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  1. The temperature on the Apennines is warming up as the top four teams are all within 4 points of each other. Napoli is leading the charge sitting on top of the table with 42 points in 17 matches. The margin for error is smaller than ever now, so you can expect all top teams to put pedal to the metal to get the best possible position before the winter break. Also, you won't be watching Italians in their usual Sunday schedule due to Christmas, so all of the matches take place on Friday and Saturday. Now, let's get rolling with the preview! Chievo vs Bologna (Friday) The action begins in Veneto where Chievo and Bologna will clash at the Stadio Marcantio Bentegodi. These two sides have accumulated the same amount of points at this stage – 21, with Bologna sitting in 12th place and Chievo just underneath in 13th. Chievo are out of form, collecting just 2 wins in 10 last league matches. Last week, they suffered unexpected lost away at Crotone and they will most certainly want to make up for that in front of their own fans. Inglese is their main hope in the offensive department with 6 goals next to his name, and he'll want to add to that against a solid Bologna side that suffered two loses in the last two games after a series of good results. It should be noted that the defeats came at the hands of Juventus and Milan, so it certainly shouldn't bring their morale down, especially considering the dip in form Chievo is feeling lately. Factoring it all in, these two sides could easily neutralize each other, and the draw could be on the cards here. Prediction: Draw Cagliari vs Fiorentina (Friday) 14th placed Cagliari host Fiorentina as they bid to move further away from the danger zone. They haven’t been impressive this season, but certainly good enough to avoid relegation, one would think. Last week, they suffered a heart-breaking loss to Roma by conceding a penalty in the 94th minute. The hosts have been able to get all the important victories against relatively weaker teams, but they still didn’t make an upset losing to all top 10 teams they went up against. It’s pretty unlikely they’ll get a clean sheet as they concede an average of almost two goals in their own home. On the other hand, Fiorentina are just 4 points short of European spots, so they’ll definitely go all-in to take the win tomorrow, as these are the type of games they should be winning if they want to play in Europe next season. Viola have been struggling with the efficiency recently scoring just 5 goals in the same number of matches, only enough to get 4 draws and just a single win. Fiorentina will rely on Thereau who showed up in big fashion this season, scoring 4 goals and adding the same number of assists. Behind the strikers, their main man is this summer’s acquisition Jordan Veretout, and 24 year old Frenchman looks like he’s the future of Fiorentina. With Cagliari’s inefficiency and Fiorentina’s solid defensive structure I can see I Viola getting something more in this one. Prediction: Fiorentina Lazio vs Crotone (Saturday) Lazio will host Crotone in Rome in the opening Saturday game of Italian football this week. The game is scheduled at 12:30 CET, and the hosts surely schedule a win in their calendar. The Eagles look to make a leap to the Champions League spots, sitting in 5th, 5 points behind their arch rivals, Roma. Fueled by Immobile’s inspiring scoring streak, with 15 goals in 16 matches, Lazio are playing offensive and beautiful football under the less famous Inzaghi brother, Simone. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is playing beyond all expectations this season, mixing skill and strength in a way you don’t see very often when looking at young players like him and there’s no doubt Lotito will have offers for the youngster flying at his desk this summer. Luis Alberto is another rising star. The La Masia dropout is now in incredible form and adding a special bit of flair to Inzaghi’s mixture of strength, skill and offensive football. Crotone on the other hand, mainly look to avoid relegation, and from this point of view, it looks like it’s going to be a long battle for them. The board reacted to the string of bad results with the appointment of experienced international, Walter Zenga. In their 8 away matches, they have been only able to get a single draw and a win, piling up 6 losses, and that itself says a lot. Furthermore, the guests scored abysmal 6 goals in 8 away matches, conceding 20 in the same period. All in all, Lazio will look to get back on track in the Champions League hunt, and it’s must-win situation for them against a weak opponent, and to make things worse for Crotone, Zenga is suspended for this match