There are story-lines aplenty as Napoli host Milan on Sunday in the weekend's big clash at the Stadio San Paolo. The Azzurri’s coach Gennaro Gattuso will be facing the club which he had such an incredible history with.
While Tiemoue Bakayoko will play against his former club, Gattuso will be facing two of his former teammates: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and even more intriguing, Daniele Bonera, who will be on the Milan bench after that both Stefano Pioli and his assistant tested positive for Covid.
Gattuso and Bonera played together with the Diavoli for six seasons and shared some memorable moments, including winning a Serie A title and a Champions League.
What a match for Bonera to make his coaching debut. The former defender ended his playing career in summer 2019 to enter the Rossoneri’s technical staff where he worked with both Marco Giampaolo and Stefano Pioli.
When Bonera returned to Milan, Gattuso had just quitted the Rossoneri job after coming close to reaching a Champions League spot in the 2018-19 campaign.
They played 93 games together, 82 of them wearing a Rossoneri shirt. Two particular matches stand out, both in 2007.
The last-16 Champions League clash against Celtic and the FIFA Club World Cup final versus Boca Juniors. Bonera played as a center and right back respectively, while Gattuso operated in his customary central midfield role. Both were tough matches that would ultimately prove fruitful for the Rossoneri, as the club won both titles 13 years ago.
However, there'll be no time for sentiment come Sunday evening as the clubs are separated by just three points after seven league games, with the Rossoneri on top of the standings.
Following the acquisition of striker Victor Osimhen, ‘Rino’ reshaped his Napoli side changing the system from a 4-3-3 to a more attacking and expansive 4-2-3-1. The Nigerian striker, however, picked up a shoulder injury while on international duty, and Gattuso will replace the former Lille hitman either moving Dries Mertens back into his old striker role or by playing Andrea Petagna, another former Milan striker, from the first minute.
While Bonera will be on the bench physically, Pioli will be moving pawns keeping contacts with his assistants on Milan’s bench as he usually does during weekly training sessions at Milanello. The San Siro club have used modern ways for Pioli to keep tabs on his troops. These include having drones flying over the training center at Milanello with live shots beamed straight to Pioli's home. The Parma-born man then analyses the session, makes the necessary notes and conveys his thoughts with his staff.
Once in Naples, Milan are expected to stick with their own version of the 4-2-3-1 system, with the only absentee being Rafael Leao, who just like Osimhen, got injured while away on national team commitments.
“I am very happy to return to Naples and find Rino as an opponent,” Bonera said at a press conference before the game.
"He was a friend on the field and he continues to be one outside, there will be space after the game for an affectionate greeting.”
Gattuso and Bonera have quite a history with each other and with Milan, but only one of them will be aiming for a Rossoneri victory on Sunday. Both Milan and Napoli have high ambitions this year and have had a solid start to the season. Three points would allow the Partenopei to reach the Rossoneri on top of the table, provided Sassuolo fail to win away at Hellas Verona in the afternoon. One more reason to believe there will be no time for sentiment at the San Paolo.