Serie A heads into its final week before it takes a winter break, thanks to a recently averted strike crisis. As a result, fans will get to enjoy plenty of Italian football, but there is a noticeable absence in this week's fixture list. Inter Milan is away on alternative business, participating in the Club World Cup.
Five of this week's fixtures will be covered live here on SBNation Soccer, for which you can thank both myself and the lovely miss Kirsten Schlewitz. She will do her best to stay objective while undoubtedly screaming at her computer monitor every time Morgan De Sanctis flaps around like a disoriented fish.
The first match that we will be covering is the highly anticipated tie between traditional powers A.C. Milan and AS Roma. Milan currently top Serie A despite all of their injuries while Roma sit in sixth place after an extremely rocky start to their campaign. Injuries to Pippo Inzaghi and Pato have forced Massimiliano Allegri into playing Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho together up top, and the pairing have been incredibly effective. Roma have had a little more trouble scoring, with Mirko Vucinic and Francesco Totti producing less than they have in previous seasons while Adriano has been a disaster. However, Jeremy Menez and former Milan player Marco Borriello have performed well. The biggest difference between the two sides early on might be their defensive record, with Milan being rock solid and Roma's back line leaking like a sieve. Based on their performances so far this season, it's very hard to believe that Roma will be able to get a result at the San Siro, but Milan might be hurt by their current lack of depth if either Robinho or Ibrahimovic proves to be ineffective.
Bright and early on Sunday morning in the United States, viewers can watch Lazio and Udinese duke it out as part of the new lunchtime kickoff that Serie A is experimenting with this season. Lazio have been one of Europe's pleasant surprises, shooting into not only European contention, but title contention after spending last season in a relegation race, despite only making a few intelligent value signings. Hernanes has been the signing of the season in Serie A and his brilliance led Lazio to a 2-1 victory over Inter Milan two weeks ago. Udinese has recovered from a bad start to climb to ninth place, but still have to be considered slightly disappointing. They rely too much on Antonio Di Natale, who has 10 goals, but they're very difficult to play against when he is on his game. More has to be expected of Göhkan Inler, Kwadwo Asamoah, Alexis Sanchez, Floro Flores, and the entire defense. Udinese arguably have as much raw talent as Lazio, Napoli, or Palermo, if not more, but they have not put it to good use over the last season and a half. Wins over Napoli and Fiorentina were a great start to fulfilling their potential, and maybe a good showing on the road against Lazio will be a sign that they have finally arrived.
The Chievo Verona-Juventus and Napoli-Lecce matches will be highlighted as part of the many games set for a 9 am ET kickoff on Sunday. Juventus snatched all three points in dramatic fashion last week with Milos Krasic going on one of his signature long runs in stoppage time, creating a last second winner for the Old Lady. Napoli are also in solid form, having won all three of their last three matches in all competitions, and winning all three of those matches by a score of 1-0. Both Juventus and Napoli are favorites, but Chievo has put in some very respectable performances at home and could make life difficult for Juve.
An interesting Derby della Lanterna rounds out this weekend's action in Serie A with both Sampdoria and Genoa needing all of the good results they can get to stay in contention for European places. Last season, the two teams split the derbies with the home sides winning both games. The hosts Sampdoria have been in the news for all of the wrong reasons recently with Antonio Cassano having a contract dispute with the club and rumors claiming that Juventus will stop at nothing to sign Giampaolo Pazzini. Despite the drama, they sit in eighth place. Genoa spent a lot of money this offseason, but their big acquisitions have yet to pay dividends. Luca Toni and Miguel Veloso have been very up and down, both turning in some good performances and some serious stinkers. Rafinha joined from Schalke with a lot of hype, but has yet to re-produce the form that he had when he helped guide Schalke to a UEFA Champions League quarterfinal appearance and a second place finish in the Bundesliga. If Genoa's pieces all get clicking, they're a serious threat for a European place. Sampdoria is in the same place if they can clear up the drama. If either team gets all three points on Sunday, it could go a long way towards deciding their fate at the end of the season.