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Outside of the Romaverse: Serie A Returns From Break With Heavyweight Battles, Highlighted by Inter vs. Napoli

After the long international break, calcio is back with some juicy affairs that should make for great viewing.

Legia Warsaw v SSC Napoli - UEFA Europa League Photo by Foto Olimpik/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The international break has finally run its course and Serie A action returns after a two-week hiatus. Romanisti will hope the break benefitted the club after it stumbled into the break with a shocking 3-2 loss in Venice, meaning Roma will be desperate for a win when they travel to Liguria to face Genoa on Sunday.

The loss to Venezia saw Roma slip from fourth to sixth in the Serie A table—outside of the Champions League places for the first time this season—but, of all the seven sisters, Roma has perhaps the most favorable match of the weekend. That’s because the league returns with a loaded calendar that sees six of the top eight sides square off in head-to-head matches.

After being deprived of calcio for two weeks, this weekend's fixtures will provide good viewing for Serie A fans. Additionally, from a Roma perspective, it could also present an opportunity for the Giallorossi to make some noise in the standings if they can handle their business in Genoa. In fact, by the time Roma plays in the last match on Sunday, at least three of their direct competitors for European places will have dropped points.

So, let’s take a look at this weekend’s matches featuring top sides.

Perusing the Peninsula: Matchday 13 Previews

The Best Non-Roma Match

FC Internazionale v SSC Napoli - Serie A Photo by Dino Panato - Inter/FC Internazionale via Getty Images

Inter Milan vs Napoli: Sunday 12:00 EST/18:00 CET

The most highly anticipated match of the weekend sees Luciano Spalletti return to the San Siro for the first time since his tenure ended as Inter Milan manager. Spalletti may not have gotten Inter over the hump, but he laid the foundation for Antonio Conte to end Juve’s dominance over the league last season.

Now, Spalletti and Napoli find themselves at the top of the league table through 12 matches. The Partenopei enter this one unbeaten (10-2-0), which puts them seven ahead of the defending champion Nerazzurri. That cushion makes it seem like Inter hasn’t played well, but with only one loss, it’s been more a matter of how good Napoli (and Milan) have been, rather than a sharp drop-off from the champs.

However, the Nerazzurri have struggled to pick up points against the league's top sides (0-3-1), so a result in this match is imperative if Inter is going to claw its way back into the title race after sharing the spoils with Milan prior to the international break.

Napoli is undefeated in its last 21 league matches dating back to last season. However, the Partenopei haven’t beaten Inter since May 2019 and the Nerazzurri have won three of the last four meetings.

Something has got to give, so we turned to an old friend for some insight on the Napoli half of the match.

Napoli Match Keys to Victory Courtesy of Joe Fischetti of Forza Napoli Pod

While Napoli have looked excellent under Luciano Spalletti, it’s still difficult to gauge the quality of this side relative to their peers at the top of the table. Unlike Milan, Napoli have had relatively few matchups against clubs competing for places in Europe. The Partenopei beat a Juventus side who were without Federico Chiesa and their contingent of South Americans and drew to Jose Mourinho’s Roma, who, on that day at least, were at their best.

That makes this match against Inter the biggest of the 2021/22 campaign for the Azzurri. Napoli come into this match at the San Siro as underdogs, largely because an Inter loss could see the reigning champions fall 10 points back of both Milan and Napoli. However, Luciano Spalletti will be extra motivated to secure a victory in his first match against Inter since his departure from the club in May of 2019.

Napoli are also the more physically fit squad at the moment, having come out of the international break relatively unscathed. Diego Demme will miss the match due to Covid and Adam Ounas picked up a muscle injury, but neither are regular starters. Inter, on the other hand, were not so fortunate. Though Simone Bastoni and Edin Dzeko are expected to be in the Inter squad, neither represented their respective countries due to injury. Nicolo Barella appears to be physically exhausted and Stephan De Vrij has been ruled out.

With De Vrij out and Inter playing on tired legs, Victor Osimhen could have space to exploit, and that is when he’s most dangerous. That said, Serie A clubs are quickly learning how to stop Osimhen, or at least minimize the damage, so Napoli need to get more productive from the wings (Insigne, Poitano and Lozano) and the attacking midfielders (Zielinski, Fabian Ruiz and Elmas).

Poll

Match Predicition?

  • 36%
    Inter Win
    (14 votes)
  • 31%
    Napoli Win
    (12 votes)
  • 31%
    Draw
    (12 votes)
38 votes total Vote Now

Other Matches Featuring Top Four Challengers

Spezia Calcio v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Danilo Di Giovanni/Getty Images

Atalanta vs Spezia: Saturday 9:00 EST/15:00 CET

Earlier this season, many were wondering if perhaps La Dea had taken a step back this season when Gasperini’s side stumbled out of the gate to start the campaign. Nevertheless, those initial worries seem to have run their course in Bergamo, as Atalanta now has 22 points through 12 matches, equalling their best Serie A start through a dozen matches.

However, despite bouncing back in recent weeks, La Dea has been far from indomitable. Atalanta has conceded in its last eight league matches—the club's longest streak without a clean sheet since 2020 when they conceded in 10 straight. That negative streak ended with a 0-0 against Spezia, who comes to the Atleti Azzurri Stadium this weekend.

Spezia is coming off a crucial 1-0 victory over Torino prior to the international break; a victory that pushed Spezia out of the relegation zone and ahead of fellow Liguria clubs Sampdoria and Genoa. Tiago Motta’s side will come in looking for another surprise result that would drop Atalanta’s home winless streak to three.

