Weekend Preview Part 2 (1/26-1/27)

Sunday 1/26

Inter vs. Cagliari

Inter have seen their slim lead over Juventus turn into a four point deficit. They could use a win to get their title chase back on track. With the emergence of Zlatan’s Milan, Cagliari has found a new challenger for the European places, and their poor recent form must be reversed if they want to finish in the top six. This is a match that both teams desperately want to win, and those matches are always the most exciting.

Despite having only lost once all season, Inter are still categorized as being in relatively poor form. Having drawn three of their last five league matches, rounded out with a disappointing draw to Lecce in their last match, the Nerazzurri have seen their control of the title race slip away. Chasing an incredibly talented Juventus team, Inter’s margin of error was already slim, and it is even more so now that they have dropped points. They need to win this game, and basically every match from now until the end of the season while hoping that Juventus eventually slip up. Conte will hope for a strong response from his team following the Lecce draw, and Inter should come out of the gates playing like their hair is on fire. They will be hampered by the absence of Marcelo Brozović, who will miss out due to a knock he picked up against Lecce. Christian Eriksen will not arrive in time to feature, and with Mathias Vecino pushing for a move away, Borja Valero will probably be the man to come into the team. Antonio Conte will be irritated that his midfield trio of Barella, Sensi, and Brozovic has seemingly not been able to play together since the beginning of the season, but this is still a match they are capable of winning despite injuries. Elsewhere, Antonio Candreva will miss out due to suspension, while this match should mark the debut for new arrival Ashley Young. Young should provide Inter with a true wing back that should fit well in Conte’s 3-5-2. Outside of injuries and new arrivals, the key for Inter’s success, as it always is, is to increase the potency of the Lukaku-Lautaro pairing up top. With those two players scoring and providing, Inter are a terrifying team to face.

Cagliari were flying high, in the top four, and dreaming of European football next season. After no wins in their last six matches, they have fallen down to seventh and are facing an uphill battle to get back into the European places. Their defense has conceded 12 goals in their last five games, and despite the competence of their attack, they cannot hope to compete for the top six with a defense that poor, and they cannot hope to get a result against Inter if their defense is not able to contain Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez. Inter loanee Radja Nainggolan will be a key player for Cagliari, as they hope that the Belgian midfielder will terrorize his former club. The combination of Nainggolan, Joao Pedro, and Giovanni Simeone can score their fair share of goals and be a savior for the Sardinians, but Inter are not the type of team that they can simply outscore. With Milan in fine form, as well as Parma, Bologna, and Hellas Verona within arm’s reach, Cagliari need a result here.

Prediction: It is a classic “both teams need a win” scenario, so I do not think it will be a draw. I expect a strong response from Inter following the Lecce disappointment, and with how poor Cagliari’s defense has been recently, I see Inter scoring multiple goals. It may not be completely routine, but it will be a win for the Nerazzurri.

Inter 3-1 Cagliari

Roma vs. Lazio

The Derby della Capitale. Third vs. fourth. Ramifications in the title race and Champions League race. Even though it is still only January, it is hard to think that this match will not be remembered as one of the most important in the whole Serie A season.

Roma has seemingly survived a massive injury scare and should have most of their first team available for this match. The bad news, however, is their two missing starting players might be their two most important. Midfielder Amadou Diawara joins Nicolo Zaniolo on the injury list, and the absence of those two is a massive blow for Roma’s midfield and attack. One of Javier Pastore or Bryan Cristante will come in to partner Jordan Veretout in midfield, but either would be a much weaker pairing, susceptible to the brilliance of Lazio’s midfield trio of Lucas Leiva, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, and Luis Alberto. Life without Zaniolo has been spotty for Roma, with wins over Parma and Genoa joined by a loss to Juventus. His absence puts more pressure on Lorenzo Pellegrini and the wingers to create the chances for Dzeko going forward. Despite the injury issues, Paulo Fonseca will feel he has the individual quality, especially through Pellegrini and Dzeko, and the rock-solid defense needed to win a derby match.

