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Coppa Italia Preview: Napoli - Inter

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.
Smelling The Aroma Of Adventure

Sampdoria commenced the 2010-11 campaign plotting a place in the top-six in Serie A and qualifying for Europe next season. In 2009-10 the Blucerchiati finished fourth in the Italian top flight and made it to the qualifying rounds of the Champions League but failed to progress into the group stage.

Subsequent departure from the group stage of the Europa League, failure to sustain consistency in the domestic arena, the much publicised and almost radical fall-out between club president Riccardo Garrone and talisman Antonio Cassano all contrived to drag Samp into mediocrity, and as one encroaches upon the second half of the season, it can be safely assumed that Samp will eventually finish somewhere around a mid-table position.

Which is why the Coppa Italia provides Domenico Di Carlo's side with a sense of adventure that they need to keep on going for the remainder of the season. The Italian Cup is not exactly a competition that is held in high regards but the lure of a trophy and the subsequent European spot it assures are incentives that should seduce the Genoese side to give their all against Milan in the quarter-final tie today.

Samp got the better of Udinese in the Round of 16 on penalties after they let a one-goal lead slip in normal time and were then forced to come from behind in extra-time. Playing at home will give the former Italian champions an advantage and given their encouraging goalless draw with Juventus at home at the weekend they will aspire to get the better of Milan and qualify for the semis.

Hunting For The Treble

Approaching the business end of the season, Milan remain in the hunt for the treble. After watching arch-rivals Inter conquer Italy and Europe in scintillating fashion last season, the Rossoneri are aiming to design a similar conquest this campaign and will take the trip to Genoa today basking in hope and expectations.

Massimiliano Allegri's side, though, have struggled in the new year and despite remaining one of the most entertaining and enjoyable teams to watch not only in Italy but in entire Europe, the Diavolo have not always been effective and have looked uncertain at the back.

After back-to-back draws with Udinese and Lecce, Milan returned to winning ways last week when they brushed aside Bari 3-0 in the Round of 16 of the Coppa Italia and at the weekend defeated Cesena 2-0 at San Siro to maintain their four-point advantage at the top of the table in Serie A.

Problem is that Lecce, Bari and Cesena all are serious relegation candidates and defeating these poor teams was always going to be a formality. Sampdoria in Genoa would provide a different (and difficult) test altogether and they would know this perfectly from their 1-1 draw with the Samp at the Marassi in the league earlier this season. The game will also mark attacker Antonio Cassano's return to his old club since leaving them under acrimonious circumstances in the winter.

Milan coach Allegri knows that despite Milan's attacking prowess they cannot take Sampdoria with ease and said on Tuesday, "Tomorrow there is a lot at stake. We will be up against a team that knows how to play football, but we are starting to score goals again. We need to continue playing this way and give 100%".