Sports from the Basement

Serie A is in a Giving Mood

If you’re like most casual soccer fans, you’re peripherally aware that there’s a league in Italy dominated by the Northern giants, Juventus. Perhaps you’re a slightly more dedicated fan and you watch three or five or even ten Serie A games a year. Hell, maybe you even have an AC Milan shirt that you’re not quite sure how you acquired, but shamelessly wear to all of your pickup games. Wherever you fall on the Serie A fan spectrum, I’m here to inform you there are three matches between teams currently in the top half of the table this weekend. All three matches contain title contenders. All three matches are on TV. None interfere with El Clasico.

Inter at Napoli Dec 2nd 2:45 beIN Sports   

This would typically be a marquee matchup between two top clubs in Italy, but both teams are struggling to find consistency this season. Napoli has just three wins in their last eight league matches after a strong start to the season. Inter are coming off a strong win against Fiorentina, but inexplicably failed to qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa league with a game still left to play.

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Inter’s problem is a combination of goal production and goal prevention. Yes, the joint league leader for goals, Mauro Icardi, plays for Milan but Inter only have one other goal scorer with three goals or more. The defensive woes are just as bad – with 18 goals allowed in 14 league matches, the most of anyone in the top half of the table. Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic are not going to carry Inter very far if they can’t keep the ball out of their own net.

I’m not ready to write off Napoli from being a title contender. I think the Serie A standings will tighten up in the next few weeks. I do, however, think Napoli will not prioritize this game against Inter. They’re currently tied atop their UCL group with Benfica and travel to Portugal on Tuesday. A draw would put Napoli through regardless if Bestikas wins, but Benfica will be going all out knowing they likely have to win to advance. I think a few players will be rested against a reeling Inter squad.

Prediction: 2-2 Draw

Atalanta at Juventus Dec 3rd 2:45 beIN Sports   

                Atalanta is the best team on a nine game (eight wins, one draw) unbeaten streak that you’ve never heard of. Located about 100 miles away from Turin, La Dea has already picked up wins against Roma, Inter, Napoli, Torino, and Genoa this season. They travel to league leading Juventus, who are struggling with injuries across the field. Starting defenders Leo Bonucci and Dani Alves were recently added to an injury list already containing Paulo Dybala, Marko Pjanca, Andrea Barzagli, and Gonzalo Higuain.

Juventus’ loss to Genoa may be just the beginning of a tough stretch for the Old Lady. Juventus looked overmatched by a mid-table team. In their previous matchup at Sevilla, Juve only managed to get themselves back in the game after Sevilla was reduced to ten men. Injuries to Bonnuci, Dybala, and Higuain in particular are devastating for a team who broke the bank to compete in Europe. Their next games feature games against Roma, AC Milan.

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Atalanta has quietly established themselves as a team competing for European competition. Their nine game winning streak is even more impressive when you consider they had seven clean sheets in that span. They’re not reliant on one or even two goal scorers, having six players with three or more goals. Their come from behind victory against Roma was particularly impressive given that they forced Roma to play tight defense around their own 18. Atalanta has all the momentum and I’m feeling an upset.

Prediction: 2-1 Atalanta

Roma at Lazio Dec 4th 9:00 beIN Sports

                The derby della capitale is one of my favorite rivalries in Europe. Two teams who frequently find themselves at the top of the table are in a similar position this time around. Roma and Lazio are separated by just a point in the standings and both know the importance of these “six point games”. They both score a lot of goals. They’re both relatively healthy. They both have rabid, occasionally excessive fan bases that will show up in numbers to make this match a spectacle.

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In a rivalry game between two high powered offenses, we can talk about Edin Dzeko and Mo Salah; premier league castaways who have twelve and eight goals respectively.  We could also mention Lazio’s striker Ciro Immobile who’s right up there with nine goals. But this game is going to come down to defensive mistakes, not necessarily by defensive players. Little things like tracking your man on corner kicks (not pulling a JR?) are going to be keys to coming away with a victory.

Lazio is winless against Roma since the 2013 Coppa Italia final. It’s hard to see that changing

Prediction: 3-3 Draw

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