Lazio lost to Inter at the end of September. They have not lost in the league since. They are currently on an 11 match league winning streak and have thrusted themselves into the title race, being only two points behind Inter with a game in hand. Ciro Immobile has obviously been the star of the headlines, and rightfully so, having scored 23 goals in just 18 starts, but the entire team has been fantastic. The midfield of Alberto, Milinkovic-Savic, and Leiva have been fantastic, while Manuel Lazzari has been a fantastic addition. Lucas Leiva should be fit enough to feature in this match, while Joaquin Correa should also be available, meaning Simone Inzaghi now has a choice between Correa and Felipe Caicedo to partner Immobile. Lazio are fully healthy at the right time, facing an injury-hampered Roma team. Roma are a good enough team to break the Biancocelesti 11 match winning streak, and it will be down to Inzaghi’s tactics and ability to control the match in the midfield to keep the streak going.

Prediction: This match is very difficult to call. I can rationalize either team winning, I can also rationalize why it could finish as a draw. Ultimately, the injuries for Roma, especially the recent injury to Diawara, is a massive blow for their chances to win. Lazio are a well-oiled machine that is getting fully healthy at the right time, and the streak should continue, but it will be a close and quite entertaining match, as derbies can be.

Roma 1-2 Lazio

Napoli vs. Juventus

And now we have another match up between two clubs that do not like each other. Juventus have surged into first place and could use a win to keep their title pace, while Napoli are falling apart at the seams and could use a win to turn things around.

Gennaro Gattuso has endured a horrid start to his time in Naples, but their 1-0 win against Lazio in the Coppa Italia will help restore some of their morale. It is key that they kick on from that Lazio result and return to showing the improvements that they demonstrated prior to their humiliating defeat to Fiorentina. While they were undoubtedly lucky against Lazio, just seeing a win will do quite a bit for that team’s confidence, and even that can inspire them to put in better performances. The injury issue, however, remains a massive, terrifying problem for Gattuso, as they remain without key players Kalidou Koulibaly, Allan, and Dries Mertens. Nikola Maksimovic could possibly return from injury, while Fabian Ruiz and Sebastian Luperto will most likely return to the team after being rotated during the Coppa Italia. The key, especially against an injured Juventus defense, will be how well Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon are able to use their pace and get out on the counter, creating opportunities for Arek Milik and others. Napoli have not enjoyed the home comforts of the Stadio San Paolo recently, but the crowd will be up for the visit of their hated rivals, so if Napoli are able to bring in some momentum and start the match well, then the crowd could then carry them to a result.

Juventus are flying at the moment, with five straight victories to overtake the stuttering Inter to return to the top of the league table. These results are largely tied to the brilliant form of Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 12 goals in his last nine appearances. He has formed strong partnerships with both Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala, creating a deadly attack for the Bianconeri. The midfield has been an issue this season, but Maurizio Sarri has seemingly settled on a 4-4-2 diamond that allows Ronaldo to have a strike partner and a solid midfield behind him. They will be disappointed that Merih Demiral is now out for the season, which leaves the defense in a bit of a tricky situation. Matthijs de Ligt is still a quality player, despite his struggles, but Daniele Rugani has struggled throughout his time with the club. De Ligt will probably be called in to partner Bonucci in defense, with Cuadrado keeping his right back spot in place of the soon-to-be-departed Mattia De Sciglio. Juve will succeed here if they are able to take control of this match from the beginning and not allow Napoli to get momentum behind them. An early goal, probably from Ronaldo, could potentially open the floodgates and make things turn ugly.

Prediction: This is the type of match where Napoli could ride momentum and emotion into a draw at home, but Juve’s form is hard to ignore. Ronaldo will probably add a few more goals, and this should be an easy result for the reigning champions.

Napoli 0-3 Juventus

Lille vs. PSG

A match between last season’s top two in Ligue 1 could be influential in deciding whether there is actually a title race in France, as well as sorting out the mess in the middle of the table.

