Napoli are at a crossroads this weekend, as after their club record 10-round winning run came to an end we’ll see if they are truly Scudetto material. A slip-up can happen, but it’s how a team reacts to it that speaks of their substance.
In a matter of hours, momentum had swung in favour of Juventus in the race for the Scudetto after Paulo Dybala’s 93rd-minute thriller lifted The Old Lady to a massively important victory over Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico.
By virtue of the Argentine’s demonstrations in Rome, the pressure was on for Napoli to keep their cushion at the top of the table by beating Roma. However, the Giallorossi delivered a blow to the Partenopei in the form of a 4-2 win, leaving the Bianconeri just one point from first with a game in their pocket.
As Juventus mounted a second half comeback over Tottenham midweek despite a less than stellar performance at Wembley, the reigning Italian champions proved once again their refusal to back down, forcing Napoli to enter must-win mode this weekend in Milan as they visit Inter.
Despite the Nerazzurri’s massive decline in form since the turn of the calendar year, Maurizio Sarri still has to be wary of a possible breakout performance here, especially with extended time off.
Back in October, Inter were in contrasting form compared to now and held Napoli to a stalemate at the San Paolo. Although the Milanese side’s capitulating suggests the star-studded attack of Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens may be too much for Luciano Spalletti to game-plan, a big home match for Inter such as this could be just what they need to deliver an inspiring performance and regain positive form down the stretch.
Napoli must prove they aren’t shaken mentally after last weekend by turning up at San Siro. Sarri’s side was uncharacteristically poor all over the park except for Insigne, who was truly the only threat Roma had to worry about. Napoli’s defensive unit is among the best in terms of goals conceded, meaning the lapses at the back from the dependable Kalidou Koulibaly and Raul Albiol were surprising to say the least. Even the steady Jorginho gifted Roma the ball on their opening goal, which set the tone for a match they’d like to tuck away in their memory.
A repeat of last weekend’s showing is unlikely, considering how much talent Napoli have in their squad. Sarri is expected to have sorted these issues out during the week, and with Juventus creeping up behind them, there is reason to believe the bunch will be inspired to elevate their game in the wake of their worst defeat of the season.
Marek Hamsik, who was benched last weekend with flu symptoms, is almost a lock to start versus Inter, not only for his ability but more importantly the leadership he brings to the pitch. In a match of this significance, the Slovakian’s captaincy could be the key in Napoli returning to winning ways.
By the time Napoli and Inter kick off at San Siro, Juventus will have already played their home affair with Udinese. With so much at stake this season for the Azzurri, the only thing on their mind should be to take care of their own business, as it is all they can control.
The Neapolitans have no choice but to go for the victory head on and that will be the case for the rest of the season. It’s clear in such a tight race that every point matters.
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