MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) has analysed Serie A’s opening weekend of fixtures and brings us his best bets.
Juventus v Fiorentina | 20th August 2016 | BT Sport 2
Last season was supposed to be the year that Serie A fought back at Juventus. Champions for four consecutive campaigns, the Old Lady had suffered a number of high-profile exits in the off-season.
The Bianconeri took plenty of time to adjust. In fact, by the time Halloween rolled around Juve were looking dead and buried. The Turin club had earned just 12 points from a possible 30 (W3-D3-L4) – their worst start for 46 years.
But what happened in the following six months was quite remarkable. Juventus claimed the title by nine points, reeling off 25 wins in 26 matches with Gigi Buffon breaking a new league record for minutes (974) without conceding a goal along the way.
The Old Lady leaked just 20 goals all season – only six at the Juventus Stadium – with 20 of their 29 Serie A triumphs arriving alongside a clean sheet. In front of their home supporters, 13 of their 19 outings saw the hosts win ‘to nil’.
Although Paul Pogba’s departed for an astronomical fee, the club have pinched their rivals’ best players with the mercurial Miralem Pjanic and Serie A’s new single-season scoring record-breaker Gonzalo Higuain arriving with Mehdi Benatia, Dani Alves and Marko Pjaca.
Alvaro Morata and Juan Cuadrado have also left Turin this summer but there’s a sense this squad is stronger than 12 months ago and the Bianconeri looked perfectly poised for a sixth successive Scudetto as well as a serious assault on European competition.
Juve have lost just three of their last 31 meetings with Fiorentina, including a W9-D6-L1 in their most recent 16 showdowns. That vastly superior head-to-head record should stand Max Allegri’s men in good stead for an opening day victory on Saturday evening.
The defending champions have W78-D14-L3 at the Juventus Stadium since 2011/12 – that’s an 82% win ratio – 49 (52%) of those triumphs were achieved by a margin of two goals or more. Those trends make the 16/19 (BetVictor) available on the -1 Asian Handicap appear most appealing.
It’s a little surprising to see Paulo Sousa still in the Fiorentina hot-seat after cracks began to appear between owners and head coach following an approach from Zenit with Sousa accusing the La Viola leaders of a lack of ambition having steered the club into title contention at the turn of 2016.
The visitors won just twice in their final 12 games to finish in fifth having managed fourth-place in the proceeding three seasons. Nevertheless, with Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez back in Florence and the majority of their best players still in position, there’s hope Fiorentina can go again.
But the guests will need a vast improvement in their record against Serie A’s leading lights. La Viola W2-D1-L5 when taking on the top-four last term, shipping 16 goals in the process. And on the road, the visitors have suffered eight defeats in their last nine at top-six sides, including six by two or more goals.
Fiorentina did score in 14 of their 19 away days in 2015/16 and there’s no doubt they boast an excellent offensive squad but picking their way through the Juventus lock looks a tall order on Saturday night and backing the Old Lady to breeze to victory makes most appeal.
Taking the -1 Asian Handicap option sees our stake returned if the hosts only manage a one-goal win.
Chievo v Inter Milan | Sunday 19.45
Frank de Boer’s not had too much time to get his feet under the table at Inter Milan but Roberto Mancini’s replacement has been given an awkward task on the opening weekend of Serie A action.
The Nerazzurri bring the curtain down on 2016/17 with a tricky trip to Chievo, one of Italy’s solid yet unspectacular mid-table outfit that knows how to grind out results, especially at their Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi base.
Rolando Maran remains in charge at the Flying Donkeys having led the side to a first top-half finish since 2005/06 and with only four league losses as hosts (W7-D8-L4), the Verona club look underrated in the pre-match markets considering the circumstances.
Inter rock up with a number of absences in defence. De Boer’s without the injured Cristian Ansaldi and Marco Andreolli whilst Jeison Murillo is carrying over a suspension and therefore unavailable.
The visitors went W7-D5-L7 on their travels last term but fired blanks in five of their last nine games as guests and only managed four shutouts in their final 22 fixtures of 2015/16.
Ever Banega and Antonio Candreva are set for their debuts playing in behind Mauro Icardi in an exciting attacking line-up but don’t be surprised if the Nerazzurri’s threat is neutralised on Sunday night – only five of the past 18 Chievo home games have featured more than three goals and they like to keep games tight and edgy.
Chievo have only beaten Inter twice in 24 attempts but they concluded last term with five clean sheets in seven as hosts and have undergone relatively few changes in the off-season. With consistency in style and selection, I reckon the Flying Donkeys are good value to avoid defeat.
I’ll back Chievo with a +0.50 Asian Handicap start 9/11 (BetVictor) but I’m also going in for the 8/11 from 188BET on Chievo with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start in the first-half – here we’ll make money if the home side are level or ahead at the interval.
Maran’s men were level at the break in 23 of their games last term and only trailed at the break on nine occasions.
Empoli v Sampdoria | Sunday 19.45
It’s been a rough summer for Empoli with the Tuscans losing their head coach Marco Giampaolo to Sunday night’s guests Sampdoria as well as a clutch of key players from the past 24 months.
Assistant manager Giovanni Martusciello steps into the number one role with the new boss keen to continue along the foundations that were left. Empoli will play in a similar 4-3-1-2 philosophy as favoured by Giampaolo and predecessor Maurizio Sarri but will want to build upon an average W7-D6-L6 return on home soil.
The hosts managed just 40 goals last season – the fewest of anyone outside the bottom-seven – and the departure of playmaker Piotr Zielinski could hit the club hard. With defensive midfielder Leandro Paredes and backline operators Lorenzo Tonelli and Mario Rui also on their way, it’s easy to see why the bookies have installed Empoli as third-favourites in the relegation market.
Nevertheless, the additions of Andres Tello and Marcel Buchel in midfield and the veteran forward Alberto Gilardino should at least give the group a boost. And I fancy Empoli to play their part in what could be a decent encounter.
Since arriving in Serie A two seasons ago, the Tuscans have only fired blanks in 11 fixtures (29%) and with Sampdoria keeping only six clean sheets (16%) across the same timeframe, Empoli should at least grab a goal.
Samp are now under the watch of Giampaolo and the Blucerchiati boss is renowned for playing attractive football. With Ricardo Alvarez, Luis Muriel and Fabio Quagliarella to call upon in a front three and Antonio Cassano in reserve, the visitors should pack a punch in forward areas.
It’s been a chaotic couple of campaigns for Sampdoria but there’s a feeling they’re ready to resume their place in the upper echelons of Serie A but I’ll reserve judgement on that for now. Instead, a simple Both Teams To Score bet (68/67) will do when they head to Empoli here.