Verdict: Total goals over 2.5
Best odds: 4/6
The Serie A season is exactly at its halfway point, with every team having played 19 matches so far. Round 20 will see struggling Sampdoria go to Bergamo, to the stadium known under three different names – Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, Stadio di Bergamo in UEFA competitions, and the Gewiss Stadium for sponsorship reasons, to face Atalanta, now a regular feature in the top regions of the table.
Napoli have pulled away in the race for the Scudetto, topping the league with 50 points. As for the remaining three places leading into the Champions League next term, they’re set to be the objects of a fierce battle between AC Milan (currently in second place with 38 points), Lazio (third, 37), Inter Milan (fourth, 37), AS Roma (fifth, 37), and of course, Atalanta, sixth with a tally of 35. The competition would have been even fiercer had not 15 points been deducted from Juventus, but as it is, the Bianconeri are now 10th with just 23 points and surely out of it.
Atalanta’s last-six run when it comes to competitive matches stretches back to November 13th, when they were beaten 2-3 at home by Inter in their last match before the World Cup, and also their last competitive defeat to date. This year, they drew 2-2 away to Spezia, triumphed 1-2 in Bologna, destroyed Salernitana at home by 8-2, beat Spezia at home by 5-2 in the Coppa Italia round of 16, and drew 3-3 away to Juventus.
It was a thrilling encounter, with the scoreline tilting first one way, then the other, until it finally ended in balance. It was Ademola Lookman who struck for Atalanta less than four minutes in, and Angel Di Maria who equalized from the spot in the 25th. Arkadiusz Milik turned it around in the 34th, but Joakim Maehle made it 2-2 as soon as the second half started. It took Lookman another seven minutes to put his team ahead again, and the final score was set by Danilo in the 65th.
Coach Gian Piero Gasperini is likely to be without the services of centre-back Jose Luis Palomino, who was forced off by an injury against Juventus. Wing-back Davide Zappacosta is out too, needing some more time to recover from his thigh problem.
On the other hand, midfielder Teun Koopmeiners is set to return to the lineup after serving a one-match ban.
With Juan Musso in goal, Merih Demiral is likely to replace Palomino alongside Giorgio Scalvini and captain Rafael Toloi in the back line. Koopmeiners should team up with Marten De Roon in the middle of the park, with Hans Hateboer and Maehle covering the flanks. Rasmus Hojlund is expected to lead the line upfront, supported by Lookman and Jeremie Boga.
A tough task awaits former Lazio and Inter midfielder Dejan Stankovic, now in charge of the team at Sampdoria. He was appointed to the role in October, so the current situation certainly can’t be put entirely on his account, but there’s no escaping the fact that Sampdoria currently sit in 19th place with just nine points, a huge eight less than Sassuolo as the nearest rival occupying a spot warranting safety at the end of the season. Only Cremonese, who are yet to win a league match this term, are in a worse situation with eight points, while 18th-place Verona have 12 and perhaps some genuine hope to stay up.
But for Sampdoria, it feels like they must do their best without much hope for the final outcome of the race. The more optimistic among their supporters will point out that there’s half the season left to play, but it’s still an extremely steep mountain to climb.
Stankovic’s men began the current last-six run with a 0-2 defeat at home to Lecce back in mid-November. After the World Cup, they bagged a potentially important 1-2 win away to Sassuolo, but then they lost 0-2 at home to leaders Napoli, 1-0 away to Fiorentina in the Coppa, 1-0 away to Empoli, and 0-1 at home at hands of Udinese.
That latest blow to Sampdoria’s hopes was delivered by Kingsley Ehizibue in the 88th minute of the game, and it would’ve hurt badly.
Fullback Andrea Conti (tendon) and winger Ignacio Pusatto (knee) are injury doubts for this clash, while attacking midfielder Abdelhamid Sabiri (hamstring) and striker Manuel De Luca (knee) remain out, as does defender Omar Colley after picking up a knee problem against Udinese.
Sam Lemmers and Manolo Gabiaddini should start upfront, with 39-year-old Fabio Quagliarella on the bench despite the veteran’s fine record of 12 goals against Atalanta. Filip Djuricic is likely to play behind the strikers, with the duo of Harry Winks and Tomas Rincon deeper in the middle of the park, and Tomasso Augello and Mehdi Leris out wide. At the back, the trio of Bram Nuyticnk, Bruno Amione and Jeison Murillo are set to form the last line in front of goalkeeper Emil Audero.
Atalanta are, of course, strong favourites to win this game and everything good Sampdoria may do will be against the odds. Stankovic’s team lost the last three games by conceding one goal while failing to score any, but this should be a more open contest with Atalanta very capable of breaking through defensive lines of higher quality than Sampdoria’s.
Verdict: Total goals over 2.5
Best odds: 4/6
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