MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) analyses the odds ahead of Monday night’s Serie A action from Italy.
Empoli v Crotone | Monday 19.45 | BT Sport 1
Crotone won promotion to Italy’s top-flight for the first time in their history but a tough off-season has followed and a pointless return from their opening two games has left many fans fearing immediate demotion.
Monday night’s visitors lost just six fixtures on their way to being pipped to the Serie B title by a solitary point but head coach Ivan Juric was snared by Genoa over the summer with Davide Nicola handed the reigns.
Nicola, who’s past Serie A experience extends to 23 games in charge of Livorno a few years ago when they lost 15 of the last 18 of those matches on their way to relegation, saw 2015/16’s top goalscorer Ante Budimir join Sampdoria with second highest scorer Federico Rizzi, who also had their most assists, moving on as well as two of their solid back-four.
Diego Falcinelli and Marcello Trotta have been recruited from Sassuolo to bolster the attacking options with the former being given a starting role in Empoli but it’s difficult to see where the goals are likely to come from.
Only Palermo fired in fewer shots across the opening two rounds of Serie A action and with Crotone unable to play at their own Stadio Enzo Scida during upgrading renovation works, a third successive away trip will be tough on the newcomers.
Both sides are still waiting for their first points of the season and Empoli do possess more quality and experience but after their own tumultuous off-season, it’s hard to find the faith to support the Azzurri at the pre-match prices.
The Tuscans are usually reliable at home and they should find the visitors less demanding than recent perpetrator’s Udinese and Sampdoria.
The hosts have won three of their last five when welcoming promoted clubs – each victory by at least a two-goal margin – whilst Massimo Maccarone returns from suspension.
However, last season’s boss Marco Giampaolo joined Sampdoria in the summer and his assistant Giovanni Martusciello has stepped into shoes. And following impressive 15th and 10th-placed finishes since promotion back to the top-flight, Empoli’s squad has been decimated by sales.
Centre-back Lorenzo Tonelli and left-back Mario Rui were snapped up and Piotr Zielinski and Leandro Paredes have also left leaving gaping holes in both the defensive and creative roles. A mixture of youngsters and veterans have been brought in but it’s easy to see why the Azzurri were installed as third favourites for relegation.
Empoli managed only 40 goals in 2015/16 – the fewest of anyone outside the bottom-seven – and with only a W7-D6-L6 record on home soil, there’s just not enough juice to support the hosts here.
So instead, venture into the goals market with Under 2.5 Goals standing out at 39/40 (Marathon). Monday night’s match is unlikely to be an end-to-end thriller with the two clubs managing just a solitary strike between them in 360 minutes of Serie A football this season.
What’s more, Empoli have seen just two of their last 13 league fixtures feature three goals or more with 22/38 (58%) last term proving profitable in the Under 2.5 Goals market and 13/38 (34%) failing to produce two or more goals.
Crotone travel without Nigerian centre-forward Simy here and were an ‘unders’ outfit in the second-tier last season – 24/42 (57%) games seeing no more than two goals with 13/42 (31%) featuring Under 1.5 Goals winners as the visitors recorded 21 clean sheets in total, concluding the campaign with Serie B’s best defensive record.
Empoli v Crotone – Under 2.5 Goals (39/40 Marathon)