This has unexpectedly turned into a huge opportunity for Napoli to narrow the gap on leaders Juventus, but Genoa are no pushovers.
Words: Ciro Di Brita
The Partenopei followed up their 4-2 loss to Roma with a disappointing 0-0 at Inter, but SPAL held Juventus on Saturday evening and have given them a lifeline. Meanwhile, Genoa saw a three-round winning streak over Lazio, Chievo and Inter screech to a halt after back-to-back defeats to Bologna and Milan.
Can Sarri get his team firing again?
The Azzurri had just one shot on target against Inter and that was more a wayward pass by Marek Hamsik than anything that was really going to threaten Samir Handanovic in goal. Sarri’s monotheistic attacking style can sometimes be undone when it comes up against big physical central defenders like it did last week in Milan Skriniar and Joao Miranda.
Genoa Coach Davide Ballardini will be looking for his defence to replicate that Nerazzurri performance, but they are unlikely to be as solid as Luciano Spalletti’s men were.
Lorenzo Insigne over the past two games has been the only Napoli player to take on the responsibility of shooting from outside the box, but there are only so many times you can try the curling right-foot shot towards the top corner. Dries Mertens has been smothered by defenders lately and hasn’t been given the space in which to cause too much damage, although he did net a late consolation against Roma.
Where Napoli’s attacking movement has been breaking down recently is on the right wing, where Jose Callejon has been ineffective and is too comfortable in playing the ball backwards instead of taking on the full-back.
Normally his runs in behind the opposition’s defence cause mayhem when Insigne picks him out at the back post, but now either his moves have been read by his opponent or he is suffering from burn-out and isn’t capable of making them continually any more. All this isn’t helped by an out of form Marek Hamsik in midfield, who has been looking tired and lethargic yet again.
The return of Goran Pandev
Genoa’s Macedonian forward is having a late resurgence in his career and is playing as if he’s 10 years younger. The ex-Napoli man scored against two of his old clubs already when he netted in victories over both Lazio and Inter, will he make it a hat-trick of revenge missions?
Pandev will be asked to get his team as far up Napoli’s end of the pitch as possible, be it by collecting the ball at his feet and holding it up for support, or by winning free kicks so that his teammates can mount some dangerous attacks from set pieces.
Dead ball situations are one of the main weaknesses of Sarri’s team and no doubt Ballardini has been working on them in training all week in preparation for this game.
4-3-3 vs 3-5-2
Sarri will line his side up the same way as he usually does and look to get Insigne and Callejon in behind the spaces between Genoa’s wingbacks and the box. Oscar Hiljemark and Luca Rigoni will probably act as auxiliary centre-backs when out of possession while breaking forward to support Pandev and Andrey Galabinov when they can. Diego Laxalt will be the Grifone’s lungs and have a lot of ground to cover on the left, but will no doubt give Elseid Hysaj a few headaches.
If the Azzurri come out with the right attitude, looking hungry from kick-off to get back to winning ways, then they shouldn’t really have too many problems in defeating the Rossoblu. But Napoli’s problem is that when Plan A doesn’t work there is no Plan B and when the chips are down they can retreat into their shell. Perhaps some fresh legs coming into the side might rejuvenate things, but predictably Sarri will keep with the same XI as last week and every other week.