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After Napoli won earlier on Sunday, AC Milan were no longer all alone atop Serie A. Suddenly, they were in a tie with pesky Napoli and needed to win at Fiorentina later in the day if they wanted to regain sole possession of the top spot. The Rossoneri were playing without Antonio Cassano, who was suspended, but they had won six straight league matches over the Viola. Make that seven. First half goals by Clarence Seedorf and Alexandre Pato held up as the visitors went to Florence and came away 2-1 winners to move three points clear atop Serie A.
Milan were dominant from the beginning and saw that dominance pay off in just the seventh minute. Zlatan Ibrahimovic played Seedorf in, only to have a sliding tackle knock the ball away. The ball was only knocked as far away as Pato though and with the defender still on the ground, Pato played Seedorf in. The veteran Seedorf only had to fire the ball into the net and Milan were ahead 1-0.
The rest of the half only confirmed the Rossoneri's dominance. The continued to threaten the Fiorentina goal, just missing the net a few times and three times being denied by fine Artur Boruc saves. Just before halftime though, Milan got the second goal that they surely deserved. Kevin-Prince Boateng, Ibrahimovic and Pato combined on a beautiful goal that began with Ibrahimoc drawing the defense before laying the ball out wide to Boateng. Boateng crossed low on the first touch right onto the foot of Pato who had a simple finish to put the visitors up 2-0.
The second half was a bit more level then the first, but Fiorentina never looked sure to score until right before they did. The Viola finally woke up their sleeping crowd with a bit of pressure that eventually resulted in an 80th minute goal. A rebound came right to Juan Manuel Vargas, who benefited from a slight deflection in beating a Christian Abiatti to give the Viola some hope.
That hope turned into legitimate optimism in the 85th minute when Ibrahimovic was shown a red card for something he said to the assistant referee. The action, not so out of the ordinary for Ibrahimovic, put Milan at a disadvantage, but it didn't prove to be enough for Fiorentina to get the equalizer.
Fiorentina were already destined for a midtable finish, but this match had huge implications for Milan. Now, MIlan maintains their edge atop the league as they search for their first Serie A title since 2004.
For the entire first half, Fiorentina looked lost. AC Milan kept pushing them and pushing them and the Viola showed nothing that might be considered fight. After the break, the match did even out some, but playing Milan even was not good enough for Fiorentina. Down 2-0, Fiorentina needed to start outplaying the Rossoneri and around the 70th minute they finally did. In the 80th minute, they reaped the rewards as Juan Manuel Vargas scored to bring the home side within one and put Milan on its heels for the final 10 minutes of the match.
Fiorentina upped the pressure and when a shot was fired at Christian Abiatti, he had no choice but to just block it. That block left a rebound right on Vargas' foot and the Peruvian took advantage, striking the ball on goal for the first of two goals that the Viola need. Vargas' shot took a deflection along the way, but with Abiatti on the ground, it is unlikely that the deflection affected much. The goal did affect the match though as the home side now have regained the support of their fans and are beginning to control the pace of the match. The question is whether it is too little, too late? Is there enough time for them to fina an equalizer?
A 1-0 lead would not be fair to an AC Milan side that was miles better than Fiorentina in the first half so just before the break, Milan added a second goal to take a deserved 2-0 lead into halftime. The Rossoneri have completely dominated the play, especially in the midfield where there is so little threat from the Viola that Clarence Seedorf and Kevin-Prince Boateng have been free to fly forward without much of a threat of being caught out defensively. That, along with the fantastic play of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexandre Pato up top, and it is no wonder that AC Milan are in position to grab three points.
Pato's goal just before the half was a beautiful piece of work by Ibrahimovic, Boateng and Pato. A dummy in the midfield by Boateng opened space for ZIbrahimovic, who took the ball right down the middle of the field towards goal. He laid the ball out to the right for a sprinting Boateng, who played a low cross right onto Pato's foot with his first touch. With the keeper unable to get across in time, it was a simple finish for Pato and the visitors led 2-0.
That goal came at the end of the first half, but the Rossoneri also got one at the beginning when Ibrahimovic and Pato each played good balls that put Seedorf in on goal for his opening tally. Now with a two-goal deficit, it's tough to see any way back for what has been a clearly inferior Fiorentina side.
