Week 23 of Serie A just finished and now we're right back in the thick of things, with Week 24 kicking off on Saturday. Those midweek matches shook the table a bit, although AC Milan remains firmly atop the standings, and Bari is just as firmly wedged into the bottom. Inter Milan's win over Bari brought them up to third, while Juventus's loss to Palermo sent them down to eighth. Lecce found themselves a bit of breathing space with a last-minute win over Parma and Fiorentina found their first win since December 5th, against Genoa.
Dizzy yet? Alright then, let's keep going. In Week 24 we have the Bari-Brescia six point relegation battle, the Inter-Roma fight to claim the right to say they're actually in the scudetto race, and a whole mess of matches known as "must-wins" for any club fighting for Europe.
Saturday: It's A Mess Of Black And White Stripes Out There
Udinese v Sampdoria
Every time I try to call a team thrilling or exciting, they prove me wrong by putting on the dullest display imaginable during their next match. So Udinese are boring. They're like watching a black and white wall of paint dry. There is nothing remotely interesting about Alexis Sánchez, Antonio Di Natale, Mauricio Isla, Maurizio Domizzi or any of the rest of the Zebrette. Now that Sampdoria are without Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini, they're absolutely fascinating. Really. They should win. Just because they appeared to have lost the plot against Napoli, lost to Cagliari and have no idea who might score a goal...actually, come to think of it, the team's like a fun little mystery. Maybe Samp will be the interesting club after all.
Cagliari v Juventus
Some day Juventus will win again. It may even be on Saturday. Should Alessandro Matri shake off his traveling blues and find the net against his former team, the Old Lady may finally have the hero they've been searching for. Of course, if he continues to do little more than gently roll the ball to the keeper, people may start to wonder if Juventus simply have a curse when it comes to strikers. Cagliari, meanwhile, have but one striker left, Robert Acquafresca, but their goal against Sampdoria came via Radja Nainggolan and it counted nonetheless. The rossoblu have four wins in five games and could catch Juventus with a win.
Sunday: A Mess Of Color Playing Against Another Mess Of Color
Bologna v Catania
If you're watching this early match instead of any number of other football matches in the world, well, good on you. The Elephants need a win to further ensure safety from relegation, but have yet to win away in the league. A loss for Bologna could give the team a real fright; however, Marco Di Vaio's five goals in five matches should give them a bit of comfort.
Brescia v Bari
Brescia's fine display at the Stadio Olimpico earned them a point against high-flying Roma, whereas Bari's late collapse saw them lose 3-0 to Inter Milan on Thursday. Bari have lost their last four straight league matches and despite their ability to dig their heels in early on in matches, their defenses inevitably break apart. But even if Brescia get behind their back line and find the goals, a win won't lift them to safety. It's almost certain both of these teams will be in Serie B next season.
Parma v Fiorentina
Although Fiorentina finally won midweek, the Viola still aren't sitting easy. It's rather hard to believe they were in European competition this season, considering their form at the moment. They've yet to win away from home in the league, a dubious distinction shared with Catania, with whom they also share the honor of least goals scored away. Adrian Mutu has wormed his way back into Fiorentina's good graces but is unlikely to play on Sunday, whereas Riccardo Montolivo and Valon Behrami face late fitness tests. But should Parma continue to play as cautiously as they have recently, not even absences on the Viola side will be sufficient to find a win. This could be the yawn match of the weekend.
Lecce v Palermo
Should Lecce continue their run of good form -- undefeated in their last five league matches -- they just might pull themselves permanently into safety. Unfortunately for the home side, Palermo are also experiencing a decent run, although allowing Inter to come back from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 last weekend wasn't the best example of intelligent decision making. They won against Juventus midweek, but again, not without allowing the other side to find their way back into the match. Should Lecce manage to hold back the Rosanero, it would give the stumbling sides in the Champions League positions a bit more breathing room.
Lazio v Chievo Verona
Lazio ground out a 0-0 draw with AC Milan on Tuesday. Chievo's counterattack gave them a surprising 2-0 win over Napoli. Despite Lazio's bright start to the season, the Biancocelesti have experienced an erratic run of form, beating Sampdoria and Fiorentina but losing to Bologna and Lecce. Their play of late has certainly not demonstrated that they're a club destined to stay in the Champions League spots. Chievo, meanwhile, are unbeaten through five in the league, and should Fernando Muslera have one of those days in goal, this time next week might find Lazio out of the top four.
Napoli v Cesena
Napoli were meant to have an easy win over Chievo midweek. Instead, they looked exhausted and void of any creativity. The famed trio of Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamšík should all feature on Sunday, but should any of the three stumble, Giuseppe Mascara will be waiting in the wings. It would seem as though a home win against relegation battlers Cesena would be simple enough, but due to superstitious reasons I won't be declaring it so.
Genoa v AC Milan
Wait, Milan don't have the late Sunday match? What is this world coming to? Perhaps the television arrangers have finally figured out that the Rossoneri are, in fact, quite boring when Zlatan Ibrahimović isn't hitting two posts before failing to score a goal. With Eduardo in goal for Genoa, however, it's unlikely that such maneuvers will be necessary, with the Portuguese willing to simply gift the ball to the opposition attack. Genoa have won just once in five, whereas Milan haven't lost in that many matches. This game should see the league leaders pulling even further ahead in the scudetto race.
Inter Milan v Roma
Ah, the match of the weekend, the closer. And for once it's one with the potential to shake up the Serie A standings. Inter, not content to simply qualify for the Champions League, are determined to unseat rivals Milan up top. But despite an excellent run of form, they're still seven back, so any stumbles could be suicidal. A loss for Roma, meanwhile, will probably spell the end of their scudetto dreams. With Inter's new signings Giampaolo Pazzini and Houssine Kharja already putting their names on the score sheet, as well as Wesley Sneijder signing in with a return goal against Bari, the team finally do look unstoppable, at least in attack. The Nerazzurri still look shaky at the back, with their Brazilians now resorting to using their hands in defense, but whether Roma will be able to capitalize on that weakness is uncertain. Despite having a plethora of attacking players, Roma still seemed convinced that Francesco Totti needs to be on the pitch at all times, often to their detriment. Using both Mirko Vučinić and Jérémy Menez to start would be a much more effective means of exploiting the Inter defense.