Welcome back for the first Top 5 feature of the new year!
While La Liga has been put on hold for a week due to a revamped Super Cup, of which the final makes our selection, there is plenty of high-quality football to get stuck into over the next couple of days.
It’s Serie A where the best of the action will be played this weekend, with three of the selections involving sides from the Italian top flight. The other is a Saturday evening clash between two of the Premier League’s biggest hitters.
All kick offs are in Eastern time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games.
Lazio vs. Napoli
Saturday, January 11, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN+
The first of the triple-header of Serie A matches this weekend will be at the Olimpico, as Lazio will be out to continue their winning streak against a toiling Napoli side.
The hosts have won a remarkable nine games in succession now, propelling themselves up to third place in the Italian top flight in the process. At this juncture, they should be considered title challengers, as they trail joint leaders Inter and Juventus by three points, with a game in hand to play.
The bedrock for their excellent displays have been the attacking talents of Ciro Immobile and Luis Alberto. The former has netted a remarkable 19 Serie A goals already this term, while the midfielder has laid on 11 assists.
Napoli’s confidence is on the floor by contrast. Their issues were there for all to see again on Monday, when Inter comprehensively beat them 3-1 at the San Paolo. If they defend to the same standard, then this razor-sharp Lazio side will create some big problems.
Liverpool show no signs of slowing down at the top of the Premier League, although this trip to Tottenham starts a spell of matches where they may slip up.
The Reds face Spurs, Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers in their next three games, as they seek to strengthen their grip on the top-flight crown. If they can come through those matches with their lead intact, then surely no side can stop them on their way to the title.
Tottenham have not been in the best of form themselves lately, with Jose Mourinho beginning to get agitated in the Spurs hotseat. They were held to a 1-1 draw by Middlesbrough in the FA Cup last time out, and were also beaten by Southampton on New Year’s Day.
With 13 points separating them and their nearest challengers, it’s impossible to say the pressure is *really* on Liverpool to win these games anymore. As such, you suspect Tottenham will find it extremely difficult to tame their rivals this weekend.
Inter Milan vs. Atalanta
Saturday, January 11, 2:45 p.m. ET, ESPN+
The last time Atalanta took on a Milan-based outfit, they were 5-0 winners. But you suspect Serie A joint-leaders Inter will provide a much stiffer test than their city rivals on Saturday night.
At this point, it’s clear Inter are serious title contenders under Antonio Conte and appear primed to push Juventus all the way in 2019-20. On Monday, they produced a clinical display on the road at Napoli, the kind of effort that suggests they are capable of going all the way in pursuit of domestic success.
Up top, they have huge threats in the form of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, who both bring unique attributes to the attacking third. They should find space up against an Atalanta defence that’s been ropey at times this season.
Atalanta are unlikely to take a backward step from their own attacking instincts though, as they regularly play some of the most free-flowing football in the division and have scored comfortably more than any other team in the league this season.
Although the merits of a mid-season Super Cup for Spanish teams in Saudi Arabia has been fiercely debated, the football has been fascinating so far.
You sense the final will be too, as the two Madrid giants lock horns. Atletico qualified on Thursday night after a thrilling 3-2 win over Barcelona, while Real Madrid were emphatic 3-1 winners over Valencia in the other semi, producing one of their best all-round displays of the campaign.
Zinedine Zidane appears to be getting a tune out of Los Blancos at the perfect time, as they appear ready to challenge for La Liga and Champions League glory in 2020. He will be hoping a success for Real will give them a taste for silverware in the months to come.
Of course, there’ll also be an extra determination because it’s Atletico across from them. Diego Simeone’s team haven’t been at their best this season, although they showed fantastic resilience to fight back late on against Barcelona; goals from Alvaro Morata and Angel Correa in the last 10 minutes turned the semi-final on its head.
Roma vs. Juventus
Sunday, January 12, 2:45 p.m. ET, ESPN+
Wrapping up the weekend will be the Serie A champions Juventus, as they face Roma in what tends to be one of their most difficult matches of any campaign.
Before the winter break, Roma had gradually started to move up the table and they go into Week 19 of the season in the top four. That’s despite a disappointing 2-0 home defeat to Torino last week in their first outing of the new year.
Ominously for the rest of the league, Juventus showed no signs of rustiness when they took to the field on Monday. Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first Serie A hat-trick for the club in a 4-1 win, with the Portuguese seemingly now fully over the injury issues that limited his influence earlier on in the campaign.
If Inter win on Saturday, the pressure will be ramped up on Juventus for this encounter. Meanwhile, a victory for Roma would see them potentially edge back into outside contention for the Scudetto.