It took all of seven minutes for AC Milan to make a statement that they have every intention of keeping their spot atop the Serie A table. Earlier in the day on Sunday Napoli got three points to vault them into a tie with Milan, but the Rossoneri have struck early in their match with Fiorentina as they look to grab sole possession of the top spot back. Clarence Seedorf finished a move initiated by the two Milan forwards, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alenandre Pato, to put Milan ahead of Fiorentina in the seventh minute.
Ibrahimovic received the ball and turned to face goal from 35 yards out. He spotted Seedorf making a diagonal run and played a good ball in that was tackled away right to Pato. With the defender still getting off the ground from his tackle, Pato quickly played the ball right back into Seedorf who was in alone on the keeper and calmly finished. It is fitting that Ibrahimovic and Pato were at the heart of the Milan move considering how active they have been in the early going, getting several touches each in the attacking third. Odds are, they'll be involved in another goal before this one is over.
AC Milan heads to Fiorentina's Stadio Artemio Franchi for the last Serie A match of the weekend no longer all alone atop the league. Napoli's win earlier on Sunday has put them level on points with AC Milan and now the pressure is on Milan to get a result away to go back atop Serie A all alone. The Rossoneri would seem like a good bet to get three points having won their last six league matches against the Viola, but Fiorentina hasn't lost in their last six matches and Milan will have to go at it without Antontio Cassano, who is suspended.
Fiorentina Starting XI: Boruc; Comotto, Gamberini, Natali, Pasqual; Donadel, Montolivo; Vargas, Santana, Ljajic; Gilardino
AC Milan Starting XI: Abbiati, Abate, Yepes, Silva, Zambrotta, Flamini, van Bommel, Seedorf, Boateng, Pato, Ibrahimovic
Fiorentina subs: Neto, Kroldrup, Babacar, D'Agostino, Cerci, Camporese, Behrami
AC Milan subs: Amelia, Robino, Papastathopoulos, Oddo, Antonini, Emanuelson, Gattuso
Two first-half goals, courtesy of Giuseppe Mascara and Marek Hamsik, were enough to give Napoli the 2-0 win over Bologna and move them into joint first-place with AC Milan. Of course, Napoli did their very best to take years off the lifespans of their supporters in the second half, allowing Bologna, and Marco Di Vaio in particular, to send shot after shot at the goal of Morgan De Sanctis. But the Holy Goalkeeper managed a couple of spectacular saves which, combined with Di Vaio's inability to get the ball inside the posts, allowed Napoli to take the clean sheet.
The visitors opened the scoring with a goal by Giuseppe Mascara, his first in a partenopei kit. The forward, filling in for the suspended Edinson Cavani, tapped the ball in after Emiliano Viviano spilled a sexy back heel from Ezequiel Lavezzi. With a 1-0 scoreline, Napoli looked utterly dominant. They continued to put pressure on the Bologna goal, with Bologna's only response to hack away at partenopei ankles, shins, and whatever else they could reach.
It wasn't the overly physical play that led to Napoli's penalty at the end of the first half, however, but rather another mistake by Viviano. Both Hamsik and Lavezzi slipped behind the high Bologna line, going two on one with the Bologna keeper. But rather than shoot at an empty net, Hamsik elected to pass off to el Pocho, for reasons not comprehensible even to his biggest supporter. Apparently Hamsik thought the ball would go straight through Viviano and on to Lavezzi, but instead the keeper charged straight into Lavezzi, sending him sprawling into the grass. It should have been a straight red on Viviano, but a yellow was given as the ref pointed to the spot. Hamsik stepped up, putting the ball straight down the middle and into the back of the net.
Napoli were fortunate to not have their two goal lead canceled out in the second. Di Vaio, who's normally been spot on for Bologna this season, managed to scuff at least two shots just wide of the post. Di Vaio also missed a prime opportunity in the 56th minute when De Sanctis came charging off his line. The forward went straight around the keeper but was apparently thrown off by De Sanctis's clownlike antics and sent the shot into the side netting.
So Napoli come away with the win, although it was much closer than the 2-0 scoreline suggests. They wait now on the last match of Week 32, with Milan traveling to Fiorentina, desperate to again put themselves on top of Serie A.
It's impossible for Napoli to play an entire match without doing something utterly bizarre, and the movement that led up to the award of a penalty against Bologna was no exception. Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi both got behind the very high Bologna defense, going two on one with Emiliano Viviano. Hamsik had acres of space in which to score, but for some reason decided to lay off the ball to Lavezzi on his right (perhaps he thought Pocho hadn't scored recently enough? Who can tell what's going on underneath that spiky hair?). Viviano came charging out to block Lavezzi from getting to the ball, sending the Argentine tumbling over him to the ground. The goalkeeper should have been shown a straight red but the referee only produced a yellow, while pointing to the spot.
