Serie A Round 8: Napoli – Milan Preview and Expected Lineups

The Italian football is back after the final international break of the year, and we are into some mouth-watering ties this weekend. Round 8 of the 2020-21 Serie A season welcomes two of the top three sides as third-placed Napoli host current Serie A leaders Milan at the Stadio San Paolo.

Both teams have had an impressive start to their league campaigns, with the Rossoneri and the Ciucci having each won five of their first seven matches. A win for Napoli would place them level on points with the visitors from Milan that makes it an even more thrilling encounter.

The Cult of Calcio is here to preview the main match of the weekend, with an eye on the probable starting lineups of both teams.

Napoli – Milan

Serie A Round 8
Sunday, 22 November 2020
Kick-off at 20:45 (CET)
Stadio San Paolo (Naples)

Recent Form – Napoli

Gennaro Gattuso’s team come into this game after a hard-thought 1-0 win away at Bologna. The 23rd-minute strike from Victor Osimhen was enough to bring all three points back to Naples, which saw Napoli climb up to third place in league standings. It was a much-needed win for Gattuso’s men after a disappointing 2-0 home defeat to Sassuolo a week before.

Despite a few poor results, Napoli have been up to their usual high standards of recent years. A 6-0 demolition of Genoa on matchday two and a comprehensive 4-1 home win against Atalanta have been the pinnacle of Napoli’s season so far. However, after impressive goals galore in the opening matchdays of the season, when Napoli netted 12 times in four games, Gattuso’s men have been fairly quiet in front of goal in the last three matches. They averaged only 1.0 goals in those matches – certainly not the result we expect from such a quality attacking team like Napoli.

So far, Napoli have scored 15 goals this season (6th best result in the Serie A), averaging 2.14 per game. However, their npxG (non-penalty expected goals) value is only 10.87, meaning that Napoli have scored 4 goals more than they were expected to. It means that Gattuso’s side does not create so many good goal scoring opportunities with a high probability of conversion rate. For instance, they are 8.16 npxG behind a first-placed Roma (19.03 npxG), which are level on points with Napoli (14 pts) and currently sitting in fourth place. The Mexican left-winger Hirving Lozano is Napoli’s top scorer this season with 4 goals to his name (2.4 npxG).

On the other end, at first glance, Napoli look more than solid at the back, having so far conceded only 7 goals (3rd joint-best result in the league). However, their xGA (expected goals allowed) suggests us that Napoli should have conceded even fewer goals based on the quality of chances created by the opposition. So far, Gattuso’s men have recorded an xGA value of 3.97 (best result in the Serie A), which implies that Napoli have conceded 3 goals more than they should have.

Team News and Predicted Lineups – Napoli

Gattuso will face his former club as a player without a key player. Napoli’s Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen, who scored a match-winning goal against Bologna, will miss out on Sunday’s clash due to an injury he suffered on the international duty.

The 21-year-old had to be stretched off with a suspected broken wrist in Nigeria’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Sierra Leone. Nevertheless, as it turned out, the injury is not as bad as first thought, with the Napoli striker expected to be out for no more than two weeks. The 25-year-old substitute striker Andrea Petagna is expected to replace the injured Nigerian.

Right-back Elseid Hysal and goalkeeper David Ospina will also be unavailable due to viral infections, while midfielder Tiémuoué Bakayoko seems to have recovered. The rest of Napoli’s squad is free of injuries.

Expected Starting XI (4-3-3): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Fabian Ruiz, Bakayoko, Elmas; Lozano, Insigne, Mertens

Unavailable: Victor Osimhen (wrist injury), Elseid Hysaj (COVID-19), David Ospina (injury)

Recent Form – Milan

Stefano Pioli’s side has been at the front page of every Italian newspaper so far this season. The Rossoneri are currently first in the Serie A standings, having won five and drew the other two, making them one of the few teams in the league that is yet to suffer a defeat.

It looked like Milan’s run had finally come to an end in the last match before the international break against Verona, but, as it turned out, Zlatan Ibrahimovic had different thoughts. Two minutes into the stoppage time, the 39-year-old iconic striker scored his 8th goal of the season, thus extending Milan’s unbeaten run up to seven matches. The Rossoneri’s only other draw of the season came in a thrilling six-goal encounter against Roma that ended 3-3.

The only skepticism that can be thought of might be regarding the quality of the opposition Milan had faced so far this season. Looking at the caliber of the teams, only Milan’s arch city rivals Inter and the aforementioned Roma had finished in the first half of the 2019-20 Serie A campaign. Nevertheless, Pioli’s side has collected 4 points out of 6 possible from these two matches, suggesting that their impressive start to the 2020-21 season has not been a fortuity.

At first glance, Milan are one of the best teams in the Serie A this season not only based on points collected but also their offensive and defensive records. The Rossoneri are the third-highest scoring team in the league (16 goals) together with Roma and Inter. However, Milan’s npxG value tells us that they have been over-performing at times this season, having recorded 12.6 npxG so far this season. The Red and Blacks have already attempted 5 penalty kicks, which is the highest number in the league, with Ibrahimovic missing two of them. Thus, Milan are creating fewer big scoring chances despite being one of the league’s top-scoring teams. The Swede has also scored 50% of Milan’s total goals this season which showcases how heavily they rely on the 39-year-old striker to perform.

On the other end, Milan have been rather solid, having so far conceded only 7 goals (3rd joint-best result). Their xGA (expected goals allowed) value is 9.16 (6th best in the league), meaning that Pioli’s side were sometimes fortunate, having conceded 2 goals fewer than what they were expected to concede.

Team News and Predicted Lineups – Milan

While winger Alexis Saelemaekers seems to have recovered from his hi problem, striker Rafael Leao is the only confirmed absentee for Sunday’s game. The Purtuguese suffered an injury to his biceps femoris while playing with Portugal U-21 and will have to skip the game.

With both Stefano Pioli and his backup Giacomo Murelli unavailable as they are in isolation, the Rossoneri will be directed by assistant coach and former Milan player Daniele Bonera on Sunday night.

Expected starting XI (4-2-3-1): Donnarumma; Calabria, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Bennacer, Kessié; Saelemaekers, Calhanoglu, Rebic; Ibrahimovic

Unavailable: Rafael Leao (thigh injury)

Napoli vs Milan – Previous Meetings

This will be the 151st meeting between the two sides, with Milan having a better record of the two. The Rossoneri have won 56 times (37.3% win ratio), with Napoli being on the winning side on 44 occasions (29.3% win ratio) as 49 matches ended in a draw.

Interestingly enough, four of the last five matches between the two teams resulted in a draw, with Napoli being the last winners of this tie back in 2018, having beaten Milan 3-2. The most recent meeting between Napoli and Milan took place in July and ended in a thrilling 2-2 draw.


The match is expected to be a tight and nerve-wracking encounter, with Napoli looking to become the first team to beat Pioli’s Milan this Serie A season.