Serie A, week 17 preview and fixtures: The battle for Europe continues

Dino Panato

The week's tastiest match occurs on Saturday evening, when Lazio host Inter. On Sunday, Fiorentina look to return to winning ways in the Tuscan Derby, while Napoli need to prove themselves against Bologna.

Everything's still tight at the top in Serie A, with six sides battling for the three Champions League positions. Juventus remain top, but a slip could allow Inter to close the gap -- if they're able to overcome Lazio at the Olimpico, of course. Roma and Fiorentina will be holding their breath after their matches, hoping Bologna end Napoli's unbeaten home run, enabling them to inch closer to that third position.

Down at the bottom, things are even more exciting. Everyone from 13th placed Sampdoria on down is within one mistake of falling into the relegation zone -- and no side in the bottom eight has it easy this week. Barring a few upsets, like Pescara beating Milan or Bologna beating Napoli, expect the bottom to stay just as it is.

Saturday, December 15

Udinese v Palermo (6 p.m. local, 12 noon ET)

Whoa, Udinese have jumped up to 8th? How did that happen? Probably because only Lazio has been able to beat them in their last nine outings, although four of those matches were draws. Palermo are even on points with Pescara and are eager to play a club not called "Inter" or "Juve".

Lazio v Inter Milan (8:45 p.m. local, 2:45 p.m. ET)

Undoubtedly the marquee match of the weekend, with the two sides separated by just four points. Inter want to close the gap on Juventus, while Lazio look to move back into the Champions League places. Alas, it's more likely to be a stagnant draw than a goal blowout.

Sunday, December 16

all matches at 3 p.m. local, 9 a.m. ET unless otherwise noted

Fiorentina v Siena (12:30 p.m. local, 6:30 a.m. ET)

JoJo's back! The Viola must be able to beat bottom-dwelling Siena with Stevan Jovetic on their side. Right?

AC Milan v Pescara

Well, this should be an easy way for Milan to keep their unbeaten run, now at four games, intact. But Pescara had a taste of victory last week and might not be quite so eager to give up the Serie A ghost just yet.

Catania v Sampdoria

Catania got back to winning ways with a 3-1 victory last round. Unfortunately, it was only against Siena. Now they've got to prove themselves against Sampdoria, who are actually better at scoring on the road than off it.

Chievo Verona v AS Roma

Chievo's having a bit of a roller coaster season. Hovering just above the relegation zone only a few short weeks ago, they're now in 12th, thanks to 7 points from three matches. But now that Roma have ironed out the kinks, winning their last four matches, defeat seems imminent.

Genoa v Torino

Will this be last call for Gigi Del Neri? Genoa are second from bottom and were beaten by Pescara last week. A loss to Torino likely means the rossoblu will be looking for yet another boss.

Juventus v Atalanta

It's easy to bury the first-placed side amidst the crowd of Sunday matches when the result is inevitable. Nothing less than a Juve win will be acceptable here.

Parma v Cagliari

Cagliari, winless in six, really need victory to keep from sliding back toward the relegation zone. But with Parma yet to lose at home this season -- a stat shared only by Napoli and Fiorentina -- an away win looks unlikely.

Napoli v Bologna (8:45 p.m. local, 2:45 p.m. ET)

Bologna have won just once on the road, while Napoli have yet to lose at the San Paolo. But with the partenopei seemingly determined to squish all talk of a scudetto challenge, Bologna just may have a chance.

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