With Edinson Cavani stuck watching from the stands, the only question was, who would convert the penalty? It was Hamsik that stepped up to take, perhaps hoping to make amends for his previous mental lapse. Amend he did, sending the shot straight down the middle and then celebrating by committing a two-footed flying kick on the corner flag. Fortunately there are no fouls awarded for the abuse of equipment, and Napoli manage to go into the halftime break with all eleven men.
Anything but a goal by Napoli would have been utterly surprising. The partenopei have rarely left the Bologna area, peppering Emiliano Viviano's net with shot after shot. The pressure paid off in the 30th minute when Giuseppe Mascara scored his first goal in a Napoli kit. Christian Maggio, playing through pain brought on by the number of times Bologna players have kicked him in the ankles, sent in a cross from the right hand side. Ezequiel Lavezzi produced what must legally be called a "cheeky" backheel, although really it looked more "sexy" than anything else. Viviano came out to collect but only managed to spill the ball into the path of Mascara, who easily poked it into the back of the net.
Unfortunately for the frayed nerves of the Napoli faithful, sixty minutes remain in the match. Three points are vital to keep Napoli chasing AC Milan in the scudetto race, and no one can forget it.
Napoli travel to Bologna today making every attempt to get the word "scudetto" out of their minds. A win puts them back into second, above Inter Milan. A draw puts them level, but anything less than three points likely ends their dreams of the title. Then again, Napoli had been discounted weeks ago, after losing to AC Milan, so perhaps it's just best to sit back, watch, and not worry about the possible ramifications of the result.
A quick word of warning to those that don't typically tune in to Napoli matches: if they know you're watching, they don't score. Like, ever. So just watch them out of the corner of your eye, the way you would an attractive individual you have a crush on. Oh, and Edinson Cavani is suspended for the match.Sorry about that.
Bologna XI - Viviano, Moras, Portanova, Cherubin, Busce, Perez, Mudingayi, Morleo Ekdal, Paponi, Di Vaio
Napoli XI - De Sanctis, Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Ruiz, Maggio, Pazienza, Yebda, Dossena, Hamsik, Mascara, Lavezzi.
To be perfectly honest, I'm not exactly sure what happened in the last few minutes of the match between Udinese and Roma. The match slid calmly along, scoreless, for nearly an hour, when a Francesco Totti penalty conversion gave Roma the lead. It then looked as though the match would hinge on that goal, but Udinese apparently borrowed a bit of Zona Napoli (I hope they give it back by tomorrow), with Antonio Di Natale scoring in the 88th minute. Totti, however, was determined to play the hero, scoring the winner in the final play of the match.
Although the play was end-to-end in the first half, both teams were sloppy in both attack and defense -- although never in a corresponding manner, ergo, no goals. It's easy to see, then, why Roma required a penalty to open the scoring. What wasn't predictable was the manner of the penalty. Classic Totti, taking his trademark cucchiano shot, swirled the ball to the left before it curled over to drop behind Samir Handanović and into the back of the net.
Udinese were staring down their second straight defeat when their own captain Toto decided to engage in his own save the day mission. Substitute Bernardo Corradi headed the ball on to Di Natale, who finished from close range to even the scoreline. The fans in the Friuli went wild, knowing at least a point would help them hold on to fourth place for that much longer.
Alas, it was not to be so for Udinese. The home side held on through three minutes of added extra time and, just when it appeared as though they'd manage to come away with a point, a scramble occurred near Handanović, resulting in Totti poking the ball in from close range. That makes goals 202 and 203 for Francesco Totti, leaving him just two goals behind Roberto Baggio in Serie A goals.
The win keeps Roma in sixth, but they move within a point of rivals Lazio, who play Parma on Sunday. Udinese, meanwhile, no longer have a cushion in fourth, and a Lazio win could see them overtake Udinese for the Champions League slot.
I'd love to say it had been coming, but the Udinese goal certainly hadn't. Yes, they were attacking, but they were also sloppy, losing plenty of possession in midfield. It looked as though Udinese would be facing their second straight loss of 2011 when Antonio Di Natale scored the equalizer in the 88th minute.Substitute Bernardo Corradi won the header, which fell to Toto's feet. The Udinese captain neatly put away the shot to record his 26th goal on the season. Considering Toto Di Natale had been playing almost the entire match with a grimace on his face, clearly hurting from a knock, the goal was made even sweeter.
