ROME (AP) — All of the big Serie A clubs face intriguing tests this weekend before the season’s first international break.
First-placed Napoli meets defending champion AC Milan at the San Siro, second-placed Atalanta visits Conference League champion Roma, 2021 champion Inter Milan travels to a surprising Udinese that is one point behind the leaders, and struggling Juventus is desperate for a big result when it goes to Silvio Berlusconi’s Monza, which just changed coaches.
Unbeaten in Serie A and coming off consecutive three-goal wins against Liverpool and Rangers in the Champions League, Napoli goes to Milan full of confidence.
For a team that lost its captain (Lorenzo Insigne), all-time record scorer (Dries Mertens) and defensive stalwart (Kalidou Koulibaly) in the offseason, Napoli has done incredibly well to bring in a host of replacements who have provided immediate contributions: From crafty winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia to forwards Giovanni Simeone and Giacomo Raspadori to center back Kim Min-jae.
Simeone and Raspadori have done a solid job of filling in at center forward with Napoli standout Victor Osimhen still out injured.
Napoli will also be without coach Luciano Spalletti, who is suspended.
Milan will also be missing its best player of late, with Rafael Leão suspended, too. With Zlatan Ibrahimović also still unavailable, Olivier Giroud will be the focus of the Rossoneri attack.
Napoli, Atalanta and Milan are level on points.
While still struggling to get its high-powered attack going, Atalanta is off to an unbeaten start while forward Luis Muriel is regaining his form after injury and Duvan Zapata is still out.
Netherlands midfielder Teun Koopmeiners has been Atalanta’s top player with four goals in six matches, and 19-year-old Rasmus Højlund has been filling in at center forward.
Roma has been relying on former Juventus forward Paulo Dybala, who has three goals and two assists in six games.
José Mourinho’s team responded to a 4-0 beating from Udinese by edging Empoli 2-1 on Monday.
After losing its opener at AC Milan, Udinese has drawn one game then won four straight.
Beto, Udinese’s big Portuguese center forward, has produced four goals in the opening rounds, while Roberto Pereyra is tied with Lazio’s Sergej Milinković-Savić on four assists — best in the league — with teammate Gerard Deolofeu right behind on three assists.
Still missing the injured Romelu Lukaku, Inter has had a rough start with losses at Lazio and in the Milan derby but Simone Inzaghi’s side is coming off two confidence-building wins: 1-0 over a solid Torino and 2-0 at Viktoria Plzeň in the Champions League. Edin Džeko scored one goal and set up another against the Czech side.
Juventus is in crisis mode as it visits Serie A debutant Monza.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri’s job could be on the line after the Bianconeri were beaten at home by Benfica 2-1 in the Champions League, which followed an opening-round loss at Paris Saint-Germain.
With only two wins in six Serie A matches, Juventus’ play in the league has also been disappointing.
Last-placed Monza fired coach Giovanni Stroppa on Tuesday and replaced him with Raffaele Palladino.
The 54-year-old Stroppa steered Monza to a historic first promotion to the top-flight via the playoffs last season but it took six matches to pick up its first point in last weekend’s 1-1 draw at fellow promoted side Lecce.
The club has not specified if Palladino, the team’s youth squad coach, will remain in charge on a permanent basis or — as Italian media reports — he will serve as a caretaker coach.
Palladino played more than 50 matches for Juventus before leaving the club for Genoa in 2008.
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Andrew Dampf, The Associated Press