This could prove to be one of the best matches of the new year in Italy as a high-flying Azzurri side host the Italian and European champions in the quarter-finals of the Italian Cup...Sky's The Limit For Napoli
Napoli are in the midst of a fairytale season as the former Italian champions are going great guns in all competitions. The only Italian team to qualify for the knockout rounds of the Europa League, the Partenopei are just four points behind league leaders and Italian giants Milan in Serie A and tonight have the chance to take a shot at the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia.
Napoli striker Edinson Cavani has claimed that they have set no particular objectives in stone for themselves, insisting that the Azzurri are ready for any challenge. Winning against Italian and European champions Inter tonight will pose a great and serious challenge but one suspects that the Neapolitans are ready for it.
Walter Mazzarri's side defeated relegation-threatened Bari 2-0 away from home in the league at the weekend and are in sight of their first Scudetto since 1990. That followed a 2-1 defeat of Bologna in the Round of 16 of the Coppa Italia, prior to which they had drawn with Fiorentina and triumphed over Juventus at the Stadio San Paolo.
Coach Mazzarri is intent on getting one over on Inter, who destroyed Napoli 3-1 at San Siro in a league encounter at the start of the new year, and enthused on Tuesday, "We have a very important game ahead of us tomorrow and we are playing a team of a high level, we cannot allow ourselves to become distracted.
"They [Inter] come off the back of a loss and so they will be very motivated and it's not often they mess up two games in a row. We need to be perfect to get through the round."
Has The Bubble Burst?
Udinese in Udine were said to be Inter's toughest test since Leonardo took over the coaching responsibilities at the Nerazzurri from Rafael Benitez on Christmas Eve and so it proved, as the Italian and European champions tripped to a 3-1 defeat to the Bianconeri in the league at the weekend.
Not only did it bring to a halt Inter's five-game winning run under the 41-year-old Brazilian tactician, it also forced them to go nine points behind leaders and arch-rivals Milan in the table and raised the debate on whether the Nerazzurri's bubble has burst.
Inter's defence looked shaky and the midfield didn't create too much, raising questions on how Leonardo will fix these problems in the coming weeks, especially in the absence of a number of key players because of injuries.
Some answers could be given tonight as Inter travel to Naples to take on a Napoli side they had hammered in Leonardo's first competitive game in charge of the Milanese team. The Beneamata didn't show too much of conviction in their last Coppa Italia encounter, just about edging past Genoa 3-2 in the Round of 16, and Leonardo knows that they would have to raise their level higher than that tonight.
"In their last games Napoli have done very well, even against us," said the Brazilian on Tuesday. "Playing at the San Paolo is something different. The fans are very passionate.
"It will be a tough game as they are a team in form. We want to do well in the Coppa Italia and we see this as an important game."
Mazzarri will carry on with his usual formation with three at the back and Edinson Cavani as the lone striker upfront with Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi playing behind him as the two main creative minds in the line-up.
Striker Diego Milito is unavailable for the trip to Naples and Julio Cesar, Wesley Sneijder and Walter Samuel remain injured as well. Philippe Coutinho has been included in the 20-man squad.