With just six weeks left to play in Serie A, "every match is a final." Actually, it's not -- try as they might (and they do try) clubs typically can't affect the results of other matches, whereas in an actual "final," it's you and the other team. That's it. In other words, no, these are not finals. However, one wrong step, one misplaced pass, a poor deflection, an errant thought, a bird flying overhead, a mis-cut blade of grass, and the dreams of the season could be over. In Week 33, every single match includes at least one team crossing their fingers, trying to hang on to hope for just another week. They might not be finals, but I submit that end of the season drama is even more exciting.
Saturday, April 16
1800 CET (1 PM ET)
Last week, Francesco Totti scored the winner in the very last move of the match against Udinese, allowing Roma to close the gap between the two clubs to just three points. They'll be looking over their shoulders this week, however, as Juventus finally look threatening, having won three games in a row for the first time in anyone's recent memory. But with Palermo unable to hold off even Cesena, allowing the Seahorses two goals in injury time last weekend, Roma will likely not need the power of a capitano cucchiaio to see out the win.
2045 CET (2:45 ET)
Inter take their freshly wounded egos down to Parma, who seem intent on proving that they deserve to spend next season in Serie B. This should give the nerazzurri a perfect opportunity to make amends for their midweek showing against Schalke 04, getting knocked out of the Champions League quarterfinals 7-3 on aggregate. Leonardo's side are desperate to fight their way back into the scudetto race, needing some sort of trophy to compensate for the humiliation they've felt this season. But even though they're almost certain to take all three points from Parma, there's nothing Inter can do about the leaders...
No Ibra? No matter. Sampdoria could find themselves in the relegation zone after this weekend, depending on the points collected by Cesena and Brescia. Although Samp have a decent enough defense, they simply can't seem to score, and considering they won't be able to entirely stop the likes of Pato and company from tormenting the back line, it's impossible to think that Milan won't maintain their lead at the top of the table.
Sunday, April 17
1500 CET (9 AM ET) (No early Sunday match, yay!)
Yeah ok, I lied. These two teams have nothing to play for. Carry on.
Lazio have just realized that people don't like them, and to counteract that, have decided to play some strange mental games, establishing a "task force" to watch the final six weeks and address any issues the club has with the results of other matches. Clearly they haven't got the memo that these games really aren't finals. Also, Lazio, most people don't like to be friends with paranoid personalities who have a tendency to headbutt. Just something to consider. Instead of the mind games, Lazio might want to bring a bit of offense to this match, as Catania still aren't safe from the drop and will be looking to take points wherever possible.
Wonder if Brescia will be able to convince Genoa to play nice and allow them a much-needed win? Nah, it's more likely the visitors will simply sit back and defend -- again -- and keep attempting to climb out of the relegation zone, one boring point at a time.
Lecce have no guarantee of safety, sitting in 15th place. However, Cagliari have very little incentive to do much of anything, with no way to see Europe and no chance of going on. This might be the best match for Andrea Bertolacci to be injured...unfortunately for Lecce's hopes of staying above the drop, the playmaker will be out for three weeks.
Relegation six pointer! Nothing less than three points will do! Football cliche! Seriously, though, Bari aren't going down without a fight, even though only some sort of divine intervention will save them at this point. But if the fightback against Palermo last weekend is any indication, the Seahorses aren't about to go back to Serie B. This match is either going to be an all-out goalfest or a total snoozefest. And will likely end in a draw that will help neither team.
Certainly the choice match of the Sunday cluster. Can Juventus defy its detractors, collect a fourth straight win, and legitimately fight for a Champions League position? Well, it's going to take a lot of failure on the part of other clubs, but after last week, the Old Lady might be putting its faith, oddly enough, in veteran striker Luca Toni, possibly starting him up front with Alessandro Matri after his impressive display last weekend. As for the Viola, they may have put up a bit of a fight last week against Milan, but seem to be more concerned with not losing rather than actually winning. At least the always amusing Adrian Mutu is back, although that doesn't change the fact that this one will likely end in a draw.
2045 CET (2:45 ET)
Saving the best for last this week -- or, we can hope. Udinese had been the thrillers of 2011 before fading fast in the last two weeks, the effects of a long season finally showing in their starting lineup. In fact, Antonio Di Natale was obviously in pain against Roma last week, even gesturing to be substituted. The captain was not indulged, however, possibly due to a lack of Alexis Sanchez, and now the zebrette are paying the price. Both Toto and Sanchez will be out with injury, not ideal for a trip to face a Napoli side determined to keep hold of second place. Edinson Cavani is back from suspension this week, which is really all that needs to be said.