and won’t be able to help his team from the sidelines. Prediction: Lazio Genoa vs Benevento (Saturday) "Saint Gennaro, please don't forget you are from Benevento,“ was the message of Benevento fans, who can now only rely on miracle of Saint Gennaro in order to avoid quick relegation. As things stand, it looks impossible for a spirited Benevento side to snatch spot number 17, but bigger miracles did happen, and the attitude their side is showing is just impressive, despite historically bad results. Benevento side were able to "steal“ a fairytale point off of Milan in the incredible string of events which eventually led to sacking of Montella. They even took the lead in their clash with fellow newly-promoted side SPAL, but couldn't hold on to it, falling in an even bigger hole result-wise. On the other hand, matches like these are perfect opportunity for Ligurians to escape the relegation zone, but the way Genoa are playing this season, nothing is sure as they couldn't get an even single win in their own stadium the whole season. The way things are standing, the uninspired hosts could be suprised by the resistance the Benevento side has been showing lately. Prediction: Draw Napoli vs Sampdoria (Saturday) One of the best matches you’ll find this weekend is the clash in Naples. Sarri’s troops will host the Northerners from Genoa in their pursue for the Scudetto, the first one since 1990 and the unforgettable Maradona years. Napoli look like they have it all sorted out, the fans were always 100% with the club, they never trusted a coach like they do the former bank employee who happens to be the conductor of some of the most beautiful football in Europe. They lost only one match in Serie A, and Hamsik finally took a big burden off his back by scoring his 115th goal and equalizing Maradona’s record. Mertens is facing a goal drought of 5 games, and it certainly affects his confidence, so he’s definitely a man who wants to get back on track. Napoli can’t let this slip as Sampdoria is slowing down as the season progresses, and they don’t look as good as they a month ago, which however still doesn’t mean they don’t represent a viable threat. Fabio Quagliarella will return to San Paolo, and despite the fact he’ll get the warmest welcome in the world, don’t forget he’s a natural killer in front of goal, and a true threat for any defence out there. Sampdoria don’t look good lately as they were only able to pick up a single draw and three defeats in last 4 Serie A matches. They are standing at suprising 6th spot, but they can’t relax as the competition in the league is fierce this season, and few more slip-ups could see them falling down to middle of the table. Also, the fact they won only 9 points in 8 away games doesn’t really help them either against an opponent of this strength. Prediction: Napoli Sassuolo vs Inter (Saturday) With the suprrising 3-1 loss to Udinese last weekend, Inter were knocked off of number 1 spot, and now sit in 3rd place just one and two points short of Juventus and Napoli, respectively. The host from Modena is rising, collecting 6 points in their last two league games. They managed to stun Sampdoria with Matri’s winner in 90th minute, lifting the spirits in Sassuolo after a disappointing start of the season. Sassuolo is one of the worst home teams in the league, collecting miserable 5 points in eight matches. However, they were able to stop the wineless streak at home against Crotone, and now they look like they’re on the rise, and they want to escape the relegation zone as they are just 3 points off undesirable spots. It looks like the appointment of Beppe Iachini brought them some much needed spark, but is it just short-term shock therapy or do they have it in them to make this streak last? Spalletti took his magic to Milano this summer and brought up the best of his Inter side. Now, after nine fixtures, Nerazzurri look like legitimate title candidates, led by beastly Mauro Icardi. The amazing Argentinian managed to bag in 17 goals and is looking as the main Capocannoniere candidate for the best scorer of the league. He gets a lot of help from his favorite winger, Ivan Perisic, who is playing out of his mind lately, and the Manchester rumors will only get bigger if he keeps playing at this pace. Inter have no time to waste if they want to knock Juventus off of their throne, and they need to get back on winning track quickly, and no slip-ups are allowed at this point for them. Prediction: Inter SPAL vs Torino (Saturday) SPAL claimed a hard-earned win playing away at Benevento last weekend. Character they shown after going down 1-0 to win the match will definitely be encouraging coming into a tough fixture for Leonardo Semplici and his team. SPAL