Serie A Week 28 – Sunday 6 March 2022 – Diego Armando Maradona Stadium | Preview by Tlalane Phahla – Follow her on Twitter
The Stadio Diego Armando Maradona will host a titanic battle between Napoli and AC Milan on Sunday evening. The two teams are leading the Serie A table with 57 points each, only goal difference separates them. While this is not a title decider, no team wants to be left behind as the race gets critical. This season’s race for the scudetto has been both scintillating and exhausting, if you are a neutral you might want to sit back and enjoy, but if you have a horse in this race, you live on edge and every second counts.
The last time these two met was in December last year at San Siro, Napoli walked away with all three points thanks to an early goal from Eljif Elmas in the first half. Confidence is growing within the Napoli camp after their dramatic late win over Lazio last Sunday, and they’ve had a whole week to rest.
One advantage Napoli hold over their title rivals is that they are the only ones involved in one competition so the risk of fatigue is perhaps minimal compared to Inter and Juventus who are still active in the Coppa Italia and Champions League, while Milan are still in Coppa Italia as well.
Napoli Defender Amir Rrahmani speaking ahead of this tie to Italian Radio Kiss Kiss (extracts of his interview can be found on the clubs official website) said they are counting on the support and the atmosphere they will receive in the stadium. Rrahmani said they are focused on preparing themselves and insisted they have players capable of getting a win.
“It’s normal to be positive ahead of these games and we know that we have the players capable of getting the win.
It’s obvious that we want to stay top right until the end – to control our own destiny. However, we know that there is still a long way to go and we need to approach every game as it comes.
We share the fans’ dream. What I can guarantee is that we’ll give it our all to get to where we want to be.”
One game at a time sounds like a wise strategy to approach the remaining phase of Serie A, Napoli will however be aware of their good record against Milan at home: the visitors have only won once in their last 14 meetings in Naples, they have suffered eight defeats and while five have ended in a draw.
Expected XI (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani. Koulibaly, Rui; Ruiz, Lobotka; Politano, Zielinski, Insigne; Osimhen
- Eljif Elmas is the youngest player with at least five assists in Serie A this season.
- With a win, Lorenzo Insigne can become the first Serie A forward to reach 250 wins in all competitions with a single team since 2010.
- Both teams have scored the most goals from outside the box this season: Napoli 10 with Fabian Ruiz scoring six of those; Milan have nine with Ibrahimovic scoring three.
The Rossoneri are winless in their two league games and three in all competitions. By dropping points to Salernitana and Udinese, Milan have made things difficult for themselves and now have to do it the hard away to keep their title dreams alive. They have been good visitors so far winning four of their last six away games and drawing two, but they have to try and extend their unbeaten streak at a stadium that has typically been a tough visit.
Milan striker Olivier Giroud is still without a goal away from home, and if he were to break his duck this will be a great way to do it. Giroud is important for Milan, not just for goals but for the Frenchman’s hold up and link play.
After Giroud’s brace in the Milan derby in February propelled Milan to the top of the table, manager Stefano Pioli was full of praise for the World Cup winner saying he is valuable on and off the pitch:
“Olivier is proving to be the player he was bought for, a valuable player on the pitch and a person of great depth. A strong player who is giving a great contribution to the team.” He told Mediaset, words relayed by MilanNews.
If Milan have any chance of getting a result on Sunday, he is likely to play a key role. One player Napoli should be aware of and arguably the most dangerous weapon for the visitors is Portuguese winger Rafael Leão. His pace, dribbling, unpredictability and eye for goal that makes him a constant threat in the penalty box. He is enjoying his best season in Serie A so far scoring 11 times and has scored a match opener in seven games.
Expected XI (4-3-3): Maignan; Calabria, Kalulu, Tomori, Hernandez; Tonali, Bennacer; Saelemaekers, Kessie, Leao; Giroud
- Milan have not drawn three league games in a row since September 2018.
- Milan have conceded seven goals from corners this season including one against Napoli.
- Milan have not been able to string two wins in a row at Napoli’s home ground in Serie A since 1981.
Napoli have provided an update on their missing players: Axel Tuanzebe and Hirving Lozano worked in the gym but the latter joined the squad for full training some time later, and Frank Anguissa was in full training. Kevin Malcuit underwent physio.
For Milan their captain Alessio Romagnoli was substituted with what looked like a muscle injury against Inter in Coppa Italia midweek, but the injury is reported to not be serious and he is recovering, although it is unclear what his status is for the game.
Veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been on the side-lines with Achilles tendon and is desperate to return to the pitch. La Gazzetta dello Sport reports he might be on the bench if is able to train with the team between now and Sunday.