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Best odds: 5/2
Runaway Serie A leaders Napoli will play host to AC Milan at the Stadio Diego Armando Mardona in Naples on Sunday evening, within the 28th round of the 2022/23 season in the Italian top flight.
Interestingly enough, these two teams will be pitted against each other in the Champions League as well, as the quarterfinal draw has decided. The first leg is scheduled for April 12th at San Siro, and the rematch in Naples will take place six days later.
Napoli are having an incredible season, probably the best among all the teams in the top five European leagues. By this point, it will have gone beyond the wildest dreams of their most passionate, most optimistic supporters of the club, let alone coach Luciano Spalletti and his players.
Going into this weekend, Napoli sit 19 – yes, nineteen – points ahead of second-place Lazio, and it’s probably safe to say that the Scudetto will go to Naples, for the first time since the days of the man whose name the stadium bears. Lazio and Inter Milan probably deserve to be where they are (Inter are third, two points behind Lazio), if only for the fact that they are the only two teams to have beaten Napoli in the Serie A this season, along with Liverpool in the final round of the Champions League group stage.
Apart from the 0-1 defeat at home to Lazio, Napoli’s last-six run in all competitions includes five triumphs, 0-2 away to Eintracht Frankfurt in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16, 0-2 away to Empoli, 2-0 at home over Atalanta, 3-0 at home in the second leg against Eintracht, and 0-4 away to Torino.
The only confirmed Napoli absentee for this match is Victor Osimhen. The Nigerian striker, who has so far had 30 goal contributions (25 goals, five assists) in 29 matches across all competitions this season, suffered an abductor muscle tear on international duty.
With Alex Meret in goal, Kim Min-jae is likely to pair up with Amir Rrahmani in the heart of defence, flanked by Mario Rui on the left and captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo on the right. Stanislav Lobotka will anchor the midfield, joined by Frank Anguissa and Piotr Zielinski. Osimhen’s place as the focal attacking figure will be taken by Giovani Simeone, with the sensational Khvicha Kvaratskhelia on the left and Mateo Politano on the right.
Meanwhile, Napoli’s impressive title charge obviously means that all hope of Milan defending their title, won through hard work last season, is gone. At the moment, the Rossoneri are only hoping to qualify for the Champions League again. Sitting in that gold-worthy fourth place with 48 points, their lead on fifth-place AS Roma amounts to one, and on sixth-place Atalanta to three points. Juventus, in seventh place with a tally of 41, cannot be left out of this conversation either anymore, despite the 15-point deduction that’s obviously hit them hard.
To get to the quarterfinals of the Champions League, Milan narrowly edged past Tottenham Hotspur in the round of 16, and even though there can be no easy opponents at this stage, they won’t be happy with the prospect of facing their hosts in this match in the quarterfinals.
Unlike that of Napoli, Milan’s recent form is somewhat unstable, and it appears to be gradually dropping. Of their last six games in all competitions, they only won the first two, 0-1 away to Monza and 2-0 at home against top-four rivals Atalanta. Then they lost 2-1 away to Fiorentina, drew the second leg against Spurs without goals, drew 1-1 at home against Salernitana, and lost 3-1 away to Udinese. This is a string of results that won’t be filling them with confidence as they prepare for the Naples trip.
Having just return from a long injury absence and returned to the international game, veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic picked up a thigh injury while playing for Sweden and won’t be able to help the Rossoneri in this difficult contest. Defender Pierre Kalulu is injured as well, and that has reportedly prompted Pioli to consider returning to the four-at-the-back system.
With Mike Maignan undisputed between the posts, such a change would probably see Simon Kjaer return to the fold and pair up with Fikayo Tomori in the heart of defence, with Theo Hernandez on the left and Davide Calabria on the right. Ismael Bennacer and Sandro Tonali would cover the middle of the park, while the trio of Brahim Diaz, Alexis Saelemaekers and Rafael Leao plays behind Olivier Giroud in attack.
Despite all the quality and domination Napoli have enjoyed this term, as well as Milan’s relatively weak form recently, the visitors might actually get something from this game. The home side will be missing their star striker, and the break preceding this week’s league matches could easily combine with a bit of league-leader’s complacency to cause a disruption in their ranks.
Best odds: 5/2