CAGLIARI, ITALY - OCTOBER 23: Edison Cavani of Napoli looks on during the Serie A match between Cagliari Calcio and SSC Napoli at Stadio Sant'Elia on October 23, 2011 in Cagliari, Italy. (Photo by Enrico Locci/Getty Images)
Napoli and Udinese are both serious Scudetto contenders in the 2011-12 Serie A season, and they meet on Wednesday night in Naples.
We have arrived in a world where a Week 8 matchup in Serie A between Napoli and Udinese is an incredibly significant match in the race for the Scudetto. Juventus are back in title contention, but both Milan clubs are struggling through a variety of issues, while Luis Enrique's Roma are suffering through growing pains in a new system. Udinese and Napoli are both legitimate, relevant title contenders, and they face off on Wednesday.
Both teams play an exciting brand of football, led by some star players who miraculously have not moved on to so-called "bigger" clubs. Udinese lost three such players to three such bigger sides in the offseason, but replaced them through great value signings and promotion of youth, reserve, and previously injured players into the first team. Napoli have somehow held on to all of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marek Hamsik and Edinson Cavani for another season, and they make up the most formidable forward unit in Italy.
Italy's most potent goal-scorer, Antonio Di Natale, will unfortunately not feature in this match. He's recovering from an injury, and Floro Flores will take his place up top. This could put some more pressure on the man behind him, Gabriel Torje, to perform. The young Romanian star was brought in as a replacement for Alexis Sanchez and has performed very well, coming close to filling the Chilean superstar's shoes instantly.
The Zebrette will also be without Mauricio Isla, but that's less of a concern than it would have been last season. With the return of Dusan Basta from injury, Isla has actually been moved to the center from his preferred right midfield/wingback position on a couple of occasions this season. In his absence, Basta will occupy that spot while Udinese will likely play a midfield three of Kwadwo Asamoah, Giampiero Pinzi and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu.
Napoli are missing central midfielder Walter Gargano, so new signing and Swiss international Blerim Dzemali will step into his place and partner his countryman Gökhan Inler in the center of midfield. Dzemali doesn't have the experience or technical quality of Gargano, but he is a better athlete. Though he's less likely to provide a wonderful through ball, he's probably also less likely to give the ball away than the Uruguayan veteran.
Both teams play with a back three, both teams play an exciting style of football, both teams have goal-scorers, and neither team plays with two forwards. They are a terrible matchup for each other, and at the same time, an absolutely terrific matchup for each other from a neutral perspective.
Udinese won both meetings between the two teams in the 2010-11 season, and both games featured goals for both sides. This match will be, above all, entertaining. If it produces a winner, that team is going to have a serious early leg-up on the other in the race towards the Scudetto.
Napoli vs. Udinese
Game Date/Time: Wednesday, October 23, 2:45 pm ET (7:45 pm BST, 8:45 pm local)
Venue: Stadio San Paolo, Naples, Italy
TV: ESPN (UK), The Score (Canada)