Over the past two seasons, meetings between Napoli and Udinese have become quite feisty, as both clubs have risen through the standings to battle for European positions. The zebrette have emerged triumphant from these encounters, winning three of the past four meetings between the two. But it was Napoli who took the San Siro fixture last season, and there's little reason to expect they won't do the same again -- except, of course, that they are Napoli, and they much enjoy doing the exact opposite of what is expected. Filmmaker's blood runs deep in the veins of these azzurri.
Besides a rather pathetic 0-0 draw with ten-man Catania, Napoli have been perfect in this Serie A season, and currently sit joint-top with Juventus. But after their 3-0 loss to PSV Eindhoven midweek, doubts are creeping in about the ability of the partenopei to challenge Juve for the title. Foolishness. Walter Mazzarri, mindful of his mistakes in balancing Champions League and domestic competition last season, fielded a squad composed mostly of reserve players. Individually, many of these players are great, but as a squad, they slipped up on Thursday.
It won't be quite the same in Naples on Sunday. Mazzarri will trot out his usual suspects: Edinson Cavani, Goran Pandev, Gökhan İnler. Marek Hamšík will take the armband as Paolo Cannavaro is suspended, and Alessandro Gamberini will take his place in the back. In other words, should Napoli slip, it won't be due to their inability to gel as a squad, but rather their strange predilection for forgetting how to complete a pass.
As for Udinese, they've had a rough time of it thus far -- it's gotta be tough when the players don't recognize one another as teammates, or so I'd think. The zebrette have had just one win, against AC Milan, and have ground out 0-0 draws in their last two matches. But they're coming off a fantastic win over Liverpool at Anfield and, even more worryingly for Napoli supporters, Antonio Di Natale and Francesco Guidolin appear to have patched up their riff. As such, Toto will almost certainly start at the San Paolo, and the captain could be the difference in this one.
Napoli injuries and suspensions
Paolo Cannavaro (suspended)
Udinese injuries and suspensions
Match Date/Time: Sunday 7 October 2012, 8:45 p.m. local, 2:45 p.m. ET
Venue: Stadio San Paolo, Naples
TV: Sky Calcio 2 (Italy)