It has been a rough past week or so for the Partenopei, who suffered disappointment in both their domestic and European campaigns. First, Napoli fans saw their team’s impressive eight-match winning streak come to an abrupt and painful end in Turin, when a late goal from Simone Zaza was enough to give Juventus all three points, extend their own winning streak to 15, and more important, seize top spot in the table for the first time all season. Then a few days later, they were again undone by a late goal – this time from Villarreal’s Denis Suárez – which was enough to give the Yellow Submarine a slender advantage ahead of their re-match coming up this week.
However, fortune has smiled down on Napoli as firstly, they are obviously not out of the Europa League yet. A 1-0 deficit is certainly something any side can overcome, but naturally, they will need to try to keep Villarreal from grabbing a decisive away goal. And secondly, and most pressing is the fact that the Bianconeri had their own winning streak snapped as a scoreless draw with Bologna – the first time they have failed to pick up all three points since October 28th – now makes sure that Inter’s record of 17 wins will stand for yet another season.
The draw against the Rossoblu now gives Napoli a golden opportunity to re-seize top spot, and with the Scudetto race looking likely to go down to the wire till May, they will be loath to allow La Vecchia Signora to widen the gap further by dropping points against the Rossoneri. Fortunately for the hosts, they have a good record when it comes to playing the Diavolo, outscoring them by a whopping seven goal to nil in their past two matches. And the last time Milan managed to leave the Stadio San Paolo with a win was back on October 25, 2010, when they were able to power their way 2-1 past a 10-man Napoli.
Meanwhile, Sinisa Mihajlovic’s side have not lost a Serie A match since being defeated by Bologna in their opening match of 2016, but given the expectation of the ever-demanding president Silvio Berlusconi, the Serbian tactician will not be able to rest easy until he has guided the team into a European spot. After two seasons sans continental football, Milan’s hierarchy and fans will be hoping that 2016/2017 will see them return to the European stage, and given that they are also in the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia, silverware for the struggling Diavolo is still within reach.
Players who had struggled, such as Japanese star Keisuke Honda, appear to have found a new lease on life, with the ex- CSKA Moscow man playing a starring role with a goal and an assist in the team’s win over Genoa on Valentine’s Day. Mihajlovic will be definitely relying on him in his newly preferred 4-4-2 formation, with Carlos Bacca and French youngster M’Baye Niang up front, and with the exception of Diego Lopez, the only other player Milan will be missing will be Juraj Kucka, but fortunately, Giacomo Bonaventura has recovered and will reclaim his position in the starting XI.
Milan will be keen on making it a second consecutive win as they hope to keep up with fifth-placed Roma; meanwhile, Napoli will be seeking on starting this week off well with a vital win in order to finish round 26 back on top of the Serie A table.
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