Serie A Week 23: The Wednesday Showdowns

Lazio and AC Milan played out a 0-0 draw on Tuesday, which gave Milan just one extra point over second-place Napoli, and Lazio aren't too far behind in third. Inter Milan and Roma could both catch Lazio with wins later in the week, but if either falter, Udinese are right behind, determined to continue their climb up the table.

With the only real excitement in the game at the San Siro being Zlatan Ibrahimovic's shot that hit both posts before being saved by Fernando Muslera, we'll move on to the rest of the Serie A showdowns.

Eight matches are being played out on Wednesday, 2nd February 2011, 19:45 GMT.

Fiorentina versus Genoa

It's a battle at midtable with little at stake for either club. Really, when the most exciting thing to mention involves the off-the-pitch antics of Adrian Mutu, there's not much to comment.

Sampdoria v Cagliari

Sampdoria didn't just look out of sorts against Napoli on Sunday, they looked as though no one had ever explained how to kick a football. Perhaps Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini took those trade secrets with them as they hightailed it out of town. Cagliari lost their most exciting player when Alessandro Matri headed off to Juventus on Monday, and although Robert Acquafresca can likely step back into the role, don't expect a flawless transition.

Parma versus Lecce

Parma are five points clear of the drop and Lecce just one above it. It's sort of a relegation six-pointer. With Parma typically able to score at home, and Lecce notorious for conceding away, expect the visitors' four-match unbeaten streak to end.

Cesena versus Catania

Ah, the true six-pointer. Just two points and a couple consonants separate these two clubs. Cesena will still be buzzing from Erjon Bogdani's 93rd minute equalizer against Lecce, whereas Catania will be able to console themselves with the fact that they only lost to Milan. Both sides aren't exactly known for their defense, so this one might at least feature goals. If not, choose either the Seahorses or the Elephants and take joy in the nicknames.

Roma versus Brescia

Is inevitability really ever fun? Roma have just one loss from their last seven league matches, and it's hard to imagine that struggling Brescia are going to take any points from a team bent on making a scudetto challenge. Brescia have scored just nine goals away from home and are coping with yet another managerial change, with Beppe Iachini returning to replace Mario Beretta, who had just five games in charge. As for Roma, even if Marco Borriello fails his late fitness test, Mirko Vucinic is set to step in. The Montenegrin helped lead his team to the Coppa Italia semifinals with the opener against Juventus, and is infinitely more exciting than Borriello, anyway.

Palermo versus Juventus

Every week, or even twice per week, Juventus supporters must be settling in to watch their team, thinking to themselves, "This is the week. This is the week we turn it all around." And yet it still isn't happening for the Old Lady, making it very, very difficult to resist all sorts of age-and-speed jokes. But give Juventus a hand for offloading Amauri to Parma, which should double their speed. In return they picked up Alessandro Matri from Cagliari, although since he's been with the club less than two days it seems likely he'll start on the bench. In that case, it's difficult to see where Juventus will find a goal, given that Alessandro del Piero is more prone to antics and Milos Krasic is really good at building up play before coming to a screeching halt. Palermo, meanwhile, have won their last six Serie A matches at home, and will be eager to avenge the weekend's demons after going up 2-0 to Inter only to lose 3-2. The visitors will have a difficult time containing Fabrizio Miccoli and Javier Pastore, who tend to combine to devastating effect.

Udinese versus Bologna

It must be exhilarating to be a true Udinese fan these days (rather than one with a mere crush on the team). Come from behind wins in their last two matches - and those matches were against Juventus and Inter Milan. A back-and-forth with Genoa that saw an eventual 4-2 win. A 4-4 battle with AC Milan. 13 goals in total over those four matches, which saw Udinese move up to seventh in the table. Now they face Bologna, who, despite being in 14th, aren't quite safe from relegation. The visitors will take comfort in the fact that Alexis Sánchez was sent off late in the match against Juventus, and hope that Antonio Di Natale will be less effective without his partner. But can even that stop the Zebrette?

Chievo Verona versus Napoli

The second-place club pitted against a mid-table side that's barely able to grind out wins against lower opposition. After Napoli absolutely dominated the match against Sampdoria on Sunday, with Edinson Cavani scoring his third hat-trick of the season, it looks impossible for Chievo to earn even a point. Napoli do have a couple quirks going against them as they head to Chievo. First, it seems as though they enjoy making life difficult for themselves. They are legitimate challengers for the scudetto, yet every time Milan stumble, the partenopei fail to capitalize on those dropped points, and are unable to gain any ground. Will it be any different on Wednesday?

Second, Ezequiel Lavezzi will miss the match with an accumulation of yellow cards, which was likely a tactical decision on the part of Walter Mazzarri, considering Lavezzi was booked for encroachment during a free kick. The Argentinian was an absolute beast on Sunday, setting up two of the four goals and muscling every Samp player out of his path. But even more than that, when one of the front three of Cavani, Lavezzi and Marek Hamsík goes missing, Napoli falter. The fluid front line is integral to their attack and Jose Sosa, who will likely slot in to replace Lavezzi, just doesn't cut it. Yet before their 3-0 victory at Brescia, the Flying Donkeys hadn't won in eight matches, so it seems unlikely their revitalization will continue when faced with Cavani and Company.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, 3rd February 2011, 19:45 GMT

Bari versus Inter Milan

Bari will attempt to hold back Inter but it's a match that's likely to end in anything but a win for the visitors. Bari are adrift at the bottom, four points off Brescia and seven points from safety. They've suffered four straight defeats and although Inter, even under Leonardo, have shown certain weakness in the back, Bari's measly 14 goals at home are unlikely to strike fear in the hearts of the Nerazzurri. After the 3-2 comeback over Palermo, however, Bari have plenty of reason to be afraid of Gianpaolo Pazzini, who scored a brace on his debut for Inter.

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