SERIE A: NAPOLI 3-0 INTER
Well, Italy certainly isn’t going down without a fight in the limelight tussle with Spain this weekend. Serie A is serving up a truly intriguing encounter between a team that really should be doing better after a stuttering start to the season and team that really should be doing better after a disastrous start to the season.
Napoli haven’t looked the same side without the injured Arek Milik – nor Gonzalo Higuain to be fair - and are largely resorting to the midfield firing off shots from all corners of the pitch, while the defense liberally concedes. This leaves Napoli down in seventh spot with just two Serie A wins in the past five games.
The facts are in the southern club’s favor, though, for Friday’s Inter tussle. Napoli holds an impressive home record and this is paired with a poor run away for their Milanese opponents who have not won in the four past games on the road in the league. That’s not particularly surprising for a club that has given a decent impression of a drunk, blindfolded New Year’s Eve reveler stumbling about in the fog this season.
However, Inter appear to have returned to normality with Stefano Pioli now at the helm. “I think this team has personality,” opined Pioli ahead of the game at the Stadio San Paolo, “but at the same time it still has to build some confidence and be more aware of its own strengths.”
LA LIGA: EL CLASICO – BARCELONA 1-1 REAL MADRID
So, this could go one of two ways. A victory for Barcelona to remind Real Madrid that they are still the top dogs of La Liga and put an end to Real Madrid’s 32-match unbeaten run. A jab from an increasingly irascible Luis Enrique that form is temporary, class is permanent and draws against Malaga, Real Sociedad, and Hercules don’t matter a hill of beans when it comes to the class of the Catalan club.
On the other side of the Clasico divide, and a victory for Madrid would not only give the visitors a nine-point lead in the table over Barcelona, but a reason to believe that the balance of power in Spain is finally changing after eight years of Barcelona dominance in the domestic game. The result could not only define the next five months but also the next five years, as Real Madrid forge forward and Barcelona wonder what to do with Paco Alcacer. Yes, Saturday’s game is that big.
And as for a draw? Well, that would just be annoying.
SERIE A: LAZIO V AS ROMA
In theory, this should be a joyous occasion, two teams on the up-and-up in the Eternal City. But the latest news from Italy’s capital suggests that the Stadio Olimpico will see a stay-away from Ultras of both sides with protests over barriers being installed in the stadium to prevent more exuberant examples of behavior.
But on the pitch, both sides of Rome are in fine fettle. Roma are in second place, the top scorers in the division and have a fine shot at the title, should Juve’s injuries overcome them. But Roma fans are a hard-to-please bunch and even booed the team in last weekend’s win over Pescara, although there are deeper divisions over the traditional club losing its Italian roots due to its American owners.
After several years in stagnation, Lazio are in the top-four fired by the goals over the more than dynamic Ciro Immobile, and are unbeaten in the team’s last nine league games. Another victory would send Lazio above Roma in the Serie A standings, and their Eternal City rivals into the deepest of funks. The latest installment of this classic European derby could be a little bit feisty to say the least.