Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain celebrates after scoring against Hellas Verona in Verona, Italy, on Sunday. Higuain has scored league-leading 10 goals so far. (Reuters)
Napoli welcome leaders Inter Milan looking to regain top spot as Roma, fresh from another Champions League humiliation, and Fiorentina seek to keep pace with Serie A’s current title favourites.
Sitting just two points off the pace alongside third-placed Fiorentina, Napoli’s title belief has been strengthened by a string of impressive performances at home and in Europe.
The Azzurri are unbeaten since losing their league opener away to Sassuolo and, with striker Gonzalo Higuain leading the league on 10 goals, Maurizio Sarri’s men have stormed into the Europa League last 32.
It is all a far cry from last September, when a single victory in their opening five league games left Napoli icon Diego Maradona, the architect of their previous two titles, in 1987 and 1990, publicly lambasting Sarri.
Tracksuit-wearing Sarri, a lifelong Napoli fan, took the blow on the chin and since then Napoli have dropped only two points as they forge a path towards a possible third title.
“Right now, Napoli are frightening,” former Inter and Italy defender Marco Materazzi told Gazzetta dello Sport recently.
“They’re well organised, they’re going really well and they’ve got Higuain, who is among the top five strikers in the world.”
Between them, Higuain and Lorenzo Insigne have scored 17 of Napoli’s 24 goals but, with only eight conceded, Inter have the meanest defence in Serie A.
While an Inter win would open up a five-point gap on Napoli, Fiorentina and Roma are expected to remain in hot pursuit, while Juventus, nine points off the pace, travel to Palermo in the hunt for a fourth consecutive win days after beating Manchester City 1-0 to secure their Champions League last 16 ticket.
Atalanta have only once away from home this season but must fancy a tilt amid the crisis that has engulfed Roma following their 6-1 humiliation at the hands of Barcelona on Tuesday.
Roma’s Camp Nou calamity means they must beat BATE Borisov in their final Group E game to have any chance of qualifying for the last 16.
Coach Rudi Garcia, who is still without forwards Gervinho and Mohamed Salah, even took flak from his own players, including Alessandro Florenzi and Maicon—who both played when Roma were humiliated 7-1 at home by Bayern Munich last year.
“We did nothing but defend for 90 minutes against a side that had the complete run of the game,” said Maicon.
“We have another important game on Sunday, let’s try and forget everything that happened against Barcelona and focus on the league.”
While Napoli have Higuain, Fiorentina have their own goals machine in the shape of Nikola Kalinic, whose nine-goal haul so far has alerted Chelsea’s scouts, according to reports in Italy.
Having scored a hat-trick in a 4-1 demolition of Inter, Kalinic came off the bench to rescue La Viola with a brace in a 2-2 draw at home to Empoli last week.
Fiorentina coach Paulo Sousa last week admitted his “mistake” of leaving Kalinic on the bench and indicated he is unlikely to do the same when they visit a formidable Sassuolo side that is only eight points behind Inter and unbeaten at home.
Elsewhere, AC Milan host Sampdoria on Saturday in a match that could see the spotlight fall on both coaches.
Milan handler Sinisa Mihajlovic spent two years with Samp before taking the reins of the Rossoneri, who will notably be without midfielder Andrea Bertolacci (thigh) for Saturday’s San Siro clash.
Sampdoria’s new coach Vincenzo Montella saw his side suffer a 1-0 defeat to Udinese in his first game in charge last week, but the Genoa club’s president, Massimo Ferrero, is convinced he has the right man.
“I wish Sinisa all the best, but coaches are like wives. He chose another husband and abandoned me, but I’m lucky because now I have Montella, the best in the world.”
Torino vs Bologna
AC Milan vs Sampdoria
Chievo vs Udinese
Frosinone vs Verona
Genoa vs Carpi
Roma vs Atalanta
Empoli vs Lazio
Palermo vs Juventus
Sassuolo vs Fiorentina
Napoli vs Inter Milan
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