Team Form (all competitions):
Napoli – WLWWW
Roma – WWWLL
After easily dispensing of Cagliari on Monday to move 4 points clear at the top, Napoli now enters a very tricky stretch that could ultimately decide the Scudetto race. It starts with the Derby Del Sole against Roma at the San Paolo on Saturday.
In the previous meeting between these two sides in October, Napoli won at the Olimpico 1-0 on a goal by Lorenzo Insigne, who was set up beautifully by Daniele De Rossi.
Despite the tight scoreline, it was a very strong away performance from the Partenopei, who held 56% of the possession and put 6 shots on target compared to only 2 for Roma. At that time, Napoli had a perfect record in Serie A, picking up all 24 available points through their first 8 games. That streak would end the following week with a draw against Inter.
Fast forward nearly 5 months later and Napoli is currently on a run of a club-record 10 consecutive Serie A wins. There are no more “distractions” with European competitions after they exited the Europa League last week. The Coppa Italia is also in the rear-view mirror. Also, as an added boost, Arek Milik, who has been out since September after suffering his second ACL injury in less than 12 months, appears to be ready to return to the bench.
The most intriguing part of this fixture is Mario Rui, the Napoli Left Back currently on loan from Roma. His signing has been important for Maurizio Sarri’s club, as he has filled the void left by the injury to Faouzi Ghoulam. That injury was originally seen as a huge setback for Napoli’s Scudetto chances, but Rui has been a more than adequate replacement, even scoring via a stunning free-kick against Cagliari.
On the other side, the Giallorossi are coming into this match on the heels of two losses in 5 days last week, including a mid-week Champions League clash against Shakhtar Donetsk. They have been anything but the squad they started the season as in recent days. Since December 23rd, Roma has played 10 Serie A matches and picked up only 12 points (with a record of 3W-4L-3D). That recent run of poor form has dropped them to 5th in the table and put them into a three-way battle for the last 2 Champions League spots with Lazio and Inter.
Their attack will likely be led by Edin Dzeko, who stuck around after being shopped throughout the January Mercato. But he has struggled recently, with only 1 goal in his last 6 appearances.
Another option up front is Patrick Schick, who arrived at Roma in the summer for a club-record transfer fee that could end up around the 40m Euro mark, but the Czech Striker has had to battle through injuries, and has struggled to find a consistent starting spot. Now healthy, it will be interesting to see if Eusebio DiFrancesco turns to him more over the final 3 months of the season, as the Roma manager has already gone on record and said Dzeko and Schick cannot play together.
The bright spot for Roma is Cengiz Under, who was a bargain summer signing brought in to replace Mohamed Salah. He has been one of the emerging young stars in Serie A since the calendar turned to 2018, scoring 5 goals in his last 5 matches in all competitions.
Napoli (4-3-3): Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Rui; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik; Callejon, Mertens, Insigne
Roma (4-3-3): Alisson; Florenzi, Manolas, Fazio, Kolarov; Nainggolan, De Rossi, Strootman; Under, Dzeko, Perotti
By Pete Winter Follow @PWinter7