Serie A preview: Napoli eye chance of a lifetime as title race nears climax

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Milan, April 8, 2022 (AFP) - Napoli have a first Serie A title since the days of Diego Maradona in their sights and the chance to exorcise a ghost when Fiorentina come to town on Sunday.

A point off the summit going into the weekend, southern Italy's biggest club are in buoyant mood and have a real chance to beat the powerful northern trio of AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus in a thrilling race for the Scudetto.

Last week's 3-1 win at Atalanta, claimed without suspended star striker Victor Osimhen, made it clear that Luciano Spalletti's side were not going to give up the chance to become legends easily.

Naples has waited nearly 32 years to see its team crowned kings of Italy for a third time and Spalletti does not believe that his team will fall away at the last as they did in Florence in 2018.

Four years ago under Maurizio Sarri, Napoli moved a point behind Juventus with three games to go after beating the champions in Turin, but the very next week suffered a meltdown at Fiorentina, losing 3-0 and surrendering the title with a whimper.

"At this point we can't get our attitude wrong again because we're fighting at the top end of the table and we can't hide anymore," Spalletti said after the win in Bergamo.

"They understand the moment they're in... Our time is now."

Spalletti will have Osimhen and centre-back Amir Rrahmani back for the clash at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, but is without injured Italy right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo while midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa is suspended.

Otherwise Spalletti has a strong squad to pick from and an optimism around the camp that is draining away from Milan, who are struggling for goals and on Saturday face Torino, the precise sort of team which gives the seven-time European champions problems.

Since the turn of the year Milan have dropped points against Spezia, Salernitana, Udinese and Bologna and in their last three matches managed two goals from 69 shots.

Last weekend's goalless draw at the San Siro featured 33 efforts on goal, most of which were speculative or wildly inaccurate (or both). Despite only three wins in 2022, Torino have shown in draws with both Inter and Juve that they can do battle with the big boys at home.

Meanwhile Inter's backs-against-the-wall win at Juve last weekend closed the gap between them and Milan to four points but the bizarre way they snatched the three points from their biggest rivals hardly speaks to a side heading into the run-in with form on their side.

Their only goal was the result of a retaken penalty which looked soft to begin with and Simone Inzaghi's side did not muster another a shot on target all game.

Their opponents at the San Siro on Saturday are Verona, who with Giovanni Simeone, Gianluca Caprari and Antonin Barak have the firepower to cause a shock against an Inter team whose title defence has stalled after looking champions-elect at the start of February.

Player to watch: Bremer

The Brazilian centre-back has been consistently good in a very up-and-down season for Torino, and his impressive displays against Serie A's strongest sides has led to a likely transfer to Inter in the summer.

With Milan going through a dry spell in front of goal Bremer is exactly the sort of player who can help add yet another twist to the most exciting Serie A title race in a generation.

Key stats

4 - Just four points separate Milan, Napoli and Inter with less than two months remaining in the season.

32 - Napoli fans have been waiting over three decades to see their team win the league.

Fixtures

Saturday

Empoli v Spezia (1300), Inter Milan v Verona (1600), Cagliari v Juventus (1845)

Sunday

Genoa v Lazio (1030), Napoli v Fiorentina, Sassuolo v Atalanta, Venezia v Udinese (all 1300), Roma v Salernitana (1600), Torino v AC Milan (1845)

Monday

Bologna v Sampdoria

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Serie A preview: Napoli eye chance of a lifetime as title race nears climax
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