Kick off: Sunday, April 26, 20:30 CET, Naples, Italy
Napoli Crisis Continues
After being one of the most entertaining teams and one of the big surprise packages of Serie A in the first part of the season, Napoli have fallen into a seemingly endless crisis since the start of the new year. At the halfway point of the season, they were competing for a Champions League spot along with Fiorentina and Genoa, but now they are halfway between those teams and the relegation zone in the table.
A particularly staggering fact is that they have failed to win a league match since January 11, at home against Catania. Since then it has been a long, dark road for the Azzurri, and the recent arrival of former Italy coach Roberto Donadoni in place of Edy Reja has not had any notable effect on the team.
Donadoni did suggest recently that, with the team by now unable to compete for a European spot and obviously not involved in the battle against relegation, he is thinking more about the team’s future than the last part of this season, but surely the players and club would feel more confident about the future if results improved in this final period. More than anything, it seems like this young team has suffered some sort of psychological collapse, as there have been no major injuries to their star players.
Napoli could take heart from the fact that earlier this season Udinese recently also suffered a seemingly endless winless streak, which they snapped at the most unlikely of times, namely in a home game against Juventus. The Azzurri are also known to perform better against the big teams, particularly at home, and their performance in last season’s home match against Inter was perhaps their best of that term. These factors suggest a surprise result could be on the cards here, but most probably it wouldn’t change much in the outcome of the Scudetto race.
Inter Eager To Wrap Up Scudetto Race
After avoiding defeat against primary challengers Juventus last week with a 1-1 draw in Turin, Inter made another big step towards winning their 17th Scudetto, having maintained their seemingly unassailable ten-point lead with just six games to go. However, it could have gone even better for Jose Mourinho’s side, which gave away a 1-0 lead in injury time, throwing away two points that would have allowed them to truly seal the deal and send Juventus 13 points behind.
It was the second consecutive time that Inter gave away a lead, after drawing a home match against Palermo which they were winning 2-0 at one point. Holding on to a lead had been one of the Nerazzurri’s strong points up until that match, and one of the main reasons for their impressive Serie A run this season. It’s most likely that their psychological focus is starting to drop up a bit due to their huge lead on top of the table, but also because Juve themselves have looked very vulnerable lately.
Last weekend, in-form Milan managed to catch Juventus in second place, and the free-scoring Rossoneri are now the closest thing to a threat for Mourinho’s side, although their vice-president Adriano Galliani has admitted that catching Inter is an ‘impossible’ mission. Nevertheless, failing to win a third consecutive game against Napoli, something which has never happened to Inter in Serie A this season, could make them slightly nervous and set up another heart-pounding finale like last season.
They did look in good shape during the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals against Sampdoria on Thursday night, although the 1-0 victory was not enough to see them through to the final following their 3-0 first-leg defeat. Zlatan Ibrahimovic in particular looked on fire, and dazzled the crowd with a great goal as well as some brilliant pieces of skill and close shaves.
Despite Napoli not being in good shape lately, winning this game would be another huge step forward for Inter as the San Paolo is always a difficult place to play at, and it would give them a morale boost as well after last season’s 1-0 defeat. That result signalled the beginning of Inter’s problems in the final stage of last season, in which they only managed to win the title on the final matchday despite gaining a huge lead over Roma halfway through the season. The players will want to avoid going through such a nerve-wracking finale again at all costs.
19/04 (Serie A): Cagliari-Napoli 2-0
11/04 (Serie A): Napoli-Atalanta 0-0
05/04 (Serie A): Sampdoria-Napoli 2-2
22/03 (Serie A): Napoli-Milan 0-0
15/03 (Serie A): Reggina-Napoli 1-1
23/04 (Coppa Italia): Inter-Sampdoria 1-0
18/04 (Serie A): Juventus-Inter 1-1
11/04 (Serie A): Inter-Palermo 2-2
05/04 (Serie A): Udinese-Inter 0-1
22/03 (Serie A): Inter-Reggina 3-0
Walter Gargano, Christian Maggio, Gennaro Iezzo, Leandro Rinaudo, Fabiano Santacroce, and Luigi Vitale are all out injured, while Paolo Cannavaro is suspended.
Possible formation (3-5-2): Bucci; Grava, Contini, Aronica; Montervino, Blasi, Pazienza, Hamsik, Mannini; Zalayeta, Lavezzi.
Maicon, Amantino Mancini, Luis Jimenez, Nelson Rivas, and Patrick Vieira are out injured.
Possible formation (4-3-1-2): Julio Cesar; Santon, Cordoba, Samuel, Chivu; Zanetti, Cambiasso, Muntari; Stankovic; Ibrahimovic, Balotelli.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Marek Hamsik (Napoli)
With nine goals scored this season, the slightly built midfielder is Napoli’s top scorer, and he’s been undoubtedly one of their best players this term. Unsurprisingly, the 21-year-old has been linked with moves to several major clubs lately, although it’s probably best for his career to stay at Napoli for now and continue growing as a player.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Inter)
It would be a big loss for Italian football if he left Serie A, although according to recent interviews with the Swedish star he seems very eager to try out a different league after five years of Calcio. However, for now he will be focused on winning his third league title in three years at Inter, and finishing the season as top scorer as well, after Marco Di Vaio equalled his 20 goal tally last week.
Inter to snatch a hard-fought draw against an improved Napoli side.
Danilo Pochini, Goal.com