Serie A, Week 18 preview: Juventus vs. Roma starts 2014 with a bang

Paolo Bruno

Serie A's round 18 is stretched across Sunday and Monday, with league leaders Juventus' match at home to second-placed Roma undoubtedly the highlight.

The new year of Serie A football starts with a bang, with league leaders Juventus hosting second-placed Roma in Sunday's evening fixture. Save for a couple of other less spectacular Sunday kickoffs, the rest of round 18 is being played on the Epiphany public holiday on Monday.

Napoli will be hoping to return to winning ways against Sampdoria in the early match, while both Catania and Bologna will be praying for divine assistance in their relegation six-pointer at the Massimino. The start of the end of Max Allegri's career as Milan coach is at home to Atalanta, while Lazio's coaching confusion could be the highlight of what will likely be a highly unspectacular affair against Inter Milan late on Monday.

Sunday

Chievo Verona vs. Cagliari

Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi; 3 p.m. local, 9 a.m. ET

What a fixture to welcome in 2014! What a terrible fixture, that is. These sides are both hovering unspectacularly in mid-table, with Chievo down in 16th and Cagliari a comparatively comfortable 12th. The Flying Donkeys' mini resurgence under returning coach Eugenio Corini has stalled with a couple of consecutive defeats, and they'll look to grind out a result against a Cagliari side that hasn't won away from home all season. You probably have better things to do on Sunday than watch this.

Fiorentina vs. Livorno

Stadio Artemio Franchi; 6 p.m. local,12 p.m. ET

Things are looking a little more interesting in Sunday's early evening kickoff, as Fiorentina host Livorno in the first edition of this Tuscan derby since 2010. The viola have won every game they've played against Livorno since 2006, and will surely record another victory this weekend. They're currently up in fourth place and are looking to move level on points with Napoli, and face an amaranto side that has picked up just one point in its last six games. Boss Davide Nicola has been given the dreaded vote of confidence -- which probably means he won't last much longer.

Juventus vs. AS Roma

Juventus Stadium; 8:45 p.m. local, 2:45 p.m. ET

The undoubted highlight of the round sees Juventus and AS Roma -- currently the two favourites for the scudetto -- meet for the first time this season. Juve have hit some ominously excellent form to record nine league wins on the bounce, and are currently five points clear at the top of the table. However, Roma are still unbeaten in Serie A and would slash the bianconeri's lead to just a couple of points if they upset the odds to record their first away win in three.

Monday

Napoli vs. Sampdoria

Stadio San Paolo; 12:30 p.m. local, 6:30 a.m. ET

If you can haul yourself out of bed for Monday's early kickoff, you'll be rewarded with Napoli's match against Sampdoria. The league table would suggest Samp didn't stand a chance, They are, after all, 11 places below Napoli in 14th place. But, they're unbeaten in their last five matches, and are currently enjoying a surprise resurgence under the careful guidance -- or possibly terrifying tyranny -- of new boss Siniša Mihajlović. With Napoli having been less than spectacular of late, this one could have a surprise in store.

Catania vs. Bologna

Stadio Angelo Massimino; 3 p.m. local, 9 a.m. ET

It's relegation six-pointer fun at the Massimino on Monday. Catania are now five points adrift of safety at the bottom of the table, though have welcomed back playmaker Francesco Lodi this week after his little jaunt in Genoa. He could prove to be the boost they need to beat fellow strugglers Bologna, who are just a place and a point outside of the bottom three. Coach Stefano Pioli saved himself from a certain sacking with a win before the winter break, though a defeat here may mean that was all in vain.

Genoa vs. Sassuolo

Stadio Luigi Ferraris; 3 p.m. local, 9 a.m. ET

Sassuolo are also currently sitting inside the bottom three, and face a tough test away at Gian Piero Gasperini's Genoa. The grifone may be winless in five, but they've not lost at home since Napoli came to town back in September. With Sassuolo having won away from the Mapei Stadium only once all season, it's hard to see them coming away with much.

AC Milan vs. Atalanta

San Siro; 3 p.m. local, 9 a.m. ET

Max Allegri has confirmed that he'll leave AC Milan at the end of the season, and has pretty much admitted that his side's hopes of qualifying for Europe via league placing is impossible. Quite how motivated the rossoneri will be for their match at home to Atalanta, therefore, remains to be seen. They're currently only a point above their Bergamese visitors in the table, though with Stefano Colantuono's side having only won once away from the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia this season (catchy name, I know), Milan should have enough to win. Unfortunately January arrival Keisuke Honda probably won't make his debut until next week's game with Sassuolo.

Parma vs. Torino

Stadio Ennio Tardini; 3 p.m. local, 9 a.m. ET

Torino have been surprisingly excellent so far this season, and are up in seventh place ahead of their trip to Parma. They've won four of their last five matches, and visit a team which has drawn three on the bounce at the Ennio Tardini. More than just mid-table plodding was expected from Parma this season, though Roberto Donadoni's side have been disappointingly pedestrian and will look for an improvement. Whether they can start 2014 with a renewed attacking zest remains to be seen.

Udinese vs. Hellas Verona

Stadio Friuli; 3 p.m. local, 9 a.m. ET

Hellas Verona were only promoted from Serie B last season, but so impressive has their campaign been that they're already dreaming of Europe. Udinese are only a couple of places below them in the table, but a mammoth nine points separates the mastini and the zebrette. Even so, Hellas' poor away record and Udinese's traditional revival over the second half of the season means this game is far from a foregone conclusion. If anything, Udinese are slight favourites.

Lazio vs. Inter Milan

Stadio Olimpico; 6:30 p.m. local, 12:30 p.m. ET

These teams used to be scudetto challengers, once upon a time. With Inter Milan down in fifth place and Lazio 10th, you couldn't tell now. Inter managed to stop their rot with a dour 1-0 win over Milanese rivals AC before the winter break, though have won only one of their last six on the road. Lazio will look to take advantage, but given that it's still unclear who will be their coach when this one kicks off, they can be forgiven for a lack of focus. Edy Reja has taken training this week, though hasn't formally been announced as Vladimir Petković's replacement. Petković has since declared himself "proudly" still the coach of Lazio. A pre-match touchline brawl seems to be the simplest way to resolve this one.

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