Friday, 17th February
Inter v Bologna (7.45 pm)
Home win: 2/5 Draw: 16/5 Away win: 15/2
Betting tip: Theoretically speaking, can Internazionale do worse than lose to Novara, whose two victories over the Milanese outfit remind us of Derby County’s near-double over Newcastle? Back in 2008, the Geordies lost to a Rams side responsible for breaking all sorts of negative Premier League records, but at least they managed to save themselves from an embarrassing 2-1 home defeat, courtesy of Mark Viduka’s late strike. Inter, for their part, did not, and now face a side known for taking points off the likes of Roma, Juventus and Napoli on the road (weirdly enough, those games all ended 1-1, an eventuality priced at 27/4). The Emiliani will doubtless be a thorn in their opponents’ side, especially considering the 3-4-2-1 formation they’re likely to deploy, with the likes of Saphir Sliti Taider and Gaston Ramirez (a summer transfer target for many clubs, including Manchester City) exploiting their midfield’s numerical (and physical) superiority to put pressure on a creaky Internazionale defence. At 83/100, bet on the visitors to net, a win being too tough to call with any certainty as the Nerazzurri can’t have lost all the qualities which enabled them to climb their way back up the table. Chances are Inter will probably sneak an ugly win, but you can count on Bologna to cause them quite the headache.
Fiorentina v Napoli (7.45 pm)
Home win: 7/5 Draw: 21/10 Away win: 2/1
Betting tip: Much as I admire Delio Rossi, his choice of a 3-4-1-2 is asking for trouble against the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marek Hamsik and Goran Pandev. Does the back three have what it takes to keep up with Napoli’s brutal counter-attacking football? The Partenopei have already exploited Inter’s defensive frailties on the road in their 3-0 victory at the San Siro. The visitors will not be preoccupied by Edinson Cavani’s absence, as Pandev has been surprisingly prolific since his arrival. Back the visitors to net at 2/5, though punters looking to chance their luck will hope Napoli’s equally creaky defence might allow Stefan Jovetic to add to his 12 goals for the season. At 11/4, both teams are quite likely to rack up four or more goals.
Saturday, 18th February
Juventus v Catania (7.45 pm)
Home win: 33/100 Draw: 7/2 Away win: 19/2
Betting tip: Of late, the Old Lady has been dropping far too many points against teams of Catania’s calibre, drawing against Parma and Siena where Milan would have depended on its individuals to see them through. Earlier this season, Antonio Conte’s men only came back from the Massimino with a point, as the Etnei really turned up the pressure on the Turinese outfit. They are likely to do so again, as revenge will be on their minds: amongst the four ex-Juventini playing for the Sicilians, Sergio Almiron and Nicola Legrottaglie’s unfortunate Piedmontese sojourns saw them loaned back to mid-table football, whilst Marco Motta and Davide Lanzafame ended up being excluded from the club’s plans, with the latter only ever playing one game for the Juventini in Serie A. Antonio Conte’s side will be made to fight hard, though in my opinion they’ll ultimately come out on the winning end. Their big strength, the fact that anyone in the side is capable of scoring, can also be a weakness as they cannot count on a player capable of doing David Trezeguet’s job. With that in mind, bet on a Juventus win, but by just a one-goal margin, quoted at 5/2.
Sunday, 19th February
Lecce v Siena (11.30 pm)
Home win: 27/20 Draw: 11/5 Away win: 2/1
Betting tip: I’m gambling on Lecce to lose this encounter between two of the league’s high-octane sides. Siena’s win over Roma proves that the side is making progress under Giuseppe Sannino. His tactical acumen has worked miracles on the defence, which has kept three clean sheets over the last five games. Counting on his back line, Sannino will look to defend against Lecce in the hope of wearing out the Salentini and grabbing a point. Siena have what it takes to steal the win, as their three creative midfielders (which include the evergreen Simone Vergassola) are capable of breaking the deadlock with a deftly-clipped ball to Emanuele Calaio and Mattia Destro, something more likely to happen when the Salentini start to show signs of frustration and fatigue. How about backing the Senesi to net last, at 13/10?
