David Suazo and Gianfranco Zola – the trident that earned them promotion last year. Suazo has to do battle with Antonio Langella, who has really burst on to the scene over the last few months, for that third starting spot.
Messina were flying high in fourth place not too long ago, but an injury crisis and string of disappointing results have seen them slip down 14th. Despite that position, they are nonetheless only four points adrift of Cagliari and have a game in hand due to their rained-off encounter with Atalanta.
It will be very surprising indeed if the Sicilians are able to take anything from this game, however, with just six points gathered from their eight away ties this season. Riccardo Zampagna and Arturo Di Napoli are back to full fitness, with Salvatore Sullo and Atsushi Yanagisawa ready to come off the bench following their own injury woes.
Cagliari (probable): Katergiannakis; Bega, Lopez, Maltagliati, Agostini; Abeijon, Brambilla, Gobbi; Esposito, Suazo, Zola
Messina (probable): Storari; Zoro, Zanchi, Rezaei, Parisi; Cucciari, Coppola, Donati, Iliev; Zampagna, Di Napoli
Chievo - Siena
Chievo begin a new era under different ownership, while Siena must get a positive result to escape the relegation zone.
The Flying Donkeys agreed to part company with President Luca Campedelli over the Christmas period, as financier Franco Berardi and new chief Stefano Tacconi prepare to take charge. The side has slipped down the standings recently with three defeats in their last four games, but hope to take advantage of Siena’s poor away record at the Stadio Bentegodi.
Salvatore Lanna is suspended, so the defence is bolstered by the introduction of Mandelli, while Sergio Pellissier and Amauri battle for the chance to partner Federico Cossato upfront.
Siena absolutely need a result to help drag themselves out of the drop zone, as they are currently three points adrift of Bologna in the last ‘safe’ slot. Although their form has picked up a little over the last two weeks with consecutive draws against Inter and Livorno, goals remain a problem. Alfonso Camorani and Andrea Ardito are still injured, while Tore Andre Flo should partner Enrico Chiesa, leaving Mattia Graffiedi and David Chiumiento on the bench.
Chievo (probable): Marchegiani; Moro, Mandelli, D’Anna, Malagò; Luciano, Brighi, Baronio, Franceschini; Pellissier, Cossato
Siena (probable): Fortin; Cirillo, Argilli, Portanova, Nicola; Taddei, Pecchia, Di Donato, Vergassola; Flo, Chiesa
Lazio - Roma
The Rome derby is upon us and the stage is set for a fiery battle between two teams who need a victory – both for the table and above all psychologically.
Lazio have slid down to 15th position – just four points clear of the relegation zone – with their humiliating defeat at Udinese. That result proved the final straw for Mimmo Caso, who was sacked and replaced by former Siena Coach Giuseppe Papadopulo.
He could not have asked for a tougher debut match at a big club, as the Derby della Capitale has become a watchword for passion and occasionally violence. Last year this tie had to be abandoned at half-time due to crowd trouble and there were appeals to have this evening game rescheduled for an afternoon kick-off to cut down on further problems. This is set to be even more fiery than ever, as both clubs are struggling and need to prove to their fans that their hearts are in the fight.
Nobody typifies that attitude more than Paolo Di Canio, who positively bleeds blue and white. The veteran is leading by example, as shown by his brace in the 3-3 draw with Lecce, and pushed his teammates to resume training a day early in preparation for this showdown.
With Caso gone, Di Canio has even more power within the club and is essentially an assistant manager on the field. Roberto Muzzi is also a Lazio fan from childhood and should partner the former West Ham star in place of Simone Inzaghi. Sebastiano Siviglia, an ex-Roma player, is suspended and makes way for Talamonti in defence.
If the situation at Lazio is hairy, then Roma aren’t doing much better. Gigi Del Neri has failed to give the team any consistency, as they go from stunning 5-1 demolitions of Parma to dismal performances against Brescia, Sampdoria and Reggina.
The real tragedy for them now is that top scorer Vincenzo Montella will be banned from taking part in the most eagerly awaited game of the season, picking up a silly yellow card for a handling offence. Del Neri could shelve the trident attack in favour of a 4-4-2 system with Francesco Totti and Antonio Cassano upfront, or push Amantino Mancini further up the field in support, while Mido and Marco Delvecchio – the man who has scored more Rome derby goals than any other – are alternative options.
Lazio (probable): Peruzzi; Oddo, Talamonti, Couto, Seric; A Filippini, Giannichedda, Dabo; Pandev, Di Canio; Muzzi
Roma (probable): Pelizzoli; Mexes, Dellas, Ferrari; Panucci, Perrotta, De Rossi, Cufre; Mancini, Totti, Cassano
Livorno - Inter
Inter boss Roberto Mancini still believes that his side are in the Scudetto race despite the 15 point gap between themselves and Juventus. If he is to be proved right then the Nerazzurri will have to start winning games after drawing an incredible 12 out of 16 so far this term.
The San Siro giants, who are the only unbeaten side in Serie A, will start this match as massive favourites but that will count for nothing. Although they have the deadliest strike force in the Division after netting 33 goals so far, Mancio’s men look weak at the back after conceding 24.
Livorno will hope to take advantage of the Nerazzurri’s defensive frailties, mainly with the threat of Cristiano Lucarelli. The former Torino and Lecce ace has been a revelation this season after scoring nine times so far. He should be partnered in attack by veteran Igor Protti.
Inter go into this match after collecting a narrow 1-0 win over Brescia before Christmas. While Livorno, who are only four points behind the giants, drew 1-1 at relegation threatened Siena in Week 16. Kily Gonzalez, Gamarra, Veron, Pasquale, Emre and Mihajlovic are all doubts for an Inter side who are without the suspended Cordoba.
