Atalanta-Sassuolo: the Goddess survived Juventus’ second half push last week and returned from Turin with a precious point that allowed them to catch Inter and maintain a narrow lead over Milan. They have not lost since February 23rd and triumphed in eight of the following 12 rounds. Sassuolo are right in the middle of the pack but played spoiler last week by drawing with Roma. They have been defeated just once in the last eight matches, tying in five occasions. Josip Ilicic scored at the Stadium after being shut out for few weeks and also their rock Duvan Zapata and Alejandro Gomez will be popular picks since the Neroverdi are not the stingiest bunch. Neither are the Bergamaschi to be honest: the locals have spread the wealth in terms of scoring, but in general Domenico Berardi, Jeremie Boga and Stefano Sensi have been their best contributors in the final months. Hans Hateboer’s suspension makes it clear that Timothy Castagne and Robin Gosens will man the flanks: the former is more interesting since he is listed as a defender and in the midst of a prolific run. Continue reading
Juventus: Leonardo Bonucci has recovered from his ankle sprain, Daniele Rugani from hamstring soreness and even Mario Mandzukic was able to practice fully late in the week after dealing with a patellar tendon problem for a while. Moise Kean has shaken off the flu. Giorgio Chiellini has picked up yet another calf ailment, but he is available. Miralem Pjanic is fine after twisting his ankle last week.
Napoli: Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne have good chances to return after skipping one with muscle fatigue. Nikola Maksimovic and Amadou Diawara are close to healing from their foot infractions. David Ospina is still in Colombia for personal reasons, while Adam Ounas remains questionable after missing one. Continue reading
After declaring bankruptcy in 2005, SPAL’s future as a club was put into serious doubt. In order to stay alive, they moved the club to the city of Ferrara in 2012, and just five years ago, the Serie A minnows renamed themselves to SPAL 2013. Competing in Italy’s third tier, Lega Pro, SPAL 2013 started from square one and knew they faced an uphill battle at subsistence.
Today, SPAL are sitting comfortably in mid-table, securing their place in Italy’s top division for consecutive seasons. Not even the most optimistic SPAL supporter would have envisioned their meteoric rise in recent years. While their return to Serie A was filled with hardships and uncertainty with their survival going down to the wire, this season was everything but that.
The Emilia-Romagna based outfit, led by Leonardo Semplici, have played some sensational football to date, beating the likes of Roma, Lazio, and Juventus on their way to salvation. However, this season represented much more than just surviving another year. With Semplici at the helm, SPAL pride themselves on playing attractive football, and are one of the few sides within the peninsula that blend experience with youth.
Last summer, fresh from avoiding the drop, SPAL turned to the transfer window, and signed experienced Serie A players. Their mission was clear. They wanted to do more in Serie A than simply make up the numbers, and sent a clear message of intent to the rest of the league with their acquisitions. Andrea Petagna and Jasmin Kurtic were brought in from Atalanta, while Sassuolo’s Simone Missiroli was identified to tidy up the midfield.
Armed with their experience, SPAL understood they had more than enough to guarantee their Serie A status for another season. In Petagna, SPAL have a target man capable of scoring with his head and both feet for years to come. Currently, the Atalanta loanee is on 15 goals on the season, and counting. Missiroli, by contrast, joins Kurtic and Pasquale Schiattarella in what is an overall experienced midfield, and remain one of the league’s underrated trios due to their age.
Semplici’s men, however, would not stop there, and also brought in a number of young prospects including goalkeeper Alfred Gomis, Torino’s Kevin Bonifazi, Hellas Verona’s Mohamed Fares, Lazio’s Alessandro Murgia among others. Together, these players offered some much needed depth, and youth at crucial times throughout the season. Factor in club veteran Manuel Lazzari’s industrious nature on the right wing along with these acquisitions, and it’s clear, SPAL possess a truly dynamic and versatile roster capable of hurting any side in Italy on their day. After all, this season they beat Roma, home AND away.
Off the pitch, SPAL have emerged as an example for the rest of the league’s provinciali, as well. When they made the leap to Serie B, the club restructured their stadium to comply with the league’s safety and comfort guidelines.
In the summer of 2018, the Stadio Paolo Mazza went under further construction, and their seating capacity was raised from 13,135 seats to 16,134. In an era where most Italian clubs get bogged down by bureaucracy and paperwork, including some of Serie A’s major players, SPAL have been able to carve out a home for themselves within Ferrara, and don’t look like they’re ready to stop anytime soon. While modest in size, SPAL possess one of the more modern grounds within the league.
If their plans for expansion are anything to go by, expect to see Semplici’s men continue their rise for years to come. After all, despite suffering countless set-backs, SPAL 2013 have shown they’re ready to roll with the punches and adapt. At a time where most Italian football sides are content with maintaining the status quo, SPAL are holding their own, and redefining boundaries within the Italian game in the process. And for that, they should be commended.