Juventus v SS Lazio - Serie A Photo by Filippo Alfero - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Lazio vs Juventus: Saturday 12:00 EST/ 18:00 CET

Most seasons any match featuring a top seven side against Juve would garner match of the week attention. However, with both sides currently sitting outside the top four, it loses out to Inter vs. Napoli. However, that doesn’t mean Romanisti shouldn't keep an eye on this match.

In Matchday 12, Lazio leapfrogged Roma into fifth place, while Juve now sits just one point behind Roma in eighth. Lazio enters this one without the current capocannoniere Ciro Immobile, which will put the onus on some of its other stars to step up. And while Lazio may have a hole to fill up top, Juve hasn’t been exactly lighting the league on fire; scoring just once in each of its last six in the league.

That means we could be in for a low-scoring affair with the side that scores first getting a big edge. Historically this match has favored Juve, as they've scored in their last 16 matches against Lazio at the Olimpico while losing just twice in their last 33 against the Biancocleste (24W-7D).

To get the keys to victory for both sides we turned to Anthony Scanga and Steven Moore.

Juve Match Keys to Victory Courtesy of Anthony Scanga of All Juve Cast

Battle of the Benches

For both teams, with the end of the international break comes the uncertainty of player availability. Maurizio Sarri and Max Allegri will need to dig into their bag of tricks to snatch a victory this weekend –the latter more so than the former.

Lazio will be without their top goal scorer Ciro Immobile (leading Serie A with 10 goals = 40% of team production), Adam Marusic, and a functional role player in Manuel Lazzari. Pedro has also been listed as doubtful so it’ll fall on Anderson or Muriqi to slide into that #9 role. The absences for the Biancoceleste in these areas could be advantage Juve.

Francesco Acerbi also clocked back-to-back 90’ games in his 33-year-old legs with the Azzurri so he’ll be one to watch on how long he can last in this fixture.

Juventus has four South American players returning to Turin the day before the game (Cuadrado, Bentancur, Sandro, Danilo) and with injuries to Dybala, De Sciglio, Chiellini, and now Bernadeschi, their bench is looking light. The irregular starters from Juventus (Kulusevski, Kean, Arthur, Pellegrini) may be called upon to carry the load. While some have not gained many minutes this season due to injury, the heavy rotation Allegri exhibited early in the season could pay dividends this weekend as player chemistry, albeit in a small amount, is there.

My Kingdom for A Midfield

The Lazio forwards should be handled readily by the available Juventus defenders. However, as with most Serie A matches, this one will be decided in the midfield trenches. The advantage has to be given to Lazio with Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto (both with 4 assists, tied for 2 nd in Serie A). Lazio has the second most efficiency passing rating in Serie A mainly due to their short pass, steady tempo build-up play through these two players.

Manuel Locatelli (80’ total over the two Azzurri matches) and Weston McKennie, who returned to Turin early due to suspension, will be tasked to negate the Lazio middlemen. This Juventus pairing have been one of the few bright spots in recent matches and should be able to disrupt the Lazio passing lanes. McKennie’s consistent high press should help keep Lazio honest at the back but if he’s caught out of position or too high, the SMS-Alberto duo will certainly take advantage.

Lazio Match Keys to Victory Courtesy of Steven Moore of The Laziali

1. Need to play a solid and organized defensive game as Lazio are conceding too many goals (due to the switch in formation and tactics) and Juventus has the star power to take advantage. However, Lazio finally seem to be at a stage where the back four are starting to look more comfortable and understand what is required, so hopefully a turning point in this aspect is right around the corner (if they are able to stay fit).

2. Need to create and take advantage of a Juventus side that are struggling/yet to find their true identity, despite likely being without talismanic striker Ciro Immobile. Pedro will likely be used as a false nine and his drive and experience will hopefully allow Mattia Zaccagni and Felipe Anderson to thrive against Juventus’ backline. However, this tactical change has not been tried up to this date, so it will be interesting to see how the attacking trident will perform.

3. Lazio’s midfield trio of Luis Alberto, Danilo Cataldi, and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic need to be at their best and dictate the tempo of the match. Sarri’s men have played their best against the best, and hopefully this is once again the case against Juventus.

Poll

Match Predicition?

  • 13%
    Lazio Win
    (4 votes)
  • 34%
    Juve Win
    (10 votes)
  • 51%
    Draw
    (15 votes)
29 votes total Vote Now
ACF Fiorentina v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Fiorentina vs Milan: Saturday 2:45 EST/20:45 CET

Many match weeks, this would easily be the one to keep an eye on. However, with a loaded calendar, this match loses a bit of its luster. The Rossoneri enter unbeaten (10-2-0) and level on points with Napoli at the top of the table. Meanwhile, Vincenzo Italiano has started to turn the fortunes of La Viola, who sit only four points behind Atalanta for a Champions League place (6-0-6, 18pts).

Despite the good start, Fiorentina has had difficulty with the big sides this season. And La Viola will be desperate to get its first win against Milan this weekend to prove that they are again a legit European threat. And besides Milan’s superb form, the recent history in this series suggests that won’t be an easy feat for Italiano’s side: Fiorentina hasn’t won a home match against Milan since August 2015 (2L-3D).

Furthermore, Milan has only lost twice in its last 11 fixtures against La Viola. And the Rossoneri could become just the second Serie A side to win 16 road matches in a calendar year. Does Fiorentina have what it takes to rewrite the narrative? The other top four competitors will be hoping so.

Other Matches

  • Sassuolo vs Cagliari: Sunday 6:30 EST/12:30 CET
  • Salernitana vs Sampdoria: Sunday 9:00 EST/15:00 CET
  • Bologna vs Venezia: Sunday 9:00 EST/15:00 CET
  • Verona vs Empoli: Monday 12:30 EST/18:30 CET
  • Torino vs Udinese: Monday 2:45 EST/20:45 CET