After the top four, there's a gap back to Inter Milan, Napoli and Roma. Those teams all need to pick up wins on Round 17 to continue their climb up the Serie A table.
For the second straight season, Serie A is a bit of a jumble, with very little separating the top seven teams in terms of form or talent. The only difference between this year and last is the change in UEFA coefficients, which has stripped Italy of a Champions League place. Inter Milan and Napoli are currently sitting on a second tier just below the top four,and they went into the winter break with some momentum. Roma are in that same category, and need to turn things around quickly.
Every single team in the top seven will be favored to win in Round 17, but Napoli and AC Milan both face challenging road tests where a slip-up and a draw would not be shocking.
Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET
Lazio are fringe Scudetto contenders once again, but they went into the break on a bad note, drawing their last two matches. They seem to go as Miroslav Klose goes, with the team struggling during the games he has missed due to injury. Fitness concerns have kept what was supposed to be a fearsome trio of Klose, Hernanes and Djibril Cisse from playing together on a regular basis. All three are expected to be in the team against Siena, though Hernanes is a slight doubt. Lazio is also without goalkeeper Federico Marchetti. Siena is dealing with some injuries of their own along the back line, and midfielder Gaetano D'Agostino, arguably their best player, is not completely fit.
Inter Milan vs. Parma
Saturday, 2:45 p.m. ET
After a terrible start to the Serie A season, Inter Milan won their last four matches before the break and now find themselves in fifth place. They will be without Diego Forlan due to injury, but Wesley Sneijder is expected to make his return to the lineup. Parma have plenty of firepower with Sebastian Giovinco, Sergio Floccari and former Inter Milan man Jonathan Biabiany, but their defense has been terribly inconsistent this season.
Sunday, 6:30 a.m. ET
This whole 'attempting to penetrate the Asian market' thing that European football leagues are doing really destroys my sleep schedule. Udinese failed to win in their last two games before the break, but they picked up two very good points in those games by drawing Lazio and Juventus to keep themselves in contact with the top of the table. Cesena are struggling in the drop zone, and it would be surprising if Udinese failed to win.
AS Roma vs. Chievo Verona
Sunday, 9:00 a.m. ET
Roma has horrific timing. Less than a week after loaning striker Marco Borriello to Juventus, Pablo Osvaldo sustained an injury in training that will keep him out for the next two months. Roma are now dangerously thin at striker, and it will be up to Francesco Totti to find some magic in his old legs and put Roma on his back once again. Chievo are the most boring team in Italy not called Cesena, so a 1-0 win for Roma (or a bad 0-0 draw) seems plausible.
Atalanta vs. AC Milan
Sunday, 9:00 p.m. ET
Atalanta have been a pleasant surprise this season, getting themselves to mid-table with a positive goal differential with a side that is neither deep or loaded with top talent. German Denis is having an unbelievable season, and has scored 12 goals. The little 5'3" playmaker Maxi Moralez is also settling nicely in Italy, and the two have struck up a great partnership. They're up against it on Sunday, though, and Milan will be favored to end Atalanta's undefeated home run. They are dealing with a number of injuries, however, and their potential lineup is a mystery.
Lecce vs. Juventus
Sunday, 9:00 a.m. ET
Juventus might not have Mirko Vucinic fully fit for their match against Lecce, but other than that it's a clean bill of health for the Old Lady. Lecce are the bottom team in Serie A with the worst goal differential. There's no reason to believe Juventus won't have a lead in the first half, and there's no reason to believe they won't build on it.
Palermo vs. Napoli
Sunday, 2:45 p.m. ET
These are the two most unpredictable teams in the league with two of the shakiest defenses among the teams in the top half. Palermo are still running a manager carousel, with Bortolo Mutti the newest man to take the position. He will inevitably be sacked after a one-goal road loss to a very good team. This game could mark the debut of Eduardo Vargas, at least as a substitute, with Ezequiel Lavezzi out for a month. Palermo will likely be without Josep Ilicic.