The games keep coming thick and fast in the season overhauled by the coronavirus pandemic, as the Serie A teams return into action following their entertaining week in Europe. In Round 9, the key match of the weekend sees two of the top 6 sides come against each other, as sixth-placed Napoli host third-placed Roma at the Stadio San Paolo.
Both teams come into this game after successful performances in the Europa League in midweek. On Thursday night, Napoli topped the Group F with a 2-0 win against Rijeka thanks to goals from Matteo Politano and Hirving Lozano. Roma’s adventure in midweek was equally successful, as Paulo Fonseca’s men came away 2-0 winners against the Romanian side CFR Cluj.
The Cult of Calcio is here to preview the key battle of the weekend, with an eye on the probable lineups of both teams.
Napoli – Roma
Serie A Round 9
Sunday, 29 November 2020
Kick-off at 20:45 (CET)
Stadio San Paolo (Naples)
Recent Form – Napoli
Napoli are currently 6 points behind the Serie A leaders Milan, who beat them 3-1 in last Sunday’s encounter in Naples. Gennaro Gattuso’s men were unable to prevent the league’s top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic from adding another brace to his tally, as Tiemoué Bakayoko’s red card in the 65th minute ruined any chance of Napoli’s comeback despite Dries Mertens pulling one back for the hosts just two minutes before the sent-off.
Although Napoli’s positional play was much more appealing on the eye, Gennaro Gattuso’s men created only 2 big chances, compared to Milan’s 4, and ended a game with an xG (expected goals) of 1.97. Giovanni Di Lorenzo wasted a glorious opportunity to make it 1-1 in the 27th minute, which was evaluated with an xG value of 0.54.
Last Sunday’s defeat against Milan was a rare occasion when Napoli recorded a higher xG value compared to the number of goals they scored. So far this season, Napoli have scored 16 goals from an xG of 13.33 – 7th place in the Serie A. They have been averaging 1.85 xG per game (2.29 goals scored per game), which indicates that despite Napoli’s intricate possession play in midfield, they do not create enough big goal-scoring opportunities. This data can be further supported by the average shooting statistics. Napoli are the league leaders for the highest number of shots on target per game (7.29), which equals the accuracy of 38.3% (1stin the league). However, their total xG score is only 7th in the league, indicating that Napoli tend to shoot from positions of low scoring probability.
Team News and Predicted Lineups – Napoli
Gattuso is expected to field the same lineup as in the game against Milan, with only one major change required due to suspensions. Napoli’s center-midfielder Bakayoko was dismissed for accumulating two yellow cards against the Rossoneri, meaning that he will have to sit out Sunday’s clash against Roma. Diego Demme is expected to slot in next to Fabian Ruiz, thus forming a new partnership in the middle of the park.
Victor Osimhen, Amir Rrahmani, Elseid Hysaj, and Arkadiusz Milik remain the other absentees and will not feature this weekend.
Expected Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Demme, Fabian Ruiz; Politano, Zielinski, Insigne; Mertens
Unavailable: Tiemoué Bakayoko (red card); Amir Rrahmani (COVID-19); Elseid Hysaj (COVID-19); Victor Osimhen (Muscle injury); Arkadiusz Milik (unknown)
Recent Form – Roma
Roma come into this game sitting 3 points behind the Serie A leaders Milan, after a comprehensive 3-0 home win against Parma last weekend. Three first-half goals, including one from Borja Mayoral and two from Henrikh Mkhitaryan, secured Roma’s 5th consecutive win in all competitions, extending the Giallorossi’s unbeaten run to 11 matches.
Roma’s dominant performance on the pitch against Parma was fairly reflected in the scoreline and the key match stats. Fonseca’s side had 21 attempts at goal, 7 of them were on target, resulting in an xG of 2.98. In contrast, Parma recorded only one shot throughout the whole game (xG 0.04), indicating Roma’s excellent defensive performance.
So far this season, Roma have been clinical in front of goal, having scored 19 goals from an xG of 19.8 (1st in Serie A). They have been averaging 2.6 xG per game (2.4 goals scored per game), implying that Roma tend to convert almost all the big scoring chances they create in front of the opponent’s goal. We can support these findings with shooting data, which present Roma as the 3rd best team in the Serie A for testing the opposition’s goalkeeper – 5.63 shots on target per game (34.6% accuracy). It means that the majority of Roma’s shots on target are from positions of high scoring probability since Roma lead the Serie A charts with the highest xG value among all teams (19.8).
Team News and Predicted Lineups – Roma
Paulo Fonseca does have a few injury concerns prior to Sunday’s game with Napoli. Both center-backs Chris Smalling and Roger Ibanez are racing to be fit, as the Englishman suffers from gastrointestinal problems, while the Brazilian sustained a muscle injury. However, both defenders are expected to be available, which would give Fonseca and his team a massive boost ahead of Sunday.
Nicolò Zaniolo, Javier Pastore, Marash Kumbulla, and Pietro Boer are all sidelined and have no chance of making the squad for Sunday.
Expected Starting XI (3-4-2-1): Mirante; Mancini, Smalling, Ibanez; Karsdorp, Pellegrini, Veretout, Spinazzola; Pedro, Mikhitaryan; Dzeko
Unavailable: Nicolò Zaniolo (ACL injury); Javier Pastore (Hip injury); Marash Kumbulla (COVID-19); Pietro Boer (COVID-19)
Napoli vs Roma – Previous Meetings
It will be the 159th meeting between the two sides, with Roma having a better record of the two. The Yellow and Reds have won 58 times (36.7% win ratio), with Napoli being on the winning side on 47 occasions (29.7% win ratio), as 53 matches ended in a draw.
The last time both teams met was back in July, as Napoli edged past Roma with a narrow 2-1 win in Naples.
The match has the potential to be one of the most exciting in the Serie A season so far. Both teams are not shy of scoring goals as a result of their offensive-minded approach. Roma have netted 15 times in the last 5 matches and have kept a clean sheet in 4 of them. Napoli, on the other hand, will try to bounce back after a disappointing 3-1 defeat against Milan, as another loss can seriously hinder their title chances even if it is still early in the season.