Napoli will be looking to regroup after a poor season opener as they welcome AC Milan to the Stadio San Paolo on Saturday.
The Partenopei were given quite a shock against newly promoted Pescara, who raced into a two goal lead during the first 45. Thankfully, Maurizio Sarri’s substitutions paid off as Napoli were able to save face thanks to a quickfire brace from Dries Mertens. The Belgian international, who had floated in and out of the starting XI last season will certainly have done enough to deserve a start in this fixture.
Napoli supporters may not want to admit it, but the departure of Gonzalo Higuain to Juventus has left a huge void. The Argentinian attacker plundered 36 goals last term and played a massive role in the Azzurri securing second place and Champions League football. Although the club’s board have tried to mitigate this by bringing in Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik, it will take him some time to get settled in Serie A. Until then, there will be an air of unease around the Stadio San Paolo until things really start clicking for the Partenopei.
As of now, Kalidou Koulibaly is still a Napoli player. This is despite Chelsea’s public and aggressive pursuit of the French-Senegalese defender, who really has come into his own over the past two seasons. Having already lost Higuain, Napoli fans will be absolutely incensed should the club’s management cave in and allow the towering center-back to depart for London.
Meanwhile, AC Milan arrive having secured a vital 3-2 win over Torino. Arguably the biggest stars of that evening were Carlos Bacca, who is the first player since David Trezeguet to net a hat-trick on matchday one, and young shot-stopper Gianluigi Donnarumma, who saved his first penalty. Although there were certainly signs of improvement, Milan’s defensive woes are still on-going, and they very nearly saw three points turn into one after some poor decision making and errors. Currently under the tutelage of Vincenzo Montella, the Diavolo’s aim is to return to Europe after a three-season hiatus. Whether they achieve that by May remains to be seen, but obviously, the only way they can secure a top-five spot will be to do one thing: keep on winning.
That, in itself is much easier said than done. Napoli are virtually unstoppable on home turf. Inter were the last side to defeat them at the Stadio San Paolo during a Coppa Italia tie back in January. Furthermore, their record against the Rossoneri is quite formidable, with just one loss in their past ten meetings. In addition, Milan have not beaten their hosts in their own backyard since October 25, 2010. Furthermore, Montella’s side will have to make do without key defender Gabriel Palletta due to a ban.
However, here’s an interesting stat: the last time Napoli and Milan met on matchday two was during the 1962/1963 season. And the result? A 5-1 win in favor of the visitors. Will we see a repeat of that result? Or will Napoli successfully rebound after a frustrating start to the 2016/2017 term?