is topping the relegation zone with 14 points, just like 17th placed Genoa. Another good sign for SPAL is that Floccari was able to score a brace last weekend, showing he could be a valuable asset in the relegation battle. The less famous Turin club fell to defeat last week to Napoli, but they were able to bounce back with a big win against Roma in the Italian Cup. Torino is now in the middle of the table at 10th and Mihajlovic and his players are looking up to grab European spots, being just 4 points short off 7th placed Sampdoria. Their main-man Belotti isn’t playing as expected this season scoring just 4 goals for now, but he is contributing in other aspects, and we’ll surely see the best of him as the season progresses. Iago Falque proved to be important for Mihajlovic’s side with 5 goals up to this points, more than enough for a winger. In their last away match, Torino were able to beat Lazio 3-1 in a great match, where they could’ve scored 3 more goals if they were focused enough. Considering Torino’s solid record in the away matches and SPAL’s oscillating form, you can expect to see Belotti step up and lead his team to victory here. Prediction: Torino and Belotti to score Udinese vs Verona (Saturday) Following Udinese season-to-season it just seems like every next year is a replay of the last one. Just like always, Udinese comfortably sit middle of the table, safe enough not to be worried about relegation, but without any ambition for the European spots. The hosts are in great form, collecting 9 points in the last 5 league matches, and they look like they're on the rise, so Saturday's clash with Verona could see them continue their spirited streak as they are getting contributions from all sides, with Lasagna, Barak and De Paul having scored 14 goals between themselves. Sitting second-to-bottom of the table, Verona isn't looking good this season. They score an average of just a goal a game, which maybe could be sufficient if they didn't concede 32 goals in 17 matches. However, last week they stunned everyone with amazing 3-0 win over Milan. They were able to take advantage of every flaw in Milan's defense while keeping a solid structure at the back, which lead to the best result of their season. Taking all factors into account, Udinese's rising form, huge 3-1 win over championship candidate Inter last week and playing on their own turf, I can't see Verona getting anything out of this match despite their great showing last week. Prediction: Udinese AC Milan vs Atalanta (Saturday) The fireman in the shape of Gattuso was brought in after Montella's sacking, but the fire just keeps on spreading, leaving no man behind. Last week’s 3-0 loss to a weak Verona side meant that Milan has hit rock bottom. Gattuso decided that it was too much, and put all of his players in the training camp which they can’t leave until Saturday’s match. Gennaro’s extreme methods are Milan’s last hope to keep the season alive and have a happy christmas at the city of the mode. Donnarumma’s problems off the pitch don’t help the situation either, and to top it all of, their best player this season, Suso, is suspended due to a red card in the embarrassing loss to Verona. Atalanta is the side you definitely don’t want to face in mid-crisis. They always look solid tactically and proving that the last season wasn’t fluke as they sit in 7th spot with the same amount of points as Milan, but better goal difference that puts them on top. Atalanta beat Sassuolo in the cup match, and they put in a great performance, but couldn’t get the 3 points off of Lazio in a thrilling 3-3 draw last weekend. Taking all into account, Gatusso could wake his team up, but you can’t ignore a well-versed Atalanta side and the most expected outcome here is the draw with at least a goal in both nets. Prediction: Draw Juventus vs Roma (Saturday) Here it is! The spectacle of the weekend in Italy will be played in Turin where the home team will look to clinch victory. The match will be played on Saturday at 20:45 CET, so make sure you don’t miss this one. Just as always, Juve is improving as the season goes on. They usually start at a slower pace, and this season isn’t any different. Right now, they look powerful, easily skinning 4 points from clashes with Napoli and Inter, they come into this one with a lot of confidence and championship mentality they always bring into matches of this magnitude. Allegri was willing to start Dybala in the cup match where he scored after giving him a bench treatment in the last two league matches. We can expect dangerous and fast-paced Argentinian to be in the starting 11 this weekend along with Miralem Pjanic, who is always extra motivated for this derby as he spent 5 years in Roma