Gallagher Premiership Highlights - Round 21Mar 27
Five things to watch during Serie A Matchday 21 as Inter face Milan in a pivotal San Siro clash - live on BT Sport!
In another weekend packed with intriguing fixtures, Fiorentina host Bologna in the Derby dell'Appennino, while Juventus travel to Salernitana and Lazio face a relegation-threatened Hellas Verona experiencing a mini-revival.
Serie A is the league that keeps on giving at the moment, with Sassuolo stunning reigning champions Milan 5-2 last Sunday before an absorbing Derby del Sole ended with champions-elect Napoli defeating Roma 2-1.
The attention this weekend will be very much fixed on San Siro as Inter and Milan both crave the victory that could just about keep their respective title hopes alive.
There is another derby earlier this Sunday though when Bologna travel to Stadio Artemio Franchi to take on Fiorentina, while Juventus, fresh from their shock 2-0 loss at home to Monza, face Salernitana to round off the gameweek on Tuesday evening.
Read on for all the major Matchday 21 storylines, along with information on how you can watch NINE of the games exclusively live on BT Sport.
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A San Siro six-pointer to savour
It's do or die for both Milan and Inter's title hopes as they face off at San Siro in the 235th Derby della Madonnina.
The Nerazzurri's chances of clinching the Scudetto come June are slightly better than those of their arch-rivals - they are 13 and 15 points off Napoli respectively - but even though there are 17 more league fixtures this season after this weekend, any gap to Luciano Spalletti's leaders would surely be too big to overcome were they not to take all three points here.
As is said so often, form goes out the window in a derby, but if recent form is anything to go by, Simone Inzaghi's men certainly have the edge.
Not only have they claimed 10 points from the last 15 on offer - compared to Milan's five - but they tasted victory in the previous meeting between these two sides last month in the Supercoppa Italiana - the Italian equivalent of the Community Shield - as goals from Federico Dimarco, Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez helped secure the trophy.
The Rossoneri meanwhile aren't having the title defence they would have envisaged and have endured a miserable 2023 so far, having picked up just two points in their last four Serie A games and been dumped out of the Coppa Italia by Torino, along with the Supercoppa Italiana disappointment.
And despite the easing of the injury crisis for Stefano Pioli, he is contending with the absence of five first-teamers, a list that includes right-back Sergino Dest, who missed last weekend's thrashing by Sassuolo with a muscle issue.
Add his name to the long-term absences of goalkeeper Mike Maignan, right-back Alessandro Florenzi and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as well as the recent addition of centre-back Fikayo Tomori and midfielder Ismael Bennacer to the treatment table, and it's easy to see why last season's achievements might have been difficult to match.
Theo Hernandez, Fode Ballo-Toure, Simon Kjaer, Rade Krunic and Ante Rebic have also spent their fair share of time out of action this campaign, but with all of those players back fit, Pioli can start to build back up again ahead of a crucial four-month period, which includes a Champions League last-16 tie against Tottenham.
One other reason for optimism that the former Inter boss can look to is their last Serie A meeting with their city neighbours way back in September, which ended 3-2 to Milan in a seesaw encounter that started with Marcelo Brozovic putting the "visitors" in front before a Rafael Leao brace either side of an Olivier Giroud strike from Leao's cross turned the game on its head, only for Edin Dzeko to force a grandstand finish.
Crucially for Inter, Brozovic is back for this game having missed the last month with a calf problem, while Stefan de Vrij and Nicolo Barella return from suspension.
The red half of the city will however remember 5 February 2022 extremely fondly as Olivier Giroud's quickfire double overturned a one-goal deficit in a match that proved crucial in deciding the title.
Can Milan inflict similar damage exactly a year on? Let's find out.
Old Lady's frailties highlighted again
Juventus' hopes of qualifying for Europe are in tatters.
After capitulating against Napoli and being held by Atalanta either side of receiving a brutal 15-point penalty for financial irregularities, Massimiliano Allegri then had to prepare his players for a clash with Monza that Juve were heavy favourites for.
However, like in the reverse fixture, it was Raffaele Palladino's men who came out on top as composed finishes from Patrick Ciurria and Dany Mota stunned the Allianz Stadium.
The Old Lady now sit 13th - 14 points off the top six - although the one positive for Allegri is that, with the exception of Weston McKennie's loan move to Leeds, none of his big names have departed following the bombshell points news.
One of those stars, Dusan Vlahovic, came off the bench against Monza in his first appearance for more than three months following an injury layoff, and Juve will hope desperately hope that the 23-year-old can find form quickly to fire the Italian giants up the table.
There was less good news for Paul Pogba however, who was still not ready to make his second Juve debut in Thursday's 1-0 Coppa Italia quarter-final win over Lazio due to flexor soreness, with the 29-year-old having suffered a serious knee injury last summer while with the France national team.
He remains on the sidelines with Leonardo Bonucci, while Arkadiusz Milik has joined them after being forced off against Monza just 33 minutes after entering the field as a substitute.
Juve's next league assignment is at Salernitana on Tuesday, with the Campania outfit claiming a vital 2-1 victory at Lecce last Friday to strengthen their survival bid following a seven-game winless run that yielded just two points and included an 8-2 trouncing at the hands of Atalanta, a result which initially got Davide Nicola the sack before he was staggeringly reinstated two days later.
Centre-back William Troost-Ekong, signed from Watford last month, made his debut in the win over Lecce, while fellow new arrivals Guillermo Ochoa and Juventus loanee Hans Nicolussi Cavaglia have slotted into the team seamlessly in recent weeks.