Shortly thereafter, Udinese very nearly scored the winner after a fantastic counter-attack. The zebrette swarmed the area, taking at least one hundred shots on goal. One bounced over the line, but unfortunately for Udinese, someone forgot to tell Kwadwo Asamoah that only goalies can use their hands, and the ref blew the whistle for a Roma free kick.
Nearly an hour in and AS Roma have finally broken the deadlock against Udinese, thanks to a classic Francesco Totti penalty conversion. David Pizzaro, free at the edge of the area, was brought down by Maurizio Domizzi -- one of the most clear-cut penalties one could hope to see. And when captain Totti is on the field, the penalties are his, with this particular penalty showing the world exactly why. Totti stepped up and nearly swaggered toward the spot before sending his trademark spoon shot over Udinese keeper Samir Handanović. The cucchiaio curled just perfectly around and over the area before dropping into the net.
The shot was a stunner, one typical of Totti but one that hadn't been seen in quite some time. But when else but today, when Roma are fighting for a Champions League position? Keeping the lead will see Roma close the gap on the leaders, edging closer to rivals Lazio.
Looks like things have gone from bad to worse for Udinese, as captain Antonio Di Natale has been hobbling around the pitch. His 27th minute shot, taken with plenty of time and space, was a weak one. After the shot left his boot, Toto immediately looked over to his coach, signaling for a sub. Without Alexis Sanchez, however, Francesco Guidolin looks reluctant to make the substitution. Perhaps he knows that without Di Natale, Udinese have next to no chance of winning the match.
The majority of Udinese's goals have come through the tiny wonder duo of Toto and Alexi. Between them they have 37 of Udinese's 56 goals, the rest coming from assorted zebrette. German Denis has been looking sprightly, at least, forcing saves from Roma keeper Doni. Still, there's no comparison to a Sanchez - Di Natale duet, and Udinese will do whatever they can to keep Toto on the pitch. Possibly they have some sort of magic potion they can give him at the halftime whistle.
Just after writing a post about how Alexis Sanchez will start for Udinese, the Chilean starlet pulled up with injury during the warmups. Sanchez had suffered a knock during training earlier in the week, but considering the importance of the match -- A Roma win brings them within three points of Udinese-- the forward was set to start. Instead it is German Denis that partners Antonio Di Natale up front.
Bad news for Udinese, then. Although it is Toto that has the majority of the zebrette goals, tied with Napoli's Edinson Cavani on 25 for the season, the majority of goals scored in open play are created by El Nino Marvillosa. When Sanchez plays, Udinese tend to dominate, the exception being last week's 2-0 loss to Lecce. The loss was Udinese's first of 2011, and they'll be desperate to get back to winning ways and keep hold of their European position.
Despite rumors that the diminutive Chilean would not be fit to start, having picked up an injury in training, Alexis Sanchez is in the starting lineup for Udinese as they host Roma. Both teams are competing for the coveted fourth position in Serie A, a chance to play Champions League football. The zebrette will be bolstered by Sanchez's fitness, as they've yet to win a match without him in the lineup. Marco Borriello remains on the bench for Roma, with Vincenzo Montella favoring a Mirko Vucinic - Francesco Totti paring.
Udinese Starting XI: 1 Handanovic; 17 Benatia, 2 Zapata, 11 Domizzi; 3 Isla, 23 Abdi, 66 Pinzi, 20 Asamoah, 27 Armero; 7 Sanchez, 10 Di Natale
Udinese Bench: Belardi, Coda, Angella, Pasquale, Cuadrado, Denis, Corradi
AS Roma Starting XI: 32 Doni; 77 Cassetti, 29 N Burdisso, 4 Juan, 17 Riise; 7 Pizarro, 16 De Rossi; 87 Rosi, 33 Brighi, 9 Vucinic; 10 Totti
Roma bench: Lobont, Loria, Caprari, Simplicio, Taddei, Perrotta, Borriello
It took 65 minutes for Inter Milan to find a goal against Chievo Verona, and although the win certainly wasn't emphatic, or really that convincing, in the end goals by Esteban Cambiasso and Maicon gave the nerazzurri a 2-0 victory. The three points lift Inter into second place, two points behind AC Milan, while Chievo could find themselves in 14th by the week's end.