leading the midfield. As for the injuries, Buffon is out, just like Cuadrado who is suffering from groin injury and won’t be available for Saturday’s clash. Di Francesco brought some nice flavor to Roma, as they’re sitting in 4th having played a game less than rivals in front of them. They took a loss in the cup, but the good news is they can now focus on the league until February when Champions League takes place. Last week, they took hard-earned win against Cagliari at home, scoring off 94th minute penalty. Their main striker, Edin Dzeko, is facing small crisis scoring-wise, but we can expect him to pick it up as he already scored 8 goals this season. Lately, Schick has been getting more and more opportunity, as the young striker is proving to be very useful even when he’s not on the goalscoring sheet. Roma isn’t facing major injury problems, and they are ready to go out and show what they’re made of. Prediction: Juventus Share your thoughts about this preview feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  2. Liverpool have been handed a tricky draw against Bundesliga side Hoffenheim for a place in the Champions League group stage. Jurgen Klopp's charges are away in Germany for the first leg on either 15 or 16 August, with the return leg to be played at Anfield on 22 or 23 August. Scottish champions Celtic, meanwhile, meet Kazakh counterparts Astana in their play-off round tie, with the home leg first. The 10 winners from the play-off stage will join the 22 teams who have already qualified for the group stage. Full draw Champions route Qarabag (Azerbaijan) v Copenhagen (Denmark) Apoel Nicosia (Cyprus) v Slavia Prague (Czech Republic) Olympiakos (Greece) v HNK Rijeka (Croatia) Celtic (Scotland) v Astana (Kazakhstan) Hapoel Beer Sheva (Israel) v Maribor (Slovenia) League route Istanbul Basaksehir (Turkey) v Sevilla (Spain) Young Boys (Switzerland) v CSKA Moscow (Russia) Napoli (Italy) v Nice (France) Hoffenheim (Germany) v Liverpool (England) Sporting Lisbon (Portugal) v Steaua Bucharest (Romania) Share your thoughts about this news story on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  3. Manchester United defender Chris Smalling has urged the club to keep hold of Zlatan Ibrahimovic for as long as possible. The 35-year-old moved to Old Trafford on a free transfer last summer on a one-year contract and, while he has the option of a second season, he has also been linked with a move to Napoli at the end of the current campaign. Manager Jose Mourinho has repeatedly stressed his confidence that the Swede will remain for a second year, though, and Smalling does not believe that age is a factor for Ibrahimovic. "He just wants to score goals; he's a real focal point for the attack. Even when we have not been playing well he has managed to score and when you can rely on someone like that it's brilliant," he told reporters. "You see how he has performed this season and all the goals he has scored, if we can keep a player like that for as long as we can all the players would be very happy. "I don't think age is a factor at the moment. He has played as many games as anyone in the squad and contributed a lot. "I know how hard he is to play against because sometimes I come up against him in training. We have a nice battle, but I am glad it is only training. I am lucky I don't have to play against him in a game." Share your thoughts about this story on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the conversation.
  4. Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is "totally convinced" that Zlatan Ibrahimovic will stay at the club for at least another season. The 35-year-old has been in fine form since joining the Red Devils last summer, scoring 20 goals in all competitions including 15 in the Premier League. Ibrahimovic's agent Mino Raiola last week suggested that the Swede could be interested in a move to Napoli at the end of the season, but Mourinho brushed off the possibility of losing his star striker. "I'm totally convinced he is going to stay. He came with the intention to stay two years, but in the minds of everyone the first year is going better than every expectation," he told reporters. "He knows we are going to try again to improve next season and try to share with him, in a fantastic way, probably the last year of his career at the highest level. "So I'm convinced that he's staying, he's adapted to the club, to the situation. I don't see any problem with his family. "I gave him the possibility of a few days off to go to Sweden, but he doesn't want to, he prefers to stay here, so I'm totally convinced he is going to stay." Share your thoughts about this story on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the conversation.
