A blockbuster encounter between runaway leaders Napoli and top-four hopefuls Roma is perhaps the fitting way to sign off Sunday’s feisty Serie A schedule. Stadio Diego Armando Maradona forms the backdrop for a high-stakes contest that could provide a definite answer on the home side’s Scudetto bid.
It’s been 33 years since legendary Diego Maradona inspired Napoli to their last Serie A title. However, Luciano Spalletti’s men have taken a giant stride toward ending an agonizingly long Scudetto wait by building a substantial 12-point lead at the summit.
Even without talismanic forward Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Napoli eased past fellow Campanian rivals Salernitana 2-0 last weekend to cement their place at the top of the tree. Their third straight league win following a 1-0 defeat at Napoli at the turn of the calendar year, coupled with Milan’s dip in form, has perhaps set the tone for a title-winning season.
In firm control of their Scudetto fate, Napoli return to the Maradona Stadium for the first time since dispatching bitter rivals Juventus 5-1. Amends for a shock Coppa Italia exit to Serie A whipping boys Cremonese are on the cards as they take on in-form Jose Mourinho’s Roma side.
The Giallorossi have hit the ground running since the calendar year flipped to 2023, racking up three wins and a draw across their four Serie A outings. Since pulling off a sublime late comeback to hold defending champions Milan to a 2-2 away draw, Mourinho’s lads have tallied back-to-back 2-0 victories over Fiorentina and Spezia.
Roma’s purple patch leaves them on the periphery of the Serie A top-four at the start of this round, with second-placed Milan now only one point away. However, their Champions League credentials are about to be severely tested against one of the most intimidating hostile venues in Serie A.
Except for an underwhelming 1-1 draw with promoted Lecce in late August, Napoli have won their eight remaining home league matches this season, including the last seven in a row. Another win here would see them string together eight consecutive top-flight triumphs on home turf for the first time since 2016, with optimism oozing out from every pore.
Indeed, the Partenopei’s outrageous return of 50 points after 19 fixtures stands as their best-ever tally at the halfway stage of a top-flight season. And it’s not just about winning. Napoli often tend to spice their triumphs with goal feasts, as evidenced by their jaw-dropping seasonal haul of 46 league goals at an average of 2.42 per game.
Player to Watch: Victor Osimhen
Victor Osimhen’s superb form is a reason behind Napoli’s free-flowing attacking showings, with the Nigerian frontman clocking a league-high 13 goals this season. Moreover, he has scored four goals in as many Serie A appearances since the club football resumption.
Confidence is not in short supply in the Roma camp, as they’ve not lost any of their last six Serie A outings (W3, D3). Though their bid to become the first side to breach Napoli’s home fortress this season would have to come at long odds, the visitors have every reason for enthusiasm, at least based on their stellar away form.
Mourinho’s men have suffered just one defeat on their ten Serie A travels in 2022/23 (W6, D3) and are unbeaten in their last seven away league games (W5, D2). Against this backdrop, Roma have managed just one victory in their last nine top-flight showdowns against Napoli (D3, L5), though they did hold them to a 1-1 draw in this corresponding fixture in 2021/22.
Player to Watch: Paulo Dybala
Facing Napoli has often provided star forward Paulo Dybala with a happy hunting ground, with the Argentine winning eight personal H2Hs. He has had his hand in most of those wins, racking up three goals and five assists against the Partenopei.
After overcoming last weekend’s problems with illness, Kvaratskhelia will be ready to team up with Osimhen to forge an attacking backbone that tore Juventus apart a fortnight ago. Napoli boss Spalletti has no major injury concern on his plate otherwise.
As for Roma, besides Georginio Wijnaldum, who remains on the sidelines with a broken leg, Mourinho’s still sweating over Nicolo Zaniolo’s match fitness. First-choice right-back Zeki Celik is not in contention for accumulated yellow cards.
Napoli vs Roma Potenital Lineps
Napoli (4-3-3): Alex Meret; Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Kim Min-jae, Juan Jesus, Mario Rui; Stanislav Lobotka, Piotr Zielinski, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa; Matteo Politano, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Victor Osimhen.
Roma (3-4-2-1): Rui Patricio; Gianluca Mancini, Roger Ibanez, Chris Smalling; Nicola Zalewski, Bryan Cristante, Nemanja Matic, Stephan El Shaarawy; Lorenzo Pellegrini, Paulo Dybala; Tammy Abraham.
Napoli vs Roma Prediction
Napoli would be our obvious choice in normal circumstances, but Roma deserve the benefit of the doubt after a ferocious start to the new calendar year. Therefore, we’d cautiously back the hosts for a win.
Prediction: Napoli Win
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