Gallagher Premiership Highlights - Round 21Mar 27
Five things to watch during Serie A Matchday 24 as Milan host fellow top-four contenders Atalanta - live on BT Sport!
The battle for Champions League football hots up, while Juventus face Torino in the Derby della Mole and Hellas Verona have the opportunity to climb out of the relegation as they play Fiorentina and Spezia travel to Udinese.
We have all 10 Serie A Matchday 24 games exclusively live on BT Sport over the coming days!
Can Napoli increase their sizeable lead at the summit and avenge memories of heartbreak at Empoli?
Who will come out on top in the battle of the top-four contenders as Milan host Atalanta?
And will Juventus push themselves closer to the European qualification places by emerging victorious in the Derby della Mole against Torino?
Read on for the previews to these three matches and more, and find out how to watch each game at the bottom of this page.
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Top-four contenders clash at San Siro
Milan and Atalanta experienced contrasting fortunes last term as the Rossoneri ended their 11-year wait for the Scudetto, while their less illustrious Lombardy neighbours, who have consistently punched above their weight under Gian Piero Gasperini, slipped to eighth.
For this reason, it is Milan who will be the more disappointed of the two with how this season has gone, despite sitting fourth, three points above Sunday evening's upcoming opponents.
The last couple of weeks have however seen signs of improvement for Stefano Pioli's men, who secured successive 1-0 wins over Torino, Tottenham and Monza following a period of no victories in seven across all competitions.
That latest triumph at Stadio Brianteo came courtesy of Junior Messias' neat turn and snapshot that thrust Milan back into the top four.
It was the Brazilian's first goal for more than three months, in a game that also marked Sergino Dest's return to the bench, although, like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he didn't actually get out on the pitch.
The imminent return of the likes of Dest and Ibrahimovic, along with Fikayo Tomori and Ismael Bennacer, will be music to the ears of Pioli, who has been forced to contend with a crippling injury list for much of the campaign, even if those issues don't fully account for the team's underwhelming displays.
Unlike Milan, Atalanta started 2023 in formidable fashion, scoring 20 goals in five games, which included an 8-2 thumping of Salernitana.
However, recent weeks have seen a drop-off in form as the Bergamo outfit were eliminated from the Coppa Italia before suffering defeats against bottom-half sides Sassuolo and Lecce (which came either side of an admittedly impressive victory at Lazio).
Gasperini is now suffering what Pioli went through earlier in the campaign as Hans Hateboer (out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL) and Duvan Zapata (absent for the next three weeks due to a thigh injury) join Mario Pasalic, who has an ankle problem, on the sidelines.
Despite those blows, the returns of teenage defender Giorgio Scalvini and former Middlesbrough midfielder Marten de Roon will be a big boost to Gasperini, whose side lacked defensive steel against Lecce, especially for the visitors’ second goal last weekend as Alexis Blin found himself unmarked to head home.
The continually impressive Rasmus Hojlund is another plus point, after he charged down a clearance in Atalanta’s last outing to grab a consolation for what was his sixth goal in what has been a breakthrough season.
The two sides last met in August in a 1-1 draw that saw Ruslan Malinovskyi and Bennacer get on the scoresheet. With Malinovskyi now on loan at Marseille and the Algeria international working his way back to fitness, can anyone step up and be the hero in their absence?
Lukaku back in form after injury blow
Since returning to Inter on loan following a forgettable year at Chelsea, Romelu Lukaku's season has been very stop-start.
Thigh and knee problems have punctuated the 29-year-old's campaign, with his confidence not helped by a frustrating World Cup that included missing several presentable opportunities against Croatia as Belgium crashed out at the group stage.
However, after failing to register a goal involvement in his first seven outings of 2023, the striker is beginning to find his feet, burying his retaken penalty against Udinese after seeing his original effort saved by Marco Silvestri, although the ex-Leeds goalkeeper was off his line.
Lukaku followed up that effort with the winner against Porto in the first leg of their last-16 tie, and Simone Inzaghi can now relax a bit knowing that he has someone other than Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez to provide the ammunition up front.
The encouraging thing for Lukaku is that he is influencing games despite not yet having played a 90-minute match since his latest spell on the sidelines.
The Sunday lunchtime trip to Bologna gives him the chance to score on the road for the first time since the opening weekend of the season against Lecce, but the Rossoblu are enjoying a renaissance under former Nerazzurri midfielder Thiago Motta.
The Emilia-Romagna outfit find themselves eighth, behind Juventus on goal difference, and are in a bit of a purple patch, having picked up 16 points from the last 21 on offer.
Their latest win came last time out at 19th-placed Sampdoria as Bruno Soriano's searing drive and Riccardo Orsolini's 90th-minute winner got the job done, although the outcome could have been different had Abdelhamid Sabiri converted his second penalty midway through the second half, just minutes after netting from 12 yards.
Motta and his men will have unhappy memories of the 6-1 drubbing they suffered in the reverse fixture against Inter back in November, but they go into this encounter at Stadio Renato Dall’ara full of confidence and will have top scorer Marko Arnautovic back from a yellow-card suspension, while centre-backs Kevin Bonifazi and Adama Soumaoro and forwards Joshua Zirkzee and Nicola Sansone could well return from injury.
Napoli return to site of awful collapse
Napoli fans must be in dreamland.
Their team currently sit 15 points clear at the top of Serie A and have one foot in the quarter-finals of the Champions League after beating 10-man Eintracht Frankfurt 2-0 in the first leg of their last-16 clash.
Despite Luciano Spalletti's men losing their nerve in last season's title race during three fateful games in April, their lead at the summit this time round is far more handsome and it would take one of world football's biggest-ever turnarounds to deprive the Partenopei of their first Scudetto in 33 years.
