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Serie A, Round 17 preview and fixtures: Before the break, a must-win Milan derby

Serie A will be lying low for the next two weeks, but before a festive holiday period, a slew of matches will be coming your way. Your musn't-miss match is, of course, the Milan Derby on Sunday evening.

Marco Luzzani

Take a break from your Christmas wrapping, snuggle up on the couch with a plate of pizzelle or maybe some pignoli, and settle down to watch the last round of Serie A in 2013. The highlights? Seeing whether Napoli can make it look easy against smaller clubs, watching Catania try to play against Roma, and, of course, taking in the spectacle that is the Milan Derby.

Enjoy, and buon natale!


Livorno vs. Udinese

Stadio Armando Picchi; 6 p.m. local / 12 noon ET

Newly-promoted Livorno may have surprised many when they stayed in the upper part of the table for the first month, but now they've regressed and are sitting about where they belong, in the relegation zone. What's more surprising is the fact that Udinese are in 15th, just three points above the drop. Usually Francesco Guidolin manages to get his squad to gel about a month before the Christmas break, but save for beating Fiorentina and drawing Napoli, this zebrette side have failed to impress.

Cagliari vs. Napoli

Stadio Is Arenas; 8:45 p.m. local / 2:45 p.m. ET

Napoli really should have no issue with midtable Cagliari, yet Napoli always seems to have issues with the very teams they're meant to easily beat. The partenopei looked fantastic against old boss Walter Mazzarri's side last time out, but between that match and their Champions' League tie with Arsenal, they may be a bit out of gas. Still, with just three points separating them and second-place Roma, Rafa Benitez must know that it's vital to get all three points in Sardinia.


Bologna vs. Genoa

Stadio Renato Della`Ara; 12:30 p.m. local / 6:30 a.m. ET

Bologna haven't won a match since October 30, meaning they've gone six games with just two points picked up. That goes a long way to explaining why the rossoblu are languishing in the relegation zone -- well, that and the fact that they just don't have a very good squad. There's not much even Stefano Pioli can do to patch up the atrocious back line. As for Genoa, they'd been soaring since bringing back Gian Piero Gasperini, but they've stuttered a bit over the past month, with three draws and a loss. In other words, this one should be barrels of fun.

AS Roma vs. Catania

Stadio Olimpico; 3 p.m. local / 9 a.m. ET

One win and five draws in their last six means that the once-flawless giallorossi are now five points off the pace. Roma may still be unbeaten, but if they are serious about making a title run, Rudi Garcia is going to need to get his defense back to tip-top shape. Of course, the hosts will have no trouble with last-placed Catania, who've scored a whopping 10 goals thus far. Having done absolutely nothing of worth to prop up their squad, the elefanti look destined for Serie B.

Atalanta vs. Juventus

Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia; 3 p.m. local / 9 a.m. ET

A clash with lower-midtable Atalanta doesn't seem like it would do much to thwart Juventus, but la dea are hard to defeat in Bergamo, with only Fiorentina having accomplished it thus far this season. And since la viola are also the only side to have beaten Juventus, it seems completely obvious that the Old Lady won't manage all three points this time.

Hellas Verona vs. Lazio

Stadio Marc`Antonio Bentegodi; 3 p.m. local / 9 a.m. ET

Vladimir Petković bought himself a bit of time with last week's victory over struggling Livorno, but the Lazio coach is still having on by the skin of his teeth. Eighth place and, more distressingly, closer to the drop than to the European positions, just isn't going to cut it for the biancocelesti. But Verona sit six points above Lazio and make visitors to the Bentegodi feel very, very unwelcome. A surprise victory could see Petković keep his job, but it's more likely he'll be spending the break packing up his Roman flat.

Sampdoria vs. Parma

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

My, my. Who would've thought that Siniša Mihajlović would really be able to save Sampdoria? Yet since coming on board, the Serb has gone undefeated...although wins against Catania and Chievo aren't exactly difficult. Doria did impress, however, with a 4-1 victory over Verona in the Coppa, and that's what they'll need to replicate against Parma. The visitors are unbeaten in their last five, but still have issues getting three points, with just one of those matches resulting in all three points. It's highly unlikely this trip to Genoa will result in a win, either.

Sassuolo vs. Fiorentina

Mapai Stadium; 3 p.m. local / 9 a.m. ET

Fiorentina may have wiggled their way into fourth, but it's been a bit of a bumpy road for them recently. La viola fell to Napoli, Udinese and Roma, but of course had no trouble beating weaker sides such as Sampdoria, Bologna and Milan. Sassuolo hardly put up a fight against Carlos Tévez and company last weekend, and are hovering just outside the relegation zone at the moment. A push from Giuseppe Rossi and the neroverdi could slide right back down.

Torino vs. Chievo Verona

Stadio Olimpico; 3 p.m. local / 9 a.m. ET

Chievo's astonishing run of four wins in all competitions was brought to a screeching halt last weekend with a loss to Sampdoria. One of the problems? The Flying Donkeys still really have no one to score the goals -- and Eugenio Corini certainly isn't the type to play a sort of calcio that constantly seeks a goal. The visitors can try to sit back and play for a point in Turin, but with Alessio Cerci around, that's just flirting with danger. Torino are unbeaten in four and, with three of those matches victories, have managed to move up into seventh. This won't be an easy one.

Inter Milan vs. AC Milan

Stadio San Siro; 8:45 p.m. local / 2:45 p.m. ET

Thank goodness we'll get to see a Milan Derby just before Italy takes a two week break to rest and recover. And this edition of the Derby della Madonnina should be tasty, as both sides are absolutely desperate for a win. Milan have just one win in seven, while Inter are winless in their last four. And while the nerazzurri remain nine points above their rivals, dare we suggest that it's the nominal visitors that have the edge here? Milan fought back to draw Roma last time out, and Massimiliano Allegri might be able to splurge on Christmas presents if he goes into the break with such an important victory. But, win, lose or draw, the ability of both defenses to fall to pieces should make for some entertaining viewing.