Lille are coming off a bitterly disappointing penalty shootout loss to Lyon in the Coupe de la Ligue semifinals, but they will feel confident knowing how strong they have been at home this season. They have won 12 of their last 14 matches at home, and the 5-1 thrashing they gave PSG at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy last season will be fresh in their memories. They will welcome back goalkeeper Mike Maignan and right back Mehmet Zeki Celik into the team after not featuring in Lyon, but they will be without young budding star left back Domagoj Bradaric, as well as midfielder Yusuf Yazici. Christophe Galtier will know that their attack, led by rising star Victor Osimhen, is able to hurt PSG on the counter, with their new 4-2-4 formation being susceptible at the back due to the amount of bodies they throw forward. Luis Araujo and Renato Sanches will be important in driving Lille forward, allowing Osimhen and Loic Remy to be goal threats against a weakened and injured Parisian back line. Lille will have to play a similar counter-attacking style as Monaco did in their 3-3 draw in Paris in order to get a result here.

PSG’s “Quatre Fantastique” has been a topic of discussion since their 3-3 draw with Monaco earlier in the month. With two wingers that do not often track back to help the defense, as well as two fullbacks that like to burst forward and help the attack, their back line is often quite exposed, which is what allowed Monaco to be as devastating on the counter as they were in Paris that night. Juan Bernat is a doubt for the match due to injury, and his backup Layvin Kurzawa is not in the team ahead of his potential transfer to Juventus. Marquinhos is also a doubt for the match, meaning either Abdou Diallo or Presnel Kimpembe is going to have to step into his role in the defense and either Leandro Paredes or Idrissa Gueye is going to have to act as the main defensive midfielder in the team. Lille are a very good team going forward, so to nullify that counter, Thomas Tuchel is going to have to hope that his team is defensively sound and disciplined. Neymar and Angel Di Maria will have to do their share of the defensive work if the fullbacks bomb forward. The midfielders have to be positionally sound and help protect the back line. The other side of this coin is that this formation creates a team that is very good at scoring goals. Having Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Mauro Icardi, and Angel Di Maria on the pitch at the same time creates an attacking nightmare that most defenses are not prepared to deal with. Lille are not a particularly strong defensive team, so they are a team that PSG could get away with outscoring.

Prediction: There will be quite a few goals. I expect a reaction from Lille after their penalties defeat to Lyon midweek, and they have the attacking capabilities to take advantage of PSG’s lack of positional discipline in defense in their new formation, but Lille also have weaknesses of their own. These weaknesses are going to be exposed by this high-powered PSG attack. Lille are great at home but PSG are great travelers, and in this case, the traveling team will be victorious.

Lille 2-4 PSG

Monday 1/27

Bournemouth vs. Arsenal

The end of the FA Cup weekend pits two fairly desperate managers against each other. Mikel Arteta just wants Arsenal to be good. Eddie Howe just wants Bournemouth to not go down. The FA Cup is the perfect launching point for both managers to achieve their aspirations.

Bournemouth’s league struggles are extensive and documented in previous weekend previews, but they did bring an end to their struggles with a 3-1 win over Brighton last time out. They were also successful in the FA Cup, thrashing Luton Town 4-0. Striker Callum Wilson ended his 15-match goalless run in that Brighton win, and he will be counted on again to lead the line for a Cherries team that continues to be hampered by injuries. Junior Stanislas should be fit enough to feature in this match, but the continued absence of David Brooks, Joshua King, Chris Mepham, and others limits Howe’s ability to rotate his team and bring in fresh players. He will hope that his front three can carry their momentum from the Brighton win into this match against an Arsenal team that have had their own issues in defense. Wilson’s ability to continue to find goals will be the only way they can win this match.

Arsenal come in off their wild, feels-like-a-win 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge but will enter this match without center back David Luiz, who joins Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the suspensions list. Potential new signing Pablo Mari will probably not arrive in time to feature, so Rob Holding will likely be the player coming into the team to replace Luiz. Sokratis could also get back into the team following a short absence due to illness. Players like Emiliano Martinez and Joe Willock could get into the team as part of a rotation plan, while the continued absence of both first-team left backs means Bukayo Saka will probably have to continue in that role. The in-form Gabriel Martinelli will be Arsenal’s key player, and they will hope he can continue his rich goalscoring form against a rather frail Bournemouth defense.

Prediction: This will still probably be a difficult match for Arsenal, as all matches seem to be now. They drew at home to Bournemouth earlier in Arteta’s reign, so Bournemouth do have confidence in their ability to frustrate the Gunners. This match will be different, though, and it will be another bit of magic from Gabriel Martinelli that will make the difference.

Bournemouth 0-1 Arsenal

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