That said, bad memories for some players may be lingering from that capitulation 10 months ago as Napoli travel to Stadio Carlo Castellani to face Empoli.
It was in that stadium where the visitors led 2-0 heading into the 80th minute, only to concede three goals in the remainder of the contest.
That proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Napoli's title chances as Milan went on to pip Inter to the crown, but Spalletti will be confident that his side can banish those horrible memories with a victory in Tuscany, not least because the squad was significantly revamped in the summer and has no injury issues other than Giacomo Raspadori, who could be out until the end of March with a thigh strain.
After a terrific start to 2023 that included a comeback draw at Lazio and victories over Sampdoria and Inter, Empoli have slightly gone off the boil, failing to win any of their last four games.
Paolo Zanetti has Fabiano Parisi back after he served a one-match ban for a red card picked up against Spezia, although the man who scored the opener last time out at Fiorentina, Nicolo Cambiaghi, won't feature after going off at Stadio Artemio Franchi with a thigh problem.
The Azzurri have drawn more matches than any other team in Serie A this term (10), but Zanetti would absolutely take a point against the finest that Italian football has to offer.
Juve mounting audacious Europe push
Juventus' bombshell 15-point deduction plunged them into mid-table and looked to have ended hopes of any kind of European qualification.
However, following a frustrating draw at home to Atalanta and a shock defeat to Monza, the Old Lady have experienced a revival, beating Salernitana, Fiorentina and Spezia without conceding a goal, as well as reaching the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia following victory over Lazio.
Aside from drawing 1-1 at home to Nantes in the first leg of their Europa League knockout play-off encounter, the last few weeks couldn't have gone much better on the pitch for Massimiliano Allegri, whose side are now only nine points off sixth-placed and faltering Atalanta and will be flying after Angel Di Maria's hat-trick at the Stade de la Beaujoire, which included a sensational curling opener.
A Derby della Mole clash with Torino provides Juve with another chance to cut that gap further (as long as Atalanta lose at Milan).
It is a fixture in which the Bianconeri are unbeaten in the past 17 meetings, winning 13 of those.
The last head-to-head between the Turin neighbours was settled by Dusan Vlahovic's clinical 74th-minute winner at Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino.
With Arkadiusz Milik potentially out until the start of April due to a thigh problem and Federico Chiesa having no luck with injuries, Vlahovic's return to fitness and form has been invaluable for Allegri, the Serbian scoring twice in the win at Salernitana, as well as netting the opener against Nantes last Thursday.
Paul Pogba remains out with the long-term knee injury he suffered in the summer, but Bremer is set to return from a one-match yellow-cards ban against the club he left last summer.
Torino’s season has been defined by inconsistency.
Ivan Juric's men seemed well placed to take advantage of Juve's points deduction, but one win in four means they now sit ninth, having been overtaken by their upcoming opponents, along with Bologna.
Monday night's 2-2 draw against rock-bottom Cremonese was immensely disappointing, even though Wilfried Singo's late equaliser prevented the visitors from finally sealing their first Serie A win of the season.
Torino's defending in that match left a lot to be desired as Frank Tsadjout and Emanuele Valerdi were allowed room to finish superbly, and similarly charitable play on Tuesday evening will be feasted on by Vlahovic and Co.
The visitors will be without midfielder Samuele Ricci and former Newcastle man Valentino Lazaro, while West Ham loanee Nikola Vlasic faces a race against time to be fit after missing the Cremonese match with a muscle injury.
Verona look to drag Fiorentina into Hell
Hellas Verona's four-match unbeaten run came to an end on Sunday as Roma emerged 1-0 victors at Stadio Olimpico.
However, Marco Zaffaroni's charges are now within two points of 17th-placed Spezia and safety, having looked dead and buried at the start of 2023.
Should the Gialloblu secure all three points against Fiorentina, they could find themselves above that dotted line and would also drag Vincenzo Italiano's men right into the relegation conversation.
It took a late header from Arthur Cabral to rescue a point against Tuscan rivals Empoli at the weekend and La Viola head to Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi having not tasted victory in Serie A since 7 January.
They will no doubt be thankful that the fixture is on a Monday after beating Braga 3-2 in the Europa Conference League on Thursday evening at Stadio Artemio Franchi thanks to the in-form Cabral's late winner (although the aggregate victory was a handsome 7-2).
Sassuolo and Salernitana are the other sides looking nervously over their shoulder at Verona, who are still missing defensive midfielder Miguel Veloso and forward Milan Djuric, along with Australia international Ajdin Hrustic and striker Thomas Henry, with the latter looking set to be out for the rest of the campaign after tearing the ACL in his right knee.
Relegation to Serie B for the first time in 21 years would be unthinkable for Fiorentina, who are into the Coppa Italia semi-finals and the Europa Conference League round of 16
The next few weeks could also be a season-defining period for Verona, who face Spezia, Monza and Sampdoria in that time.
Your Serie A weekend on BT Sport
Empoli vs Napoli (5.15pm on BT Sport 2)
Lecce vs Sassuolo (7.30pm on BT Sport 2)
Bologna vs Inter (11.30am on BT Sport 2)
Salernitana vs Monza (2pm on BT Sport 2)
Udinese vs Spezia (5pm on BT Sport 2)
Milan vs Atalanta (7.45pm on BT Sport 2 and BT Sport Ultimate)
Hellas Verona vs Fiorentina (5.30pm on BT Sport 2)
Lazio vs Sampdoria (7.30pm on BT Sport 2)
Cremonese vs Roma (5.30pm on BT Sport 1)