Gallagher Premiership Highlights - Round 21Mar 27
Four things to watch during Serie A Matchday 19 as scandal-hit Juventus host Atalanta and Milan travel to Lazio
The Old Lady have been hit with a 15-point deduction for alleged financial irregularities and false accounting, pushing them down from third to 10th, 12 points off the Champions League places.
The Serie A season reaches its halfway point this weekend and there are lots of intriguing subplots set to play out.
After leaders Napoli saw off Salernitana 2-0 on Saturday, the pick of Sunday's games sees Champions League-chasing Atalanta travel to Juventus off the back of their 8-2 trouncing of Salernitana, while their opponents suffered a 5-1 capitulation at the hands of the table-toppers and are now 10th after being deducted a mammoth 15 points for alleged financial irregularities, putting them 12 points adrift of the Champions League places.
Inter will be looking to back up their 1-0 triumph against Hellas Verona with another win at home against Empoli on Monday, before reigning champions Milan head to the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday night to face Lazio, now up to fourth after the bombshell sanction imposed on Juve.
Read on for all the major Matchday 19 storylines, along with information on how you can watch SEVEN of the games exclusively live on BT Sport.
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Juve reeling after 15-point deduction
The last thing Juventus will want after being hammered 5-1 by Napoli and suffering a 15-point deduction is to face Atalanta, who scored eight against a hapless Salernitana in their last league fixture.
The Old Lady have been hit with the massive sanction for alleged financial irregularities and false accounting, which included the claim by Juve that players had forgeone four months' salary to help the club through the Covid-19 pandemic, when it is alleged by prosecutors that in fact the true figure was only a month's salary.
Several members of the former board of directors, including ex-chairman Andrea Agnelli, former vice-president Pavel Nedved, and Fabio Paratici - now managing director of football at Tottenham - have been handed significant bans from working in the Italian game, with Spurs seeking urgent clarification about whether Paratici can continue to work for them, as the ban includes the request for an extension to cover UEFA and FIFA competitions.
The points deduction, which carries echoes of the calciopoli corruption scandal that saw Juve demoted to Serie B in 2006, means that the Italian giants have now dropped from third to 10th and may be forced into a firesale of key players this month, given that they reported record losses equivalent to £220m last season. Juventus are appealing the deduction.
For now though, Massimiliano Allegri must pick his players up and find a way to subdue Atalanta, who are full of threats, not least Ademola Lookman, who is thriving in Italy and has only been outscored by Victor Osimhen in Serie A this season after bagging twice against Salernitana.
Teenager Rasmus Hojlund also proved a handful in that game, winning two spot-kicks and scoring a brilliant solo effort.
Lookman added a further brace in a 5-2 Coppa Italia triumph over Spezia in midweek, while Hojlund added to his burgeoning reputation with a thunderous effort that went in off the bar.
That was the fourth successive game in which the Dane has found the back of the net and he will be fancying his chances of making that five against a Juve side looking to bounce back from their humiliation in Naples.
Juventus made the journey south having won their last eight Serie A games without conceding a goal, but that all changed at the home of the champions-elect as the Brazilian back three of Danilo, Bremer and Alex Sandro were run ragged.
Fortunately for Allegri's side, Atalanta will be without Teun Koopmeiners through suspension and Davide Zappacosta through injury, while Ruslan Malinovskyi has been loaned out to Marseille and Zapata could be on his way to the Premier League, with West Ham and Everton reportedly both interested in the Colombian's services.
Another boost for Allegri could see the return of Dusan Vlahovic and Juan Cuadrado, and Federico Chiesa is making encouraging post-injury progress, bagging a curling winner after a slaloming dribble against Monza in the Coppa Italia last time out, his first goal since an ACL rupture last January.
However, Paul Pogba, Leonardo Bonucci and Mattia De Sciglio are still working their way back to full fitness, while Adrien Rabiot has joined them on the treatment table for a reason as yet unspecified.
If he does play, Zapata won't be taken lightly by Juve though, having scored eight times in 16 appearances against them, and his link-up play against Spezia, particularly with Lookman, demonstrated his value with his back to goal as well as facing it.
The only slight concern for Gian Piero Gasperini will be that La Dea were vulnerable on the counter-attack in the Spezia match, but if his team's attack is firing like it has recently, any defensive frailties may not matter.
Milan aim to revive Olimpico memories
Milan's sloppy start at Lecce last time out ultimately proved their undoing, as second-half efforts by Rafael Leao and Davide Calabria could only secure a point for the Rossoneri at Stadio Via del Mare.
That said, the draw means they keep their noses in front of city rivals Inter, along with the chasing pack of Atalanta, Roma and Lazio, the latter of whom play host to Stefano Pioli's men on Tuesday evening to round off this latest Serie A gameweek and are now in the fourth and final Champions League spot following Juventus' 15-point deduction.
The last time these sides met at the Stadio Olimpico proved pivotal in last season's title race, as Ciro Immobile converted Sergej Milinkovic-Savic's exquisite cross to put Lazio ahead on four minutes.
However, after Olivier Giroud had levelled the scores, Sandro Tonali completed the comeback in the 92nd minute following Zlatan Ibrahimovic's knockdown.
