Napoli v AC Milan Preview
San Paolo, Naples
MATCH IN A SENTENCE: After winning just once in five matches following a disappointing loss to Juventus in October, Napoli have rediscovered their stride and are unbeaten in three as they prepare to host AC Milan, who plunged even further into crisis after losing 3-1 at home to Fiorentina on Sunday.
BREAKDOWN: Until they were beaten 2-0 in Turin on October 20, Napoli had gone toe to toe with Scudetto holders Juventus and were considered by some to be the favourites to win Serie A this time around.
But after being brought back down to earth four weeks ago the Partenopei are once again looking a legitimate contender in the division and after Sunday’s 4-2 win at Genoa sit only five points back of Juventus in the standings. They also have the best defensive record in the division.
Speaking to reporters earlier in the week, manager Walter Mazzarri credited the turnaround to the heart his players were showing on the pitch.
“We play with heart—that is why I put my hand on my chest,” he told Sky Sport Italia. “I am fine; I feel good, I can assure everyone. I train an exceptional group of players. There is a real sense of union and we all care about each other. I am very proud of these lads.”
A sense of unity is just one of the things AC Milan have been lacking this season. On Tuesday there were reports that striker Alexandre Pato had been accosted by Rossoneri supporters as he left training, and while the club was quick to discount the rumours the fact that they were in every way believable speaks volumes as to where this team is at with nearly a third of the season in the books.
Manager Massimiliano Allegri, who is said to have unleashed a tirade in the dressing room at halftime during the Fiorentina match, is widely thought to be a poor result away from the sack, and ineffective forward Robinho has emerged as a January transfer target of Brazilian side Santos.
“We are in a difficult situation at the moment,” remarked Milan midfielder Urby Emanuelson on fcupdate.nl. “It seemed that we were getting better after a really poor start, but now we’re back to square one. The team feels the pressure, as does the manager. And that aggravates what is already a heavy atmosphere at the club.”
ESSENTIALS: Napoli midfielder Juan Zuniga is doubtful for Saturday’s match and Valon Behrami is suspended.
Milan are still without defenders Djamel Mesbah, Didac Vila, Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonini and midfielders Rodney Strasser and Sulley Muntari are injured as well. Massimo Ambrosini is suspended due to an accumulation of yellow cards.
KEY BATTLE: Stop Stephan El Sharaawy and you stop AC Milan. It’s really that simple, as the Rossoneri’s only form player of the last six weeks has been the 20-year-old attacker, who will be lining up on the left at the San Paolo. Christian Maggio will likely keep an eye on the newly-capped Italy international over the 90 minutes, but it will probably be Hugo Campagnaro who deals the most with El Shaarawy.
FORMATIONS: Mazzarri will deploy a 3-4-1-2 formation with Marek Hamsik operating in the hole just behind Goran Pandev and Edinson Cavani. Allegri will stick with his 4-2-3-1 formation and will have Emanuelson, one of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Bojan Krkic, and El Shaarawy in support of either Pato or Giampaolo Pazzini.
BETLINE: Napoli 5/6; Draw 5/2; AC Milan. Napoli were 3-1 winners in the corresponding fixture last season.