European Football Preview: Can Juventus end 2018 undefeated in Serie A?
Serie A continues apace through the Christmas period and serves up a classic between Juventus and Roma on Saturday night, as our European football columnist James Horncastle reports...
The Bianconceri have shipped just eight league goals all season and have recorded clean sheets in each of their last five games.
The impeccable Old Lady
Juventus v Roma
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Juventus looked tired in the Turin derby. The gauntlet of games which has also taken in Fiorentina and Inter continues but without the Champions League. A full week to rest, recuperate and prepare should make for a better performance.
Roma, meanwhile, returned to winning ways last weekend coming back from behind twice to beat Genoa 3-2 at the Olimpico. It did little to convince anyone that the team's problems are over, though, and Eusebio Di Francesco remains under scrutiny.
The outcome of this game is unlikely to influence his future - although a win would certainly restore faith. How Roma do against Sassuolo and Parma is likely to have a greater bearing as to whether they make a change over the winter break. Roma have never won at the Allianz Stadium and while Edin Dzeko and Daniele De Rossi look set to return to the squad, both are unlikely to be fit enough to play 90 minutes or even start.
Speculation continues to mount around the future of Patrick Schick who, as Roma's only fit striker, suffered the ignominy of being dropped for the Genoa game after a barren run of one goal in six straight starts.
It doesn't help that it's the time of the year when Juventus find the right balance and lock things down at the back. The Bianconceri have shipped just eight league goals all season and have recorded clean sheets in each of their last five games.
Some luck has been involved in that streak. Think of the chances Inter had in the Derby d'Italia when Roberto Gagliardini struck the post and the penalty decisions that did not go Torino's way in the Derby della Mole. But with Giorgio Chiellini in the form of his life the task facing Roma is uphill to say the least. Take a Juventus win to nil @ [2.4] or better.
Milan v Fiorentina
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Rino Gattuso labelled his team mediocre after Tuesday night's draw in Bologna. It was Milan's second 0-0 in a row and felt like two points dropped. Not because of the chances they created. Gonzalo Higuain remains out of sorts. More because of the calibre of opposition. Bologna look set for a season-long relegation battle unless owner Joey Saputo intervenes and either dismisses Pippo Inzaghi or upgrades the team in the January transfer window.
Complicating matters for Gattuso is the cost of the point. Tiemoue Bakayoko was sent off and his midfield partner Franck Kessie will also be missing when Fiorentina visit on Saturday after reaching the yellow card limit. The pair of them were just about holding Milan's midfield together following the injuries sustained by Lucas Biglia and Giacomo Bonaventura. Players many people forget play for Milan will be in the middle. Players like Jose Mauri and Andrea Bertolacci which does not inspire great confidence.
Milan have to hope Fiorentina's problems on the road continue. We're almost at the winter break and Stefano Pioli's side are still without a win away from the Artemio Franchi. Saturday's game represents a great opportunity particularly as Milan could be considered competition for the place they covet in the Europa League.
Fiorentina ended a nine-game winless run last weekend, a streak distinguished more by draws [six] than defeats [two]. Giovanni Simeone has hit form again after going fourteen hours without a goal. He has scored in back-to-back games as has journeyman Belgian winger Kevin Mirallas. Both are worth looking at in the Scorers market.
This feels as good a time as any to back Fiorentina to pick up a win outside of Tuscany. Take Pioli's young bunch @ [3.5].
Sassuolo v Torino
Live on Betfair Live Video
Torino were in sixth last weekend but now find themselves down in 11th, so tight is the race for qualification for the Europa League. The Granata were overtaken by Saturday's opponents Sassuolo but must count themselves unlucky after matching Juventus in the Turin derby only to lose amid some controversy.
Walter Mazzarri felt with some justification that his side merited two penalties and remains convinced that were it not for certain refereeing decisions this season Torino would have between eight and 10 more points. This weekend's trip to Reggio Emilia won't faze them even though Sassuolo are one of the most innovative and exciting teams to watch under Roberto de Zerbi.
Impressive in Frosinone last weekend where they ran out 2-0 winners, it was a rare case of the Neroverdi obtaining the result their performance deserved. A little like Fiorentina, another fresh-faced side, schoolboy mistakes have let Sassuolo down and were what lay behind a run of one win in nine. Kevin Prince Boateng has also been a big miss and the sooner he comes back the better. Then Sassuolo can rediscover the blend of skill and experience that made them so dangerous in the final third at the start of the campaign.
Another thing holding them back is the team's form at the Mapei where they are without a win since September. Given Torino are currently on a club record-matching unbeaten run on the road, stretching back 10 games, expect Mazzarri and his boys to fancy themselves of coming away with all three points. It certainly helps that Andrea Belotti enjoys playing against them. Il Gallo has two goals and two assists in his last two appearances against Sassuolo. Take Torino to win @ [2.96].
Back to Juventus to win to nil v Roma @ [2.4] or better
Back Fiorentina to beat Milan @ [3.5]
Back Torino to beat Sassoulo @ [2.96]