We have only played one week in Serie A so far this season, but the drama is already building. This weekend have a matchup between two clubs both with managers already feeling pressure and a genuine top-of-the-table battle. Here is a preview of those two top matches in what promises to be an exciting weekend in Italy.
Inter vs Roma (Saturday at the San Siro)
Even if this were the only big matchup in Serie A this weekend, it would be enough to get the football world salivating. Despite the fact that this will be only the second league game played by either of these clubs, it could have an enormous impact on the future of both teams. The chips are down for Gian Piero Gasperini and Luis Enrique.
Both new managers have come to their respective cities with high hopes of revolutionizing their new clubs. And both have hit obstacles in the road. Enrique made the mistake of taking on the King of Rome, Francesco Totti, and he is paying the price. Supporters were always going to land on the side of their beloved talisman and no matter what he or Totti do now to patch things up, Enrique is a marked man. He must prove is worth to fans and his players. The club spent piles of cash this summer and he needs to produce results soon or we will be hearing the whispers sooner rather than later. A win, or even a draw, at the San Siro will take the pressure off for a week or so.
For Gasperini, it is hard to believe he has already been given the dreaded “vote of confidence” from his boss, normally a precursor to a pink slip. But if he fails to beat Roma at home, I would not be surprised if this is his last game in charge of the Nerrazzuri. Since taking over, he has tried to install a 3-4-3 formation which simply hasn’t worked. Inter lost the Supercoppa to Milan, gave up four goals in the opening league match at Palermo, and then suffered a frankly embarrassing defeat in the first Champions League group match to Turkish club Trabzonspor. I didn’t think it was possible for a new Inter coach to have a worse start than Rafa Benitez, but Gasperini looks headed in that direction.
Prediction: (Inter win 3-2) Putting aside all the negative results and tactical criticisms, Inter has a squad of players who are experienced trophy winners. It is time for them to show some pride a win a match. This will probably be an open and exciting game, but I expect one of Inter’s superstars to grab a late winner.
Napoli vs. AC Milan (Sunday at the Stadio San Paolo)
Okay, this match may not have the element of fun, off-the-field drama the previous match has. Instead, this is just a fantastic early season game between two teams who each could compete for the scudetto. Both team are feeling good after well-earned and important draws in their first group stage game of the Champions League.
For Milan, they opened Serie A last weekend with a 2-2 draw at home to Lazio. The reigning Italians champions were perhaps stunned a bit by Lazio’s new strike-force of Djibril Cisse and Miroslav Klose, but they battled back to earn a point. Admittedly, dropping points in the San Siro to Lazio is not a good result, but all that was forgotten about when Thiago Silva headed home a late equalizer to steal a point from Barcelona at the Camp Nou.
Napoli is on a high. They won their opening league fixture with a comfortable 3-1 road win at Cesena, and then followed that up with a gutsy and classy 1-1 draw at the City of Manchester Stadium. Walter Mazzarri’s men are playing with confidence, and they will look to attack early in front of a home stadium that can be a difficult place for opponents.
Both teams are without key players. Napoli will most likely be without Ezequiel Lavezzi, a vital piston in the team’s high-powered attacking engine. Milan will certainly be missing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho, and Massimo Ambrosini, while others are also doubtful, including Kevin Prince Boateng and Gennaro Gattuso.
Prediction: (Milan win 2-1) Yes, Milan is without key players in midfield and in the forward line, but their immense squad depth allows them to still field the likes of Pato, Cassano, Aquilani and Seedorf in place of those who may not be fit to play.
Napoli have looked very good in their past two matches, but to face the current scudetto holders in the club’s first ever post-Champions League match might just be a bridge too far. Milan is not Manchester City. They know what to expect out of Napoli and will know how to take advantage of the dreaded European Hangover. Look for the Rossoneri to weather an early storm and then hit Napoli on the counter to win a close match.