The first ever Serie A boxing day will culminate in a tasty match-up between Inter and Napoli.
Frosinone-Milan: the Ciociari snatched a decent draw in Udinese in Marco Baroni’s first game, but they need some Ws as they have gotten just one so far and it dates back to October 28th. The window to reduce the gap is closing quickly. Milan are sputtering in the last period: they have prevailed just once in the last six fixtures, tying with Lazio, Torino and Bologna and losing to Juventus and Fiorentina. They have been unable to score in the past three games. With so little time to work with, the new coach did not change much, opting for a 3-5-2 and benching Joel Campbell to have one more midfielder, Francesco Cassata. He is eventually expected to move to a 4-3-3 featuring all their best players, in any case Daniel Ciofani, Andrea Pinamonti and especially Camillo Ciano remain their best weapons. The Devil’s whole offensive phase is in a funk, particularly Gonzalo Higuain, who is banged up and ineffective. They will have their starting midfield back here and Gennaro Gattuso will likely be probing for solutions to get the attack back on track and this will be an ideal spot, considering the shoddiness of the opponents’ defense. So, despite the decent events, El Pipita, Suso and Patrick Cutrone could be worth consideration. The back-line has been bolstered by the return of Andrea Romagnoli and Cristian Rodriguez seems less timid on offense.
Atalanta-Juventus: after a strong push and in late October/early November, they Goddess has literally been up and down in the last month, losing three times against Empoli, Napoli and Genoa and beating Udinese and Lazio. The Old Lady are coming off three one-nil wins over Inter, Torino and Roma, therefore the Genoa remain their only imperfection in Serie A play. Duvan Zapata has been carrying Atalanta for a while, notching six goals in the last four matches, every single one scored by them, while Josip Ilicic has been disappointing after coming back from suspension and Alejandro Gomez has been penalized by a different role. Throughout the season, they have gotten good returns on set pieces and by the two fullbacks. More of the same from the black-and-white crew, as Mario Mandzukic and Cristiano Ronaldo split the last three goals and the Portuguese ace has been the main beneficiary of their maneuver. This could be the place for his first rest day, which would benefit both Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa, since a lot more scoring opportunities would open up for them. The Brazilian speedster has looked when called upon, but he has yet to get an extended run. Sami Khedira could get the start too and he is always a sneaky threat.
Bologna-Lazio: the Felsinei have not brought home the three points since late September, but they have been able to share the spoils six times in that span, including in the last two match-ups against Milan and Parma. Strong defending has always been a trademark of Filippo Inzaghi the coach, but they will certainly be challenged by Lazio, which finally looked like themselves versus Cagliari. They have a habit of piling up goals against the minnows, so this match will tell whether they have definitely turned the corner with the last win or if they have still some work to do. The Rossoblù are very limited offensively, having scored just 13 goals so far and their fulcrum Federico Santander has failed to bag one in six weeks. The coach is sprinkling in some Riccardo Orsolini and Mattia Destro to try to find some vitality, as Rodrigo Palacio can not do it on his own. Blerin Dzemaili has been frustrating so far, but Mattias Svanberg and Andrea Poli have been able to make up for that in the midfield. Ciro Immobile misfired in the last game and chances are he will atone here. The super midfield with Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Luis Alberto and Joaquin Correa is mouth-watering, but Alberto left the last game with a minor ailment and fielding it on the road might be too daring. In any case, the Sergeant is back and Correa is a constant nuisance for the opponents.
Roma-Sassuolo: a valiant effort by the Giallorossi at the Stadium, but they were unable to cash in on their second-half supremacy and to bend the stout Juventus back-line. They have won just once in the last five fixtures, but there are some encouraging signals and the next two ones will be crucial for their season and for Eusebio Di Francesco. Sassuolo have lost just once in the last nine games, but tied in six of them, so they threading water. Edin Dzeko could be back in the starting XI and that is a welcomed development for Roma, considering Patrik Schick’s struggles. Diego Perotti looked fine off the bench in Turin and he too could get some more minutes. Cengiz Under and Justin Kluivert did not break through in the last game, but they are generally in decent form, same for Nicolò Zaniolo, who at this point is due for a goal. Sassuolo has been improving defensively after a slow start. Khouma Babacar has been viable but not great with Kevin-Prince Boateng out, while Domenico Berardi is putting together a bounce back year, even though he has not scored a lot. An emotional game for Federico Di Francesco against his dad, they will also have Filip Djuricic back from suspension and Enrico Brignola netted his first one in the new club against Torino. Alfred Duncan has been a stud lately, but his availability is in question.
Inter-Napoli: the Beneamata fumbled away a win against Chievo, where they had showed pretty decently but failed to double the score. Their issues have mostly been on the road, while they have won six in a row at home, keeping four clean sheets. The Azzurri might not be in their most explosive moment, but they have gotten the full loot in six of their last seven matches. Ivan Perisic finally bagged one in Verona and he is one of the streakiest players. Mauro Icardi is slowing down, but he remains an elite option. Napoli’s back-line has stiffened up as they have not allowed any goal in the last three matches, but the opponents were not that threatening. Arkadiusz Milik could start here after being untimely benched versus SPAL, as both Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne have struck out in the last month, despite performing generally positively. Both teams have midfielders that tend to step up when facing top competitors: Matias Vecino and Piotr Zielinski, even though the latter has been outplayed by Fabian Ruiz so far. Radja Nainggolan is serving a weird team-mandated suspension. José Callejon has a penchant for punishing Inter.
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