As the Serie A season returns with the start of a new year, the table is tight after an incredibly open first half of the season. There are currently eight teams in the middle of the Serie A table, all within two points of each other. With the likes of AC Milan and Lazio stuck in that middle cluster, the rest of the season is shaping up to be a test of true grit as teams attempt to make up lost ground in hopes of a respectable finish.
However, in this first weekend of 2014 all eyes will be on the top-table clash between Juventus and Roma in Turin. With the returns from injury of Pirlo, Vucinic, and Tevez, it seems like Conte will be willing to play his midfield maestro from the first minute, with Tevez probably starting and the ex-Roma player most likely on the bench. The chance for Conte to lengthen his lead at the top of the table up to eight points will be crucial, especially considering his side’s early elimination from the Champions League. A victory over Roma would manage to unload some pressure from the scudetto race, and allow Juventus to focus on claiming the Europa League.
It’s up to Roma to pry open the scudetto race by stopping the bianconeri’s streak of nine Serie A victories. Currently Roma is the only team in the league which hasn’t suffered a defeat, and while Rudi Garcia’s task of keeping that record straight at the Juventus Stadium will be difficult, the giallorossi have all of the ingredients required. Although Garcia seems undecided about whether Totti will be in the starting eleven, the speculated attacking trident with Gervinho, Destro, and Totti (with Florenzi maybe in place of the captain) might be enough to create difficulties for the sturdy Juventus defence which has only conceded one goal in their past nine matches.
Programming note: For viewers in the United States, view the Serie A TV schedule.
Undoubtedly keeping an eye on the match will be Napoli’s coach Benitez, who will be beginning his new year by hosting Sampdoria at the San Paolo. There have been various transfer rumours circling as the Spaniard initially hoped to bring in Mascherano or Javi Garcia, but the rumours have simmered down and the expected name right now is that of Gonalons. Lyon’s central midfielder could offer Benitez protection for the Napoli defence along with precise distribution on the counter.
While Rafa waits for De Laurentis to take out the check book, the return of Hamsik from injury promises a reinforcement to the midfield. The Slovakian has returned to training with the rest of the team and will be at Benitez’s disposal against Sampdoria. However it seems like Napoli might still be missing Pepe Reina for the first match of the new year, and while Sampdoria isn’t the toughest of matches, Benitez will want to have his first-choice keeper playing as soon as possible.
Currently trailing five points behind second-placed Roma, Napoli will need to take advantage of the clash between the top two in order to remain in the race for the scudetto. While many teams will be hoping the giallorossi can stop Juventus from running away with the Serie A title, Antonio Conte’s side has shown a pragmatic dominance which is yet to be rivalled in Italy. The return of the Serie A requires a decisive turn of events if one hopes for an exciting race for first place this season.
Editor’s note: For the latest Italian news, analysis and opinion, visit the Serie A page.