Chievo Verona started off brightly and could have easily taken a lead into halftime. Unfortunately for the Flying Donkeys, none of their shots managed to find their way past the Inter defense, or if they did, the managed to swing just wide of the posts. Inter's performance was much the same, with Giampaolo Pazzini having trouble linking up with the midfield, and Samuel Eto'o having difficulties finding his way past the defense. A few shots went wide, but the home side had just one shot on target before the break.
It was Cambiasso that broke the deadlock in the 65th minute. Lucio and Maicon combined up the right flank before Maicon spotted Cambiasso in acres of space in the middle of the area. After the Argentine received the ball, he had plenty of time to set up his shot, sending it low through a crowded box and on past Stefano Sorrentino.
It appeared as though Cambiasso's goal would be all Inter needed to take all three points. Then, in the 84th minute, Fernando Uribe, on for Mariano Bogliacino, hit the side netting, rattling the nerazzurri nerves as he did so. But Inter's response was cool and collected: After Diego Milto's shot was smothered by a gaggle of Chievo players, Maicon picked up the loose ball, slotting it home for what would be the decisive goal.
Just as you thought one goal would be enough to give Inter Milan all three points over Chievo Verona, a Brazilian defender comes along to end all hopes for the Flying Donkeys. Maicon, as ever getting forward on the right flank, sent the ball back to Wesley Sneijder, who powered it on to fellow substitute Diego Milito. Milito's shot was blocked by a scrum of Chievo players, but the ball squirted out from beneath the mess of collapsed bodies. Maicon was right there to drive the shot on past Stefano Sorrentino and into the back of the net.
The 84th minute goal from Maicon came hot on the heels of a near-equalizer for Chievo. Fernando Uribe, who has been excellent since coming on for Mariano Bogliacino in the 74th minute, managed to hit the side netting and give Julio Cesar a bit of a fright. But now, it is almost certain that the end result will be an Inter win.
It took 65 minutes but Inter Milan finally have the lead over Chievo Verona, and in the process have recaptured second place. Leonardo's changes -- Wesley Sneijder came on for Dejan Stankovic at the half, and Giampaolo Pazzini made way for Diego Milito in the 61st -- may not have changed the shape, but the players were certainly able to attack with more ease. The pressure in front of the Chievo finally paid off, with Lucio and Maicon combining down the right hand side before Maicon slid the ball in to Esteban Cambiasso in the center of the area. The midfielder had acres of space in which to play and he found the perfect shot, sending it low and hard through a crowded box and past Stefano Sorrentino.
With more than twenty minutes remaining, can Inter hold on for all three points? Some of the fight has gone out of the Flying Donkeys, and it seems unlikely they will find a way to get past the Inter defense.
It's a must-win match for Inter Milan, but Leonardo's men just can't get the ball in the Chievo Verona net. Although the Flying Donkeys have a reputation for overly defensive play, setting up with a five-man defense, the visitors have created quite a few chances, the most notable a Davide Moscardelli shot that went just wide of the post. Inter, for their part, have taken "outside the post" to a whole new level, with Giampaolo Pazzini sending at least two shots just wide, and Samuel Eto'o adding his own in the 38th minute.
Although slightly hampered by Chievo's tendency to kick and hack at their players, the nerazzurri really only have themselves to blame. The players are unable to link up, with Pazzini in particular seeming a couple steps off the pace. Fortunately for Inter Milan, they have a few heavyweights on the bench, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Leo shift the play, perhaps taking off Houssine Kharja and replacing him with a forward, as both Goren Pandev and Diego Milito are on reserve. Wesley Sneijder, too, could make an appearance.
Full credit to Chievo, however. They've attacked well and the visitors deserve to be ahead, but unfortunately for them the Inter defensive lapses, on display so often in the last week, seem to have been corrected.
Week 32 in Italy kicks off with Chievo traveling to the San Siro to meet an Inter Milan side that absolutely must win. After a 3-0 loss to AC Milan last weekend, the nerazzurri were demolished by Schalke 04 in the Champions League, the Germans taking a 5-2 win back home. In good news for an Inter side that's conceded eight goals in a week, Lucio returns from suspension to take his place in the back line. With Wesley Sneijder resigned to the bench after taking a beating from fellow Netherlands international Mark van Bommel, Inter will shift their shape away from the 4-2-1-3 they've been attempting recently, moving toward a 4-4-1-1.
As for Chievo, well, they play a 5-3-2. So this should be thrilling from the Flying Donkeys.