  5. Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has claimed that Arsenal and Atletico Madrid failed with an approach for forward Gonzalo Higuain during the summer. The Gunners were strongly linked with the Argentine after he had scored a record-equalling 36 league goals in just 35 matches during the 2015-16 campaign, but he eventually joined Juventus. De Laurentiis is quoted by the Evening Standard as saying: "We received a request from Arsenal. "Personally I also received a request from Atletico Madrid but they didn't put enough money on the table. We were not ready to sell him – for me Higuain was not for sale. "One year earlier I offered another five year contract to Higuain and his brother. 'I will offer to you x amount'. It was more money than what he is getting right now from Juventus." Higuain has scored six goals in seven Serie A appearances for the Bianconeri so far this season. Share your thoughts about this story on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the conversation.
  6. Carlos Tevez has revealed that both Chelsea and Napoli have attempted to sign the Boca Juniors striker. The former Manchester City, Manchester United and Juventus ace called time on his hugely successful stint in European football in 2015 when making a surprise switch to Boca - his first club. Tevez has now been tempted into making a return to the Premier League by Chelsea and Serie A by Napoli, but he has no desire to leave his homeland before calling time on his career. The Sun reports him as saying. "It is true Chelsea and Napoli want me" "But my desire is to stay with Boca until I retire, I am going to stay at Boca even if Napoli and Chelsea come knocking." Tevez enjoyed a brief stint in London West Ham United, where he scored seven times in 29 appearances for the club in one season with The Hammers.
  7. Juventus have completed a deal for the services of Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli for £75.2m. According to Sky in Italy, the Argentina international has put pen-to-paper on a four-year contract with the Serie A champions worth £6.3m per season. The striker has been heavily linked with a move to the Premier League, with Arsenal leading the chance but the buy out clause inside his contract proved to be a stumbling block for The Gunners. Napoli's head of communications, Nicola Lombardo had claimed that the clubs star hadn't request that he wanted to leave the side - however reports suggested he would be making a move during this summer transfer window. Higuain set a new Serie A scoring record last season, after scoring 36 league goals in a single campaign.
  8. Head of Communications at Napoli, Nicola Lombardo has insisted that club star Gonzalo Higuain has not asked to leave the Serie A club this summer. Higuain, 28, is believed to have a £78m release clause written into his current contract and recent reports have claimed that Juventus are prepared to meet the striker's buy-out. English Premier League outfit, Arsenal have also been heavily linked with a move for the Argentinian international, who according to a number of reports is keen to leave Naples before the start of the new season and the Serie A side expect the forward to return to pre-season training on July 25. Lombardo said at a Q&A with Napoli supporters: "Gonzalo never said he wanted to leave." "Juve have never asked for him and Aurelio De Laurentiis does not want to sell him. We are talking about rumours that are fuelled by the press, who write story upon story. But he will be here in Dimaro to start pre-season on July 25." Higuain, who has a further two years remaining on his Napoli deal, set a new Serie A scoring record last season when he hit 36 league goals in a single campaign.
  9. Watford have announced that former Inter Milan boss Walter Mazzarri will become the new Hornets head coach. The 54-year-old Italian, who has also managed Sampdoria and Napoli, has signed a three-year contract at Vicarage Road. Mazzarri replaces Quique Sanchez Flores, who left after less than a year with the Premier League side. Watford finished 13th in a season where they also lost in the FA Cup semi-finals to Crystal Palace. Mazzarri, who won the Coppa Italia with Napoli in 2012 and took the club to second in Serie A the following season, is the Hornets' eighth manager in the past four years.
  10. Juventus have been crowned Serie A champions for a fifth season in a row after Napoli's 1-0 defeat at Roma on Monday. The Bianconeri's 2-1 victory at Fiorentina on Sunday put them on the brink of the Scudetto, and Napoli's failure to win the following day meant Juve can no longer be caught. It completes a stunning change in fortunes for the Turin side, who were in 12th place and 11 points off the top at the end of October. However, Massimiliano Allegri's side went on to win 24 of their 25 league games since, drawing the other, to earn them their 34th Italian championship.

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