Inter Milan v Napoli, Preview: Which side will have their title hopes crushed?

Giuseppe Bellini

It's the battle for the scudetto! Ok, it's not really, but it's the battle to prove which of these sides could actually be in the running for the Serie A title.

The Italian footballing authorities really believe in saving the best for last -- or they would, that is, if there weren't two matches scheduled for Monday evening. But the thought's still there: let everyone watch as the second- and third-placed teams battle it out. Whoever's left standing still gets to consider themselves in the running for the scudetto.

Of course, with the way Napoli and Inter have played recently, it might be fair to say neither of them deserve the title. If they did, they would've managed to catch up to Juventus by now, both having had opportunity to capitalize on the Old Lady's dropped points. Had Napoli beaten Atalanta, they'd be top right now. A win over Torino or AC Milan and they'd be level with Juve on points. But at least they managed to climb back above Inter.

The nerazzurri have fared even worse. After accomplishing the impossible -- beating Juventus -- over a month ago, Andrea Stramaccioni's side have attempted to slide into obscurity. They lost to Atalanta and Parma and drew with Cagliari. Their one win since that fateful encounter in Turin was last week's 1-0 victory over Palermo, and they needed an own goal from Santiago Garcia to even accomplish that much.

It's uncertain why Inter have fallen so quickly. If anything, their injury reports have become shorter rather than longer, so it's not an absence of regulars -- although Antonio Cassano's suspension wasn't exactly helpful. Strama's been trying different combinations of attacking players, but he's still lacking that all-important creator in the center of the pitch. Inter have also returned to a back three, but it hasn't been as successful as it was pre-Turin.

Napoli, meanwhile, seem to revel in taking years off their supporters' lives, so unexpected losses really come as no surprise. They spent last week taking target practice at poor Pescara, whom they beat 5-1, but haven't been so impressive against teams not dead-last in the table. Still, they have a healthy Edinson Cavani, which should be more than enough to strike fear in the hearts of any side. Add to that a Marek Hamsik that seems to have shaken off the gloom pervading him the past few weeks, and Gokhan Inler's impressive abilities in the middle of the pitch, and they're the team that should come out on top.

Which, of course, means Napoli will take this opportunity to fail spectacularly.

Inter Milan Injuries and Suspensions

Cristian Chivu, Gaby Mudingayi, Joel Obi and Dejan Stankovic (injured); Walter Samuel (suspended)

It's always a good idea when your side's best defender gets himself suspended for the match against the club sitting directly above in the standings. Expect Matias Silvestre to deputize.

Napoli Injuries and Suspensions

Salvatore Aronica, Christian Maggio and Goran Pandev (in doubt)

Here's a thought Walter Mazzarri should consider: don't play Maggio in a meaningless Europa League match, particularly when he's got no adequate replacement on the right. Also, sell Aronica.

Match Date / Time: Sunday, December 9 at 8:45 p.m. local / 2:45 p.m. ET

Venue: Stadio San Siro, Milan

TV: Sky Calcio 1, ESPN UK, RAI Internazionale

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