Serie A, Round 26 preview: Certain sides desperately seeking upsets

Claudio Villa

In order to disturb standings that seem carved in stone, bottom sides are going to need to overthrow some tough opposition, while those challenging for Europe will need to be practically perfect.

A quick glance at the Serie A table and you might think you've got all you need to know. Juventus have a nine point lead and are set to win their third straight scudetto, Roma and Napoli will join them in the Champions League, and Sassuolo, Catania and Livorno will be relegated.

But Roma have a game in hand, making that gap look much more surmountable. Fiorentina could capitalize on Napoli's struggles and slip into third - provided they overcome their own weaknesses, of course. And Bologna, Chievo and Cagliari could very well be the three sides dropping down to Serie B.

Of course, that all depends on if some sides have surprises in store for Round 26.

Saturday, March 1

AS Roma vs. Inter Milan

8:45 p.m. local, 2:45 p.m. ET at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome
Can Inter upset Roma in the capital? Well, the nerazzurri are unbeaten in three, representing something of a turnaround for Walter Mazzarri's side. But they're still barely clinging to fifth and Mazzarri's not exactly setting the calcio world alight. Expect him to play for a point against Roma, hoping his defense is able to hold steady against a giallorossi attack that might not be as potent as it was at the start of the season, but still can certainly surprise Inter's frail back line.

Sunday, March 2

Cagliari vs. Udinese

12:30 p.m. local, 6:30 a.m. ET at the Sant'Elia in Cagliari
Who doesn't want to tune in early on Sunday for all the drama involved in seeing if Cagliari can go even on points with Udinese in 12th? Sounds like a thriller.

Atalanta vs. Chievo Verona

3 p.m. local, 9 a.m. ET at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia in Bergamo
Eight points clear of the relegation zone, Atalanta seem relatively safe, but one point from three matches - and being outscored 7-1 - can't have Stefano Colantuono feeling all that secure. More secure than Chievo, however, although that's not difficult. The Flying Donkeys are just a point above the drop and could really use all three points, building on last week's win against Catania. But only three sides have come to Bergamo and left with a win this season...

Genoa vs. Catania

3 p.m. local, 9 a.m. ET at the Marassi in Genoa
Catania's four-match unbeaten run, which finally lifted them from dead last, came to a halt against Chievo last weekend, and it'll be rather surprising if they manage to pick up points this time around. The elefanti have secured just two points on the road, and it's not all that easy for the best of sides to grab a result at the Marassi.

Hellas Verona vs. Bologna

3 p.m. local, 9 a.m. ET at the Bentegodi in Verona
Yet another difficult road trip for a side in danger of making the drop. Playing at Verona is no picnic in the best of times, but for a side just hoping for survival, it might induce terror sweats. Davide Ballardini will surely have the visitors playing for a point, a weakness Verona loves to exploit. Bologna's best hope might be that none of the sides below look likely to overtake them this weekend.

Sassuolo vs. Parma

3 p.m. local, 9 a.m. ET at the Mapei Stadium in  Reggio Emilia
It's been a month since Alberto Malesani took over from Eusebio Di Francesco, and, despite an influx of new players, Sassuolo still haven't managed to capture even a point. In fact, the last points grabbed by the neroverdi came on January 12, in the shock 4-3 win over Milan. A win over Parma would also come as a shock, seeing as the visitors are currently on a 13-game unbeaten run.

Torino vs. Sampdoria

3 p.m. local, 9 a.m. ET at the Stadio Olimpico in Turin
Torino have an outside chance of sneaking into Europe next season, but they might have to play perfectly to leapfrog Parma and push aside Verona. The granata will be itching to prove themselves after yet another controversial loss to city rivals Juventus next week, and with Sampdoria losing their last two, it looks like it might be an easy win for the hosts.

Livorno vs. Napoli

6:30 p.m. local, 12:30 p.m. ET at the Stadio Armando Picchi in Livorno
Like Genoa last week, Livorno might look to take advantage of Napoli's tiredness, after the partenopei dug deep on Thursday, beating Swansea to advance in the Europa League. The hosts will be hoping Gonzalo Higuaín, who played the full 90, will be rested, giving Livorno at least a small chance of grabbing points and pulling themselves out of the bottom three.

AC Milan vs. Juventus

8:45 p.m. local, 2:45 p.m. ET at the San Siro in Milan
Could this match actually be interesting? Milan have won two in a row for only the second time all season, both times under the leadership of Clarence Seedorf. There's obviously still plenty of weaknesses for Juventus to exploit, but with Milan's back line actually managing to keep two clean sheets in a row, it may be a more challenging match than the bianconeri originally expected.

Fiorentina vs. Lazio

8:45 p.m. local, 2:45 p.m. ET at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence
Fiorentina are still hopeful of Europa League glory - despite having to face Juventus three times in two weeks - but their hopes of a Champions League finish in Serie A are fading away. Injuries have plagued Vincenzo Montella's squad, and the loss of Borja Valero to a four-match ban won't help matters. With just one win in their last five outings, will the viola be able to grab all three points against Lazio? Or will Edy Reja play it safe once more, sitting back, desiring just a point and making what should be a fun match an ultra-drab affair?

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