With fans having to satisfy their thirst for football over the Christmas period almost solely with English league football, La Liga and Serie A make a welcome return to action this weekend, with some tasty games in store. The FA Cup takes centre stage in England, so a top 6 clash between Napoli and Roma in Serie A catches the eye, and here we take a closer look at that game and also the top scorers of 'first goals' around Europe so far this season.
Napoli vs Roma - Match Preview
The fortunes of Napoli and Roma have been somewhat contrasting this season, with the Partenopei making a flying start to their campaign only to fall off the pace at the top, while Roma were far from impressive to begin with, winning only 5 of their first 12 games before triumphing in 5 of their last 6 to move to within 4 points of 2nd placed Lazio.
The Giallorossi will be hoping that the winter break will not disrupt the form that saw them climb into the top 6 before Christmas, a run that culminated in the stunning 4-2 demolition of AC Milan. That game was yet another high scoring one for Roma this season, whose 18 games have seen a league-high 71 goals, as Zeman continues to instil within his players his philosophy of attacking without thought for defence. This, combined with Napoli's potent strikeforce makes for good reason to back both teams to score at 1.40 in this game, where that is as likely as ever to happen.
Napoli's dip in form has seen them lose their last 3 games at home across 3 different competitions, whilst winning only 1 of their last 4 at home in the league. Their late win at Siena will have boosted their confidence going into the break but with defensive issues aplenty they may well be worried about hosting in-form Roma.
Centre-backs Paulo Cannavaro and Gianluca Grava have each been handed 6 month bans for their part in the betting scandal, while Napoli recently shipped Salvatore Aronica to Palermo, leaving them with very little cover in defence. Britos and Gamberini should play at the back with the supposedly want-away Hugo Campagnaro, and cracks could well be found by Roma's attack. Roma have won on 4 of the last 6 occasions they have played at the San Paolo, and given the two sides' current form and fortunes, Roma are good value to win again here, at 3.25.
Marek Hamsik certainly seems to raise his game to play Roma. Only against Palermo (7) has the Slovakian bagged more Serie A goals than he has against Roma (5), scoring each of the last 3 times the Giallorossi have come to visit. Hamsik's goalscoring record this season also makes for interesting reading. Of the 7 goals he has scored, 5 of them have been the opening goal - a tally which only Kießling (7), Fletcher (6) and Aduriz (6) have bettered across Europe's top 5 leagues. Hamsik could be worth a punt to open the scoring once again here, and odds of 7.50 certainly are tempting.
Along with Hamsik, there are others that specialise in opening the scoring despite not necessarily netting all that many goals. Lionel Messi, for example, has scored first only 3 times in the league this season even though he has 26 goals to his name. Aritz Aduriz, meanwhile, has bagged first with 6 of the 10 goals he has picked up this season.
His Bilbao side face a Levante side against whom they have scored the first goal in 6 of their last 7 meetings, including Aduriz himself on one occasion back in 2007. Levante have also conceded the first goal in 7 of their last 11 games in all competitions, and it could therefore be worth backing Aduriz as first goalscorer at 7.00 on Saturday afternoon.
Just after Bilbao's game, Granada and Valencia will be kicking off, with Roberto Soldado leading the line for the away team. Things are looking up for Valencia, who have won 4 of their 5 games since Ernesto Valverde took charge, including all 3 of their games on the road. Against a goal-shy Granada team they will look to continue their climb up the table, with star man Soldado looking to add to his seasonal tally of 9 goals, 5 of which have been the first goal of the game. Granada have opened the scoring only twice in their last 12 matches, so with Valencia likely to net first, the likelihood of Soldado scoring the opener is reflected in his odds of 5.00.