Unfortunately for Milan, Ibrahimovic is one of seven players still sidelined in what has been a torrid season for Pioli injury-wise, a situation that has undoubtedly impacted performances.
Lazio meanwhile head into this encounter after wins over Sassuolo and Bologna in the league and Coppa Italia respectively, Felipe Anderson getting the winner in the latter fixture, converting former Chelsea winger Pedro's lay-off from close range.
Alessio Romagnoli looks set to face the club that sold him in the summer, with a win for Maurizio Sarri's charges taking them up to third if Inter lose to Empoli (which is admittedly unlikely).
Dybala up against M'Bala in goals battle
Paulo Dybala stole the show for Roma against Fiorentina as Jose Mourinho's men are beginning to give their fans belief that they can gatecrash the top four.
Since qualifying for the Champions League for five successive seasons between 2013-14 and 2017-18, the Giallorossi have found the going tough, posting league finishes of sixth, fifth, seventh and sixth, the latter of which came under Mourinho's stewardship last term.
That said, a Europa Conference League final triumph over Feyenoord was a notable feather in the Portuguese's cap, and his team are currently in the knockout play-off round of the Europa League and will face Red Bull Salzburg over two legs next month.
Despite making five purchases last summer, including striker Andrea Belotti and midfield general Nemanja Matic, the marquee signing was undoubtedly Dybala, who left Juventus after seven years in Turin.
The Argentina attacker hasn't remained completely injury-free since his transfer to the capital, but 10 goals and two assists from 16 games in all competitions so far is a very impressive return in an inconsistent side.
His latest two strikes against Fiorentina comprised a superb fizzing volley from Tammy Abraham's perfectly cushioned knockdown, before a composed sidefoot finish from Abraham's ball across completed a rapid breakaway against the 10-man visitors.
The victory means Roma are sixth due to Juventus' 15-point deduction, nine points ahead of eighth-placed Udinese, but only behind fourth-placed city rivals Lazio on goal difference and four points adrift of Milan in second.
Upcoming opponents Spezia are in a very good run of league form though despite being 15th, having won two and drawn three of their last five league games.
Key to that streak has been M'Bala Nzola, who has scored four of the Little Eagles' six goals in that period.
The Angolan, who started his career in Portugal, is enjoying his best season as a professional to date and is currently level on nine Serie A goals this term along with Lautaro Martinez and Ademola Lookman.
This could be a stern test for Mourinho and Co at Stadio Alberto Picco, although Spezia are without Jakub Kiwior following his move to Arsenal and fellow centre-back Dimitris Nikolaou (suspended), and may be licking their wounds after a 5-2 Coppa Italia defeat to Atalanta (albeit with a much-changed starting XI).
Napoli scalp gives Cremonese hope
Cremonese are yet to taste victory in Serie A this season following promotion, but the league's bottom club took the notable scalp of Napoli in the league leaders' backyard in midweek, knocking the Partenopei out of the Coppa Italia on penalties following a 2-2 draw.
In a feisty encounter featuring nine yellow cards, the visitors took the lead on 18 minutes through Charles Pickel as David Okereke's cross narrowly evaded Daniel Ciofani before being swept home by the Swiss midfielder.
Despite being a totally different XI to their last match against Juventus, Napoli mounted a response as Juan Jesus scrambled in a header and Giovanni Simeone glanced in Alessio Zerbin's inviting cross to send the hosts in ahead at the break.
However, Cremonese, overseen by Davide Ballardini for the first time following Massimiliano Alvini's sacking, hit back, Juventus loanee Luca Zanimacchia clipping in a beautiful cross on 87 minutes for Felix Afena-Gyan, formerly of Roma, to head in brilliantly.
The Grigiorossi therefore forced extra time, but had to survive 20 minutes of it being down to 10 men as Leonardo Sernicola was given a second booking for blocking Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa's run, with Simeone subsequently hitting the post and Victor Osimhen missing a massive chance, allowing the underdogs to reach the penalty shootout and sensationally prevail as Stanislav Lobotka's miss proved decisive.
Having made six changes for the game, it will be interesting to see if Ballardini, who has previously coached Genoa four times and Cagliari and Palermo on three occasions each, names a similar starting line-up at Bologna on Monday evening.
Thiago Motta struggled at the beginning of his tenure with the Rossoblu, but a four-game winless streak has preceded a spell of four league victories and three defeats, meaning Bologna currently sit 11th.
If Ballardini were to incredibly keep Cremonese up, much like he did with Cagliari 15 years ago, it would be one of Serie A's greatest escapology acts, with the Lombardy outfit nine points adrift of safety as it stands. Can the revival start at Stadio Renato Dall'Ara?
Your Serie A weekend on BT Sport
Sampdoria vs Udinese (11.30am on BT Sport 1)
Monza vs Sassuolo (2pm on BT Sport 1)
Spezia vs Roma (5pm on BT Sport 1)
Juventus vs Atalanta (7.45pm on BT Sport 1)
Bologna vs Cremonese (5.30pm on BT Sport 1)
Inter vs Empoli (7.30pm on BT Sport 1)