Salernitana's star man this season though has been Boulaye Dia, who has scored eight goals and assisted four in the league since joining on loan from Villarreal last August, including netting a thumping opener at Lecce. A significant contribution from the 25-year-old against Juve would write his name into club folklore.
Napoli look to stay focused in title quest
For many Serie A observers, the title is a foregone conclusion. Napoli are 13 points clear of second-placed Inter, and it would take a spectacular collapse by the Partenopei for that lead to be completely eroded.
That said, the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona faithful only need to look to last season to see how the weight of expectation can become overwhelming, as a wretched three-game spell in April saw Napoli and Luciano Spalletti's Scudetto dreams go up in smoke.
Reassuringly for the team and the fans though, the cushion at the summit is much greater this time round, and the class of 2023 contains many members not burdened by the trauma of last year's near miss.
Another example of their resolve came in the pulsating 2-1 triumph over Roma as Victor Osimhen's stunning control and volley put the hosts ahead to take his league tally to 14 goals this term before substitute Giovanni Simeone scored a stylish late winner following Stephan El Shaarawy's equaliser.
Other than swapping their back-up goalkeeper in January, Napoli's business in January was low-key, while upcoming opponents Spezia lost commanding young centre-back Jakub Kiwior to Arsenal for a club-record fee of around £20m.
The Little Eagles did also make a number of acquisitions last month, but frustratingly, both Poland midfielder Szymon Zurkowski and Latvia striker Raimonds Krollis have seen their start to life at the club disrupted by injury, while top scorer M'Bala Nzola is set to be out for a couple more weeks with a calf problem (although Roma loanee Eldor Shomurodov could be in line for his debut).
A defeat for Napoli at Stadio Alberto Picco would be a major surprise on Sunday lunchtime, but Spalletti will be confident that his charges can maintain their momentum towards top-flight glory for the first time in 33 years.
Bologna aiming for rare derby double
It's fair to say that Fiorentina have had a stranglehold on the Derby dell'Appenino since the turn of the millennium.
Of the 32 matches against Bologna contested so far in that period, La Viola have picked up 15 wins, while there have been 12 draws and just five victories for the Rossoblu.
One of those five wins however came earlier this season as Musa Barrow and Marko Arnautovic completed a rapid turnaround after Lucas Martinez Quarta had put the visitors in front.
That match was the only one of Luca Vigiani's interim reign before Thiago Motta took over, and after a tough start, the former Inter midfielder has guided his team to 19 points from their 10 games, including wins over Udinese and Spezia last month.
These results have helped Bologna to ninth in the table and although European qualification seems beyond them - they are 11 points adrift of Roma - a top-half finish would represent a fine achievement given their poor start to the campaign.
After coming seventh last season, Fiorentina have found the going tougher in 2022/23, but Vincenzo Italiano's men are now into the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia after defeating Torino on Wednesday, having secured a valuable point in coming from behind at Lazio last Sunday thanks to Nicolas Gonzalez's rasping drive.
However, none of Fiorentina's players have scored more than three goals in Serie A this term, something that has prevented them from pushing for Europe.
The recruitment of Josip Brekalo may help with those concerns after the Croatian's impressive loan spell at Torino last season, while Bologna's biggest January deal saw them bring in left-back Georgios Kyriakopoulos on loan from Sassuolo with an option to buy.
Both men could make their debuts in this fixture, but Arnautovic may not return to action having missed the last five games due to a foot issue.
Can Verona continue climb to safety?
Hellas Verona really looked to be up against it in their fight for survival heading into the World Cup break.
The team had lost 10 games on the bounce and were bottom of the league, eight points adrift of safety.
However, the appointment of Marco Zaffaroni in early December has so far borne fruit, despite the former defender having never previously managed in Serie A.
A draw at Torino was followed by a vital win over Cremonese, and despite that game preceding a 1-0 loss at Inter, the Gialloblu responded positively, seeing off Lecce before securing another vital point at Udinese, although Zaffaroni may feel frustrated that having led in both draws, his team didn't hold onto their advantages.
That upturn in form though has cut the gap to safety to five points ahead of the daunting visit of Lazio, who will be looking to bounce back from a frustrating draw against Fiorentina and being knocked out of the Coppa Italia at the quarter-final stage by Juventus on Thursday.
Maurizio Sarri has virtually no injury issues to deal with and could hand Juventus loanee Luca Pellegrini his debut as the Eagles sit third, two points below Inter, but opposite number Zaffaroni has not been so lucky, with centre-forward Thomas Henry out for the remainder of the campaign due to an ACL rupture and Ajdin Hrustic also set for an extended spell on the sidelines following ankle surgery.
The fitness of Pawel Dawidowicz, Marco Faraoni and Miguel Veloso is uncertain, but Scottish sensation Josh Doig is expected to have recovered from the flu that stopped him playing at Udinese.
Despite the issues in their squad, can Verona upset the odds on Monday and record their third consecutive home win, a feat they haven't managed since last February?
Your Serie A weekend on BT Sport
Roma vs Empoli (5.15pm on BT Sport 2)
Sassuolo vs Atalanta (7.30pm on BT Sport 1)
Spezia vs Napoli (11.30am on BT Sport 1)
Torino vs Udinese (2pm on BT Sport 1)
Fiorentina vs Bologna (5pm on BT Sport 1)
Inter vs Milan (7.45pm on BT Sport 1 and BT Sport Ultimate)
Hellas Verona vs Lazio (5.30pm on BT Sport 1)
Monza vs Sampdoria (7.30pm on BT Sport 1)
Salernitana vs Juventus (7.30pm on BT Sport 1)