This weekend all Romanisti eyes will be fixed squarely on Turin. The Giallorossi return to action on Sunday with a trip to the Allianz Arena to take on Juventus. It’ll be the first real road test for José Mourinho as Roma manager; unless you count using the visiting bench against Lazio at the Olimpico.
And entering this match, Roma finds themselves in an unusual position—four points ahead of Juve. While a win in Roma’s head-to-head match with the Bianconeri would have a huge impact on the Giallorossi’s table position compared to the hosts, Juve is far from the only team Roma has to worry about. So, not only is the pressure on Mourinho’s side to get a result to maintain an edge over the Bianconeri, but it’s also important to maintain a place in the top four.
That’s because Serie A is shaping up to be perhaps the most competitive it has been in years with eight teams looking like realistic top four threats. So, head-to-head battles with the other big boys—something that was an Achilles heel under Paulo Fonseca—will have to be more successful under Mourinho. Meanwhile, with things so competitive, there are always plenty of other fixtures to keep an eye on each matchday. And this week is no different.
Perusing the Peninsula: Matchday 8 Previews
The Best Non-Roma Match
Lazio vs Inter Milan- Saturday 12:00 EDT/18:00 CET
Serie A returns with a bang as the Juve-Roma match isn’t the only clash of a capital club against a northern giant on the calendar this weekend. The day before Roma travels to Turin rivals Lazio host defending champions Inter. The Milanese club is off to a solid start to the season, unbeaten and sitting 3rd in the table on 17 points.
Ex-Lazio manager Simone Inzaghi has started his tenure well as the team hasn’t missed a beat since Antonio Conte’s departure. Meanwhile, Edin Dzeko has adequately replaced Romelu Lukaku’s goal-scoring with a league-leading six goals already. But, the going won’t be easy as the Nerazzurri travel to the Olimpico to face Inzaghi’s ex-side Lazio.
Lazio is unbeaten in its last 16 home matches, but that home form hasn’t carried over in recent seasons against Saturday’s opponents. In their last seven home matches against Inter, Lazio has won just twice, drawing once, and losing four times in the sides’ last seven meetings in the Italian capital. And the Nerazzurri have gotten the better of Lazio in their last 10 meetings overall to the tune of 6-2-2. This will be a tough match for a Lazio side coming off a humbling loss to Bologna before the break.
To help break down the match I picked the brains of the hosts of the Calcio Connection podcast Jerry Mancini and Alex Donno.
Lazio come off their second loss in the Serie A this season in what was a disappointing performance versus Bologna. Prior to their 3-0 loss versus the Rossoblu, they showed good form as they were unbeaten in four straight matches across all competitions. The Biancocelesti took a massive step back in their recent match as they looked tired, were out of sync with their passes and struggled to generate chances.
With the arrival of new manager, Maurizio Sarri, it was going to be a difficult season for Lazio as they transition to a new formation. During the past five seasons under ex-manager, Simone Inzaghi, they played in the 3-5-2 yet this season they’re adjusting to the 4-3-3.
The international break arrived at the right time for Lazio as it allowed key players to rest and reset. Before the club headed into their break, they had a hectic two weeks where they played numerous matches between Serie A and the Europa League. This has allowed key players time to rest and heal in order to return to the lineup.
Two notable players who will be available on Saturday are Ciro Immobile and Mattia Zaccagni. Immobile missed Lazio’s recent game due to an injury and the two-week break came at the right time for the Italian. He’s worked hard in the past weeks in order to recover and be available for their match versus Inter.
In their recent match, Immobile’s presence was vitally missed as they lacked intensity and weren’t as effective in their attack.
Zaccagni’s return to the lineup will provide Sarri some depth and an additional option on the bench. Pedro and Felipe Anderson have been heavily relied upon this season and this should alleviate their playing time. The only other option has been 18-year-old, Raul Moro and has very limited experience in the top flight.
Francesco Acerbi will miss the match and this will be a vital loss for Lazio in their backend. Patric is expected to start in place of the Italian and has been decent under Sarri. Acerbi is having his worst season as a Laziali and having some time off could help him reset and clear his mind. The backend has been their weakest position as they continue to become familiar with Sarri’s tactics and adjust in a back four.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic has been a menace versus Inter as the Serbian has scored in four of the past five Serie A matches against the Nerazzurri. There is something about this side that brings the best out of Milinkovic-Savic and he will need to be at his best if Lazio are to have a chance in winning.
While Lazio continue to adjust under Sarri, they could be in a similar position as the Rome derby where the Lazio manager goes out of his comfort zone and has his players play to their strengths. It will be interesting to see how Sarri approaches this match but may need to be creative as this team is nowhere near to playing his style of football.
Lazio should be extra motivated as they will want to bounce back after a dreadful performance versus Bologna in the Serie A. The main headline will be the return of Simone Inzaghi as he will be on the opposing side for the first time at the Stadio Olimpico. This will be Inzaghi’s first encounter against his former side and will be an emotional match for the Italian.
Lastly, Lazio need to take advantage of a shorthanded Inter side. Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez are expected to miss the match while Joaquin Correa and Lautaro Martinez will arrive late from international duty. Both players will be tired from playing for Argentina and Lazio need to take full advantage.
While Acerbi is a big loss, the returns of Immobile and Zaccagni will be a massive boost for Lazio. Along with coming off their worst match this season, expect a motivated Lazio side versus Inter. This should be an exciting match between Lazio and Inter.