Livorno (probable): Amelia; Melara, Galante, Vargas, A. Lucarelli; Pfertzel, Vidigal, Passoni, Doga; C. Lucarelli, Protti
Inter (probable): Toldo; J. Zanetti, Burdisso, Materazzi, Favalli; Van Der Meyde, C. Zanetti, Cambiasso, Stankovic; Vieri, Adriano
Milan - Lecce
Milan will be hoping to resume the season from where they left off when they entertain Lecce in Week 17. The Rossoneri were arguably the most in-form team in the championship before Christmas and the New Year interrupted their rhythm.
The champions travelled to Turin in Week 16 and collected a 0-0 draw which kept the gap between themselves and Juventus to four points. But boss Carlo Ancelotti was unhappy with that result given that his men dominated the match and should have won the game given their clear superiority on the night.
Milan will be desperate to get back to winning ways against Lecce and are boosted by the return to fitness of Jaap Stam. But the Giallorossi are one of the most difficult sides to play against in Serie A given their unpredictability.
If Zdenek Zeman’s attacking side are in the mood then Milan could have a few problems. But if they are not then the southern minnows could easily self-destruct as the statistics clearly illustrate. Lecce, beaten 4-1 by Samp in their last tie, have scored 31 goals this term but also let in 30.
The home side will be without the likes of Inzaghi, Simic, Kaladze, while Lecce have the suspension of Diamoutene to contend with.
Milan (probable): Dida; Cafu, Nesta, Maldini, Pancaro; Gattuso, Pirlo, Seedorf; Kakà; Crespo, Shevchenko
Lecce (probable): Sicignano; Cassetti, Paci, Stovini, Rullo; Giacomazzi, Ledesma, Dalla Bona; Babù, Bojinov, Pinardi
Parma - Juventus
Juve boss Fabio Capello will be hoping that the Christmas break did his players some good after they showed signs of fatigue towards the end of 2004. Although they ended the year four points clear of Milan, the Bianconeri were struggling to live up to their form from earlier this term.
On paper, their Week 17 trip to Parma shouldn’t be too taxing when you consider that the Gialloblu are in deep relegation trouble and lost their last Serie A game 5-1 at Roma. However, new boss Pietro Carmignani has had a little more time to prepare his troops since his appointment last month.
Nevertheless, the Tardini Coach does have a few selection problems. Cardone, Marchionni, Bresciano and Grieco have had their fitness troubles recently. While Pisanu and Contini will be unavailable due to suspension. Parma’s hopes of piercing a very solid Juve defence will fall on the shoulders of Alberto Gilardino – a striker who nearly moved to Turin in the summer.
Capello has few selections problems for Thursday’s game. David Trezeguet is still not available even if he has returned to training. While Lilian Thuram won’t face his former club as the stopper is suspended. Paolo Montero should step in for the former French international.
Parma (probable): Frey; Ferronetti, Bovo, Bonera, Potenza; Bolano, Simplicio; Rosina, Morfeo, Grella; Gilardino
Juventus (probable): Buffon; Zebina, Montero, Cannavaro, Zambrotta; Camoranesi, Emerson, Blasi, Nedved; Ibrahimovic, Del Piero
Reggina - Palermo
Palermo certainly enjoyed a wonderful 2004 after winning promotion to Serie A. Now can they keep on achieving in 2005 and even qualify for the Champions’ League? Although many in Sicily are insisting that survival is the main aim, the Rosaneri are in joint fourth place with Inter and Sampdoria.
Francesco Guidolin’s boys went out on a high before Christmas with a 3-0 drubbing of Cagliari. However, the victory came at a price as Zauli, Grosso and Corini all picked up cards and are subsequently suspended for the trip to Reggina.
Although the latter did lose 2-0 at Bologna in the last round of games, Reggina are having a good season. They are currently five points clear of the danger zone and are hard to beat at home. After all, Juventus and Roma have both left the Granillo with no points this term. Pavarini will start in goal for the home boys as Soviero is suspended.
Reggina (probable): Pavarini; Canarsa, De Rosa, Zamboni; Mesto, Paredes, Mozart, Balestri; Nakamura, Colucci; Bonazzoli
Palermo (probable): Guardalben; Zaccardo, Biava, Barzagli, Accardi; Mutarelli, Barone, Raimondi, Gonzalez; Brienza; Toni
Sampdoria - Udinese
Most pundits believed that both Samp and Udinese would fight for a UEFA Cup place this term – but they are battling to qualify for the Champions’ League instead. Samp are in joint fourth, while the Bianconeri are an impressive seven points ahead in third place.
Samp were struggling for form and in front of goal prior to their 4-1 win at Lecce before Christmas. Boss Walter Novellino will be hoping that his boys can continue where they left off when they take on the Friuli outfit.
But Udinese are the most in-form team in Serie A right now and will surely fight for a top-four finish until the end of the campaign. Patron Gianpaolo Pozzo has promised to not sell any of his prized assets in the January transfer window that bodes well for the future.
Coach Luciano Spalletti is expected to be still without defender Kroldrup against Samp but knows he has three great forwards in the shape of Iaquinta, Di Michele and Di Natale who could do some serious damage to the Doria rearguard.
Sampdoria (probable): Antonioli; Zenoni, Castellini, Falcone, Pisano; Diana, Palombo, Volpi, Tonetto; Flachi, Rossini
Udinese (probable): De Sanctis; Bertotto, Sensini, Felipe; Pinzi, Pizarro, Muntari, Jankulovski; Di Michele, Iaquinta, Di Natale