For all intents and purposes, it looked like this season’s Scudetto race was going to go down to the wire between Juventus and Napoli. In a true form of “let’s see who blinks first”, each Bianconeri victory was matched by one for the Partenopei, who were not going to give in so easily.
Well, a shock reversal to Udinese last weekend has left Napoli reeling as Juventus now enjoy a much more comfortable six point lead over their nearest title challengers. With just seven matches remaining – including this one – there are 21 points up for grabs. Still, the general consensus is the 3-1 defeat to Udinese has put a massive dent in Napoli’s Scudetto ambitions and they cannot afford to drop any more points between now and May.
Unfortunately, the loss for Maurizio Sarri’s men came at a very high price, as key striker Gonzalo Higuain lost his head and now is set to serve a four-match ban. Napoli, naturally are appealing to have this reduced as should it stand, the Argentinian star, who has netted an impressive 30 Serie A goals so far, will miss out on must-win clashes with Inter and Roma.
However, for now, he will play no part in this match, meaning that much of the goal-scoring effort will be shifted to Lorenzo Insigne, who has had an excellent season so far. The young Italian, who had a chance to feature for Antonio Conte’s Azzurri during the international hiatus and put in a solid shift against Spain, will be keen on further highlighting his credentials ahead of this summer’s EURO 2016 tournament.
Another player in particular who will be hoping to prove his worth will be former Sampdoria man Manolo Gabbiadini, who has seen his playing time drastically limited since making the move to Napoli. With Higuain set to miss out, he will be eager to try to show that he is more than able to feature in the center of attack for the Partenopei as he hopes to nail down more regular first-team football.
Sarri will also be without the services of key defender Kalidou Koulibaly, also due to a ban and Belgian midfielder Dries Mertens is another who sits out due to suspension, which means that the Italian tactician will have to do some shuffling as he selects his defensive options for this game.
Meanwhile, Hellas Verona will be arriving at the Stadio San Paolo having won their most recent match against Bologna. For a team that took until this year to win their first match, Luigi Delneri’s team will certainly be happy with every single point they can pick up between now and the end of the season, especially considering that Serie B football is all but guaranteed for them for the 2016/2017 campaign.
Still, although Verona propping up this season’s table, the Gialloblu have troubled Napoli. In fact,a bit over a year ago, they managed to beat the Partenopei 2-0, with veteran striker Luca Toni netting a brace. Nonetheless, at that point in time, they were not facing relegation, and Delneri will probably without the services of his experienced attacker for this match.
All in all, it goes without saying that this is a must-win for Napoli if they want to have any glimmer of hope of keeping their Scudetto ambitions intact whilst, of course, hoping that Juve have some kind of slip-up of their own.
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