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Juventus: Paulo Dybala (calf), Rodrigo Bentancur (thigh), Emre Can (thigh) and Alex Sandro have resumed practicing fully and therefore should be available on Sunday, while Douglas Costa (calf) and Daniele Rugani (thigh) will not come back this week. Federico Bernardeschi is suspended. Moise Kean is out with the flu, Leonardo Bonucci with a bruised ankle.
Napoli: David Ospina is on personal leave to tend to a personal matter in Colombia. Nikola Maksimovic (toe) is slated to remain on the shelf, while Amadou Diawara (foot) got in a full practice after a long time, so he might be called up. Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and Adam Ounas have been surprisingly ruled out due to small ailments.
Atalanta-Genoa: the Bergamaschi keep soaring and bested Lazio in a seminal clash last week, garnering their third win a row and building a little lead over Roma in the race to get the fourth position. They have not been defeated since the beginning of March. The Griffon is coming off two 1-1 ties in a row, versus SPAL and Roma, squandering a massive late opportunity on Sunday. They are four points above the third-to-last position. Suspensions are piling up for Gian Piero Gasperini and he will not be able to count on two defensive centre-pieces, Gianluca Mancini and Andrea Masiello, and more importantly on Alejandro Gomez, which will also not allow him to rotate the squad much ahead of next week’s cup final. Josip Ilicic and Duvan Zapata will take on an even larger load than usual: the Slovenian genius has been slowed down by some nagging injuries, while the Colombian powerhouse continues to lay hurt on opponents. Continue reading
Bartlomiej Dragowski (7 points): he came through time and time for Empoli against Fiorentina, helping them keep a rare clean sheet with various great saves on attempts and the final one on a Dusan Vlahovic’s point-blank header was simply a thigh of beauty.
Felipe (13 points): he is the second defender to bag two goals in the same game after Merih Demiral managed few rounds back. He took advantage of Chievo’s abysmal defending on set pieces to perforate them first with a header and then with a tap-in after settling the ball in a rather fortuitous way. Continue reading
Standings implications: Atalanta defeated Lazio and can the smell Champions League since Roma equalized against Genoa and Torino shared the spoils with Juventus. They are also one point away from Inter, who tied with Udinese. Milan outlasted Bologna and pulled even with the Giallorossi three points awai from the fourth place. The Biancocelesti dropped to minus seven, so barring something crazy they can only aim for Europa League. Napoli clinched the second position with a late comeback. Empoli bested Fiorentina and cut Udinese’s lead to two points and the Griffon’s one to four, thus rekindling their hopes. Frosinone have been mathematically relegated as Sassuolo completed the comeback late, while SPAL are officially safe after pummeling Chievo. Parma and Sampdoria drew in a meaningless but entertaining bout. Continue reading
David Ospina: he is reportedly drawing the starts in order to trigger the option to buy him from Arsenal, either way, he or Alex Meret are in a good spot this week since Cagliari would have by far the worst clip in terms road goal if they had not scored three to Chievo and they might be without their second banana Joao Pedro on Sunday.
Federico Fazio: Roma have turned it around defensively, conceding just once in the last three matches and this week they will tangle with a Genoa team that has scored in just three of their last ten fixtures. The Argentinian centre-back and Aleksandar Kolarov are also the most likely to contribute on the other end considering their remarkable season tallies. Continue reading
Juventus: Mattia Perin and Sami Khedira will undergo season-ending surgeries for shoulder and knee problems respectively. Paulo Dybala sustained a quad strain against Ajax and will miss at least a couple of weeks. Giorgio Chiellini (calf) might be back next week, while Mario Mandzukic might not be back at all due to patellar tendon issues. Douglas Costa (calf) and Martin Caceres (thigh) will skip the next two matches.
Napoli: Raul Albiol (knee surgery) has resumed practicing and might be called up this week, leaving Amadou Diawara as the only injured player. Nikola Maksimovic will be on the mend for a while due to a foot infraction. Continue reading
SPAL-Juventus: after winning three games in a row, against Roma, Frosinone and Lazio, SPAL were bested by Cagliari, but their recent streak gave them a little breathing room over the last three positions. Juventus toppled Milan last week, winning for the eighth time in the last nine matches and they are one point away from clinching the title. For the Estensi, Andrea Petagna has been a rock all year long, showing to be a much more prolific striker compared to his time at Atalanta. Manuel Lazzari is their main playmaker off the right flank and has picked up eight assists thus far. Jasmin Kurtic is also occasionally able to collect some bonus points, while they have not got much out of the second-striker role, as Mirco Antenucci, Andrea Paloschi and Sergio Floccari have combined for just six goals. Continue reading