Inter Match Keys Courtesy of Alex Donno of Calcio Connection Podcast:
For Inter, the keys to grabbing all three points at Lazio really come down to the health and fitness of Simone Inzaghi’s squad after the international break.
Inter’s Argentine forwards, Lautaro Martinez and Joaquin Correa, will be arriving in Italy less than 24 hours before the match after playing a World Cup Qualifier on the other side of the world on Thursday. Both Lautaro and Correa dealt with muscle fatigue during the break. Even if either or both are fit enough to play, they’ll likely be relegated to the bench from the start.
Italian reports indicate that Inter’s strike partnership could feature Dzeko and Perisic (playing out of position) up front in the starting XI. Will Inter be able to generate enough fire power up front? Yes, Lazio are allergic to clean sheets this season, but Inter might struggle to take advantage with two of their top two forwards limited.
In the midfield, reports say Hakan Calhanoglu appears unfit after duty with Turkey. Seldom-used Roberto Gagliardini could start alongside Marcelo Brozovic and Nicolo Barella. The matchup in the midfield will be critical for Inter, with Lazio’s Milinkovic-Savic typically finding great success against the Nerazzurri.
Inter’s back line won’t be a weakness on paper, with the top trio of Skriniar, De Vrij and Bastoni ready to go.
Inter’s depth will be tested. In order to win this game, they’ll need their wingbacks making dangerous runs and creating havoc. DiMarco and Darmian are likely to start on the left and right, respectively.
If the game is close heading into the final half hour, Inzaghi’s subs could make the difference. If Denzel Dumfries comes off the bench at right wingback, his fresh legs could help exploit Lazio’s Hysaj at left back. If Lautaro is fit enough to come on as an attacking sub, he could be decisive.
For Inzaghi, it will be important to focus and try to treat this like any other match, even though the emotions of returning to the Olimpico to face his former squad will be massive.
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Other Matches Featuring Top Four Challengers
Hellas Verona vs AC Milan Saturday 2:45 EDT/20:45 CET
Much like their San Siro brethren, the Rossoneri have gotten off to a fast start during the 2021-2022 campaign. Milan remains unbeaten having only dropped two points in a draw with Juventus last month. However, Stefano Pioli’s side was dealt a big blow this week when the team learned it would be without goalkeeper Mike Maignan for two months due to wrist surgery. Meanwhile, star left-back Theo Hernandez is also out due to COVID-19.
The first test for Maignan-less Milan will be a rejuvenated Hellas Verona side. Hellas has rebounded from three straight losses under the now-fired Eusebio Di Francesco with two wins and two draws under Igor Tudor. The Mastiffs have already taken down Roma at home, so it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that they can do the same to Milan.
Atalanta vs Empoli Sunday 9:00 EDT/15:00 CET
It’s been an up and down start to the season for Gianpiero Gasperini’s side, as Atalanta has 11 points (3-2-2) through its first seven matches. La Dea will likely be looking forward to welcoming Serie A new boys Empoli after playing both Milanese sides prior to the international break. Those results weren’t kind to Gasperini’s side as it managed just one point in the two matches.
Empoli is off to a solid start having won three of its first seven matches, putting the Tuscan side in 10th place. The last time these teams met in the spring of 2019, it ended in a 0-0 draw that saw 50 combined shot attempts—the most ever in a scoreless Serie A match. Empoli has conceded 12 times already this season, so it’s unlikely these two play to another scoreless draw.
Napoli vs Torino Sunday 12:00 EDT/18:00 CET
No team is off to a better start than Napoli. The Partenopei have won their first seven matches and are just one win away from equalling their best start ever from 2017-18. And if history has anything to say about it, then Toro might be the perfect opponent to match that 8-0-0 start.
That’s because Napoli has lost just once in its last 18 matches (12 wins) against Torino—way back in 2015. However, four of the last seven meetings have ended in draws and this Torino side looks to be much improved compared to recent iterations under the guidance of Ivan Juric.
After fighting relegation for most of last season, Il Toro currently sits 11th on eight points. Although this is an improvement, Juric’s side is coming off a disappointing 1-0 defeat in the Derby della Mole at the hands of Juve. This match features two of the three stingiest defenses in the league, so goals could be at a premium. The Toro D should create a tough test for Napoli’s high-flying offense, which has scored the second-most goals in the league (18).
Venezia vs Fiorentina Monday 2:45 EDT/20:45 CET
In recent seasons, Fiorentina had fallen on hard times, losing its place among the historical seven sisters to upstarts Atalanta. Nevertheless, Vincenzo Italiano has La Viola back in the discussion for European places.
Although Fiorentina has fallen to three of the four other European hopefuls it has played so far (Roma, Inter, Napoli), it has feasted on inferior competition winning all three matches against smaller sides. Currently on twelve points, Fiorentina sits in fifth place. And its record against smaller sides should have Viola fans confident going into this one.
Venezia’s return to the Italian top flight hasn’t been easy so far. The Veneto-based side will likely be battling to keep its head above water all season as it seeks to remain in Italy’s top league. Nevertheless, Venezia did manage back-to-back draws against Torino and Cagliari before the break. A similar result against a top side like Fiorentina would go a long way in the battle to avoid relegation.
- Spezia vs Salernitana: Saturday 9:00 EDT/15:00 CET
- Cagliari vs Sampdoria: Sunday 6:30 EDT/12:30 CET
- Udinese vs Bologna: Sunday 9:00 EDT/15:00 CET
- Genoa vs Sassuolo: Sunday 9:00 EDT/15:00 CET