Inter Milan Starting XI: 1 Julio Cesar; 13 Maicon, 6 Lucio, 15 Ranocchia, 55 Nagatomo; 4 Zanetti, 19 Cambiasso, 5 Stankovic; 14 Kharja; 7 Pazzini, 9 Eto'o
Chievo Verona Starting XI: Sorrentino; Sardo, Mandelli, 3 Andreolli,17 Yokic; 6 Fernandes, 16 Rigoni, 23 Costant; 26 Bogliacino; 80 Moscardelli, 31 Pellissier
Thanks to Adam Digby for the lineups.
Ok, let's face it. After the Milan derby last week, which managed to be one of the most boring 3-0 victories every completed, it's tough to get excited about Week 32 in Serie A. Add to that Nando Muslera's land-wars-in-Asia strategy for dealing with Edinson Cavani (the Napoli striker is clearly immune to iocane powder, by the way) and the fact that Bari actually won a match, well, it might be impossible for this weekend to be as intriguing as last. Although Juventus finally have a chance to win three in a row, so that's something.
Saturday actually features the most interesting matches of Week 32, with three of the four teams desperate for wins. Inter are the most desperate of this desperate bunch. Beaten by Milan 3-0 last week, rather than coming back and resoundingly defeating a Schalke squad that most believed were more than beatable, Inter decided to simply roll over and let the Germans have their way with them. Inter are now determined to put the 5-2 loss behind them, but is it too late? Five points off the scudetto in third place, what are the nerazzuri playing for? Pride? Chievo, meanwhile, haven't reached the magical 40 point mark, having lost to Fiorentina last week. They're pretty much safe from the drop, though, so expect them to play for a draw.
The matchup of the weekend features the battle for the last Champions League position (even though Juventus still seem to think they have a shot). Udinese currently hold fourth, but after their first defeat of 2011 last weekend, 2-0 to Lecce, that hold is tenuous, with Roma hovering just four points behind. Of course, Roma managed to lose 2-0 themselves last week, to Juventus of all clubs, which is pretty amusing this season. A bit of the shine has worn off Vincenzo Montella's time in charge, and it looks as though Roma might have to settle for the Europa League next season. The real question is, where will Udinese end up? Was last week an indication that the end of their season will mirror the zebrette start, and the slide will see them out of Europe? One thing's for sure: the hosts must compensate for the lack of a certain Alexis Sánchez, without whom they have yet to win a match this year.
So...Juventus haven't won three matches in a row all season. Can they break the bogey this time around? Genoa managed to beat Palermo, the team that nearly everyone freely scores against, with just one goal, drew with Bologna and lost to Cagliari. Your time is now, Old Lady. A win coupled with a Roma loss puts you into Europe. Get Alessandro Matri to bat his lashes toward the goal and this thing's yours.
Cagliari are safe. Brescia are not, and haven't won in two months. Go watch Bologna - Napoli.
Last place, almost-certain-to-be-relegated Bari play host to a Catania side with nothing to play for after beating Palermo 4-0 last weekend. Go watch Bologna - Napoli.
Do Lazio have any players available, or are they all suspended? Go watch Bologna - Napoli.
16th v 17th. 32 v 31. Go watch Bologna - Napoli.
Palermo traded their baseball-cap wearing coach for the one they fired four weeks ago. Cesena are called the Seahorses. If you're not watching Bologna - Napoli, this is an acceptable substitute.
Hey, you listened! Bologna haven't had the worst set of results recently, but they haven't been that great, either. They're not qualifying for Europe and they're not getting relegated. So what will they do against Napoli? Beg for mercy? The scudetto challengers aren't exactly the most consistent themselves, and without Cavani, Zona Napoli (the last five minutes of a match) doesn't really exist. Sure, Christian Maggio managed a last minute goal that one time, but take enough shots and anyone can. Napoli find it difficult to win if any one of Cavani, Marek Hamsik or Ezequiel Lavezzi go missing, so with Cavani suspended this weekend, closing the gap on Milan might be too much to ask.
Adrian Mutu is suspended for this match, making it infinitely less fun. The Viola have moved up to 9th place after not losing for the last three weeks, so there's signs of progress there, but clubs need more than a few glimpses of hope to beat the league leaders. Especially since Zlatan Ibrahimović returns from suspension and will partner with Alexandre Pato up front. With Napoli just three points behind in the title race, Milan can't afford to give even one tiny inch. And they won't.
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