Novara v Atalanta (3.00pm)
Home win: 8/5 Draw: 21/10 Away win: 7/4
Betting tip: Novara might have won against Inter Milan, but it is hard to see them doing well against Atalanta, a side Emiliano Mondonico led the to the Coppa Italia final back in 1996, where they bizarrely lost to… Claudio Ranieri’s Fiorentina! Randomly interconnected facts aside, Mondonico might be a very good (and very underestimated) manager, but, as the recently-sacked Mick McCarthy would have put it, he isn’t Merlin the Magician. The team still possesses the joint-worse defence in the league, and will have a tough time keeping out Guido Marilungo, Maximiliano Moralez and German Denis, who frankly should take some of the numerous chances the Atalanta defence are likely to afford them. At 7/4, I’d get behind the visitors to net twice or more.
AS Roma v Parma (3.00 pm)
Home win: 53/100 Draw: 14/5 Away win: 11/2
Betting tip: This game will bring back good memories for Giallorossi fans: firstly, it was against Parma that Fabio Capello’s side all but guaranteed the Scudetto back in 2000-2001; as this came just a year after Sven Goran-Eriksson’s Lazio had won their second league title, I’m taking it is as proof that some rivalries really do mean more than others. Parma will be welcome guests for a Roma side recently stunned by Siena, as the Emiliani were one of the first teams against which they expressed some semblance of the football Luis Enrique is after. Though it mostly came in the second half, it was enough to topple the Ducali at the Tardini courtesy of a Pablo Daniel Osvaldo goal. Would you believe it, the Roma striker is set to return to the starting line-up this weekend, making a Lupi victory all the more likely at 53/100, though keep your eyes peeled for an Osvaldo goal at 11/10.
Cesena v Milan (3.00 pm)
Home win: 49/10 Draw: 53/20 Away win: 3/5
Betting tip: I very much doubt that anybody would have predicted such a brilliant performance from Milan against Arsenal – never mind the 4-0 scoreline! That victory is just the confidence boost they need ahead of a complicated tie against a Cesena side fighting for their lives at the moment at the bottom of the heap. The Sea Horses had the temerity to steal a point off Napoli recently, though the absence of two players who performed so well that night – Vangelis Moras and Steve von Bergen- will likely handicap them against the strike partnership which came up with the goods against Udinese at the Friuli Stadium. Step forward Maxi Lopez and Stephan El Shaarawy, quoted at 7/5 and 17/10 to net in a game which could see Milan wrest top sport from title rivals Juventus.
Genoa v Chievo (3.00 pm)
Home win: 9/10 Draw: 23/10 Away win: 63/20
Betting tip: Goals are likely to be on the agenda here, as Genoa have only kept two clean sheets at home all season, and are likely to sink when faced with Luciano’s trickery, not to mention a clever and deceptively quick striker like Sergio Pellissier. The 11/5 on Chievo netting twice or more is almost too good to be true, as the visitors have a tough flat three in midfield capable of stealing the ball high up the pitch and quickly launching counter-attacks against a defence so exposed it has let in as many goals as Novara’s.
Udinese v Cagliari (7.45 pm)
Home win: Evens Draw: 21/10 Away win: 2/1
Betting tip: The evens on a Udinese win seems too low to be enticing, though it is there for a reason. Bar their admittedly costly lapse of concentration against Milan, Francesco Guidolin’s men have made their home stadium a fortress, only dropping two points at the Friuli before El Shaarawy and Maxi Lopez spoiled the party. The Sardinians will admittedly be reinvigorated by Antonio di Natale’s absence, though their own inconsistent form on the road is unlikely to do them any favours here. Back Udinese to triumph by a margin of at least two goals, an outcome quoted at 13/5.
Palermo v Lazio (7.45 pm)
Home win: 3/2 Draw: 11/5 Away win: 9/5
Betting tip: Palermo welcome back dangerman Fabrizio Miccoli and midfield anchor Giulio Migliaccio for what looks set to be a cracking encounter against Lazio. The stat of the day comes from the visitors: of their last ten goals, Lazio have only managed to net one before the break, making them steep favourites to net more in the second half than they do in the first in this game as well at 8/5.
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