Serie A returns to action this weekend to start 2018 with some exciting matches. At the halfway point, the top of the table is still close, although Napoli and Juventus are breaking away from the pack a bit. Napoli sits in first place with 48 points, Juventus in second with 47, Inter is still in third with 41 points and Roma in fourth with 39 points but with a game in hand. Here are three matches to watch this weekend:
Fiorentina vs Inter (January 5th at 20:45 local time)
Inter desperately needs a win. After a great start in which they were undefeated, they have now gained only one point in three rounds, back to back losses to Udinese and Sassuolo and a draw to Lazio. In the middle of this they also barely beat Serie C minnows Pordenone on penalties and loss 1-0 to city rivals Milan in the Coppa Italia. Fiorentina currently sit in eight place and have an eight match unbeaten run. They drew at Milan last week, 1-1, and will look to cause problems for the other half of Milan as well this weekend.
FIORENTINA (4-3-3): Sportiello; Laurini, Pezzella, Astori, Biraghi; Benassi, Badelj, Veretout; Chiesa, Simeone, Thereau.
INTER (4-2-3-1): Handanovic; Cancelo, Skriniar, Ranocchia, Santon; Vecino, Gagliardini; Candreva, Borja Valero, Perisic; Icardi.
Players to watch
Fiorentina - Jordan Veretout
Veretout has been stellar for Fiorentina this season. After losing Vecino and Valero to Inter, Fiorentina signed Veretout and Benassi to replace them and Veretout is looking like the highly touted prospect that once played alongside Pogba in France's youth squads.
Inter - Borja Valero
Inter has had a hard time filling the role behind Mauro Icardi this season, with Valero, Joao Mario and Brozovic all getting opportunities. It looks to be the ex-Viola man that gets the nod tonight and he will want to take advantage against his former club.
Prediction: Fiorentina 1-1 Inter
The nerazzurri are still struggling and this will be a tough match for them in Florence. Fiorentina is playing well and are a much better team than the one that lost to Inter 3-0 in the first round this season. Look for Icardi to get on the scorer's sheet for Inter. Fiorentina will find a goal as Inter are without two of their reliable defenders, D'Ambrosio and Miranda. It will be an entertaining match.
Napoli vs Hellas Verona (January 6th at 15:00 local time)
Napoli will start the second half of the season, and 2018, in first place. After the loss to Juventus at the San Paolo and the elimination from the Champions League, it looked as if Napoli could sputter and fall out of the race, however, they did the opposite and regained their position at the top of the table. This could be a true sign that the team has matured as they are in first place despite losing Faouzi Ghoulam for the season and even playing without Lorenzo Insigne for a few weeks. Hellas Verona made splashes in the offseason by pairing Giampaolo Pazzini alongside Alessio Cerci and Antonio Cassano, however, Cassano retired and the team never got going and they sit in second to last place.
NAPOLI (4-3-3): Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik; Callejon, Mertens, Insigne.
VERONA (4-4-1-1): Nicolas; A. Ferrari, Heurtaux, Caracciolo, Caceres; Romulo, Fossati, Buchel, Verde; Bessa; Kean.
Players to watch
Napoli - Marek Hamsik
Hamsik has been in great form and has looked like his former self after scoring the goal that tied Diego Maradona's record. In fact, he went on to break the record and score another goal after, making it 3 goals in his last four games after no goals this season up until this point.
Hellas Verona - Moise Kean
Kean will be looking to expose Napoli's very high line with his speed. It has not been a great season for Kean, as he has only scored twice in 14 appearances for the club. He will want to start 2018 off right.
Prediction: Napoli 3-1 Hellas Verona
Napoli should be focused and excited to start the second half of the campaign. Reports show that Sarri is going to use his best lineup for this match, as he will want to secure the three points. Kean will expose the high Napoli back-line to pull a goal back, but it should be all Napoli in this one.
Roma vs Atalanta (January 6th at 18:00 local time)
This match should be the most exciting of the weekend. After securing a spot in the Champions League last sixteen, Roma has been struggling. They have drawn with Chievo and Sassuolo, lost to Juventus and barely beat Cagliari in Serie A, while Torino eliminated them from the Coppa Italia. Atalanta, meanwhile, is having a good season as they finished on top of a tough Europa League group, are in the top half of the standings in Serie A, and just beat Napoli to qualify for the semifinals of the Coppa Italia. Roma will be desperate to get three points at home to remain close to the top of the table.
ROMA (4-3-3): Alisson; Florenzi, Manolas, Fazio, Kolarov; Pellegrini, Gonalons, Strootman; El Shaarawy, Dzeko, Perotti.
ATALANTA (3-4-1-2): Berisha; Toloi, Caldara, Masiello; Hateboer, Cristante, Freuler, Spinazzola; Ilicic; Gomez, Petagna.
Players to watch
Roma - Edin Dzeko
Dzeko was off to a great start this season, carrying Roma to the top of the table, but he has cooled down since. The Bosnian has only scored once in his last ten matches and will want to start 2018 off right.
Atalanta - Bryan Cristante
There have been rumblings that the former Milan youth product is gathering interest from top clubs such as Inter and Juventus. He is a key player for Atalanta and they will need a good performance from him to overcome Roma. Hopefully he can keep the transfer rumors out of his mind.
Prediction: Roma 2-2 Atalanta
Atalanta is a very solid team and has been in a few high scoring match-ups this season. Without De Rossi and Nainggolan available for this match, it will be tough for Roma to receive the defensive cover they need in order to control Cristante, Gomez and co. On the flip-side, Roma's full-backs Florenzi and Kolarov are very strong and should be able to get forward against Atalanta's formation and hit Dzeko in the center. Look for an exciting affair with goals.