What: Italian Serie A
Who: Napoli vs Roma
When: Sunday 6th January, 2013, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: San Paolo, Naples Italy
Napoli Reeling After Points Deduction
The derby of the south between Napoli and Roma should be a tasty affair. A couple of months ago Napoli looked like they could be serious challengers for the Scudetto. With Juventus pulling clear of everyone else, the title race seems dead for now at least. Napoli now find that they are sitting in fifth and like opponents Roma, are more concerned with remaining on the coat-tails of the contenders for a top three spot and a place in the Champions League.
Which Napoli turn up is something few can predict with any certainty, such has been their erratic form prior to the winter break. Will the Partonepei show the same form that saw them hit Cagliari for five earlier this season? Or will it be the same Napoli that were beaten 3-2 at home by Bologna? Their last game saw them defeat Siena 2-0, ending a run of four successive defeats which had also seen them knocked out of the Coppa Italia by Bologna. The club have been linked with a number of players as they look to strengthen for the six months ahead, with Pablo Armero and Matias Suarez said to be chief among their targets.
If things on the pitch seem difficult, off it they have been even worse. The club were docked two points after captain Paolo Cannavaro and fellow defender Gianluca Grava were both found guilty of failing to report an attempt by the club’s former reserve goalkeeper to fix a game against Sampdoria which took place three years’ ago. The club were furious at the deduction, with Cannavaro and Grava’s reported response to the alleged fix to dismiss the idea out of hand. The player who suggested throwing the game, Matteo Gianello, did not even play a game for the club during the season in question, 2010/11, and so Napoli plan to appeal the deduction and the suspensions. Until that is resolved, Cannavaro’s absence in particular will be a major blow for Walter Mazzarri’s side.
Roma Start to Click Under Zdenek Zeman
Roma have won six of their last seven games in Serie A, as they recover from an inconsistent start to the season to mount a charge for a Champions League place. Zdenek Zeman appears to be getting the best out of the side at last and they will not have wanted the winter break after their fantastic performance at home to AC Milan in their last game, racing into a 4-0 lead before conceding two late, but ultimately inconsequential, goals.
However, Roma have had to deal with an unwelcome sideshow since the winter break. Prolific Argentine forward Pablo Osvaldo has been missing from their training camp in Orlando, Florida, apparently with a virus. His relationship with Zeman has also been reported to have deteriorated, with reports linking him with a move to Milan or Fiorentina, although the player denies he is leaving. Zeman also fell out with Daniele De Rossi after the club captain punched Stefano Mauri in the Rome derby earlier in the season and the pair have continued to clash since, with the midfielder marginalised from the first team on a number of occasions, although he was back for the Milan victory. Yet this underlines that there are serious issues behind the scenes at the Stadio Olimpico which threaten to bring down Roma’s season.
But the trip to Naples gives Zeman the chance to focus on matters on the pitch and to continue their impressive recent form. A win would catapult them above their opponents and closer to arch rivals Lazio, who they will be desperate to finish above this season.
Napoli 2-3 Bologna(16/09; Serie A)
Napoli 1-2 Bologna (19/09; Coppa Italia)
Siena 0-2 Napoli (22/12; Serie A)
Roma 3-0 Atalanta (11/12; Coppa Italia)
Chievo Verona 1-0 AS Roma (16/12; Serie A)
Roma 4-2 AC Milan (22/12; Serie A)
Napoli: Paolo Cannavaro; Gianluca Grava
Roma: Pablo Osvaldo (doubt); Francesco Totti (doubt); Alessandro Florenzi (doubt); Rodrigo Taddei
Players to watch
Napoli – Edinson Cavani: The ‘Matador’ has become increasingly important for Napoli this season. His goals have always driven the Partonepei forward, but at times this season he has appeared to carry the side alone, with his energy, power and eye for goal. Cavani has scored 13 goals in 15 appearances,and no one has taken as many shots as the Napoli hitman, who has had 59. If Roma cannot stop him, then they may have a miserable day.
Roma – Erik Lamela: Osvaldo may be missing but he is not even Roma’s top scorer this season. That honour goes to the 20-year-old Argentine Lamela, who has struck 10 goals already in Serie A. The former River Plate starlet, once hailed as the next Lionel Messi, is starting to fulfil his huge potential and boasts a wonderful left foot. Along with Francesco Totti, who is a doubt, Lamela will share most of the creative and goalscoring burden on the night, but if he turns up and performs at his best it could be a long evening for Walter Mazzarri’s side.
Zeman’s attacking instincts mean his team will look to play this game on the front foot and pressure their opponents from the start. What makes this interesting is that Roma can be vulnerable to the counter attack, which is a key feature of Mazzarri’s Napoli, who tend to play at their best when asked to soak up pressure and hit an opponent on the break. Their front three of Lorenzo Insigne, Cavani and Marek Hamsik are a threat to any defence and that is why Napoli have not failed to score at home in almost a year.
Without Cannavaro, one key question is how well Napoli can even absorb the pressure they are likely to come under from the prolific Roma attack. The defence has been leaky at the best of times this season and they will now have to organise themselves without the inspirational captain. There have been some questions posed as to whether Roma will be tired after their excursions in the United States, but their trip could just as easily keep them at the same level of sharpness they were at before the break.
Totti is enjoying something of a purple patch again, age continuing to prove no barrier to the Roma legend influencing a game. The talented Argentine Lamela is beginning to come of age too, having . Napoli have not won against Roma since 2010 and will be hard pressed to break that run in this game. That said, Zeman admitted after the Milan match that his team have trouble sitting on a lead and their defensive weakness should make for an exciting, if slightly unpredictable game. Expect this to be a contest dominated by the individual talents of Cavani, Lamela and Totti, who should all be able to take advantage of the other side’s weaknesses. Napoli 2-3 Roma.
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