AC Milan vs Napoli, preview: The biggest battle in the war for second place

Giuseppe Bellini

The scudetto has all but been awarded, so it's the battle for second place that's of utmost importance in Serie A. If Napoli get all three points, they'll nearly have secured Champions League football for next season.

It's the biggest, most crucial match of the week. It's the battle that could mean a trip to the Champions League. It's the fight that may decide who wins the war. That's right, it's the meeting between second and third. Milan are now four points back of Napoli, thanks to the Fiorentina comeback last week. That's the first time Milan have dropped points since the Derby back in February, and they've yet to lose in 2013. Can Napoli manage to change all that?

A string of just four points from five matches killed off any realistic hopes of the partenopei snatching the title away from Juventus. But they've fought hard in the last three matches, scoring nine goals and grabbing the same number of points. Napoli won't be willing to give even an inch. Their matches against Atalanta and Torino suggest that Mazzarri-time has returned, and Milan will have to be on their guard until the very last second.

The home side will have to do without Mario Balotelli, whose yellow last week earned him an automatic one-match suspension. But the lack of SuperMario just might help Milan, as Stephan El Shaarawy will be itching to prove that he's still a star in the rossoneri sky. After all, it was his brace that gave Milan the draw in the reverse fixture. With just one goal -- against Inter Milan -- since Balo arrived, this will be the Little Pharaoh's chance to re-prove himself.

Napoli, for their part, will be looking to a new source to pull goals from nowhere. Edinson Cavani is still the top scorer in Serie A, but has been inconsistent in recent weeks. He secured the last-minute win against Torino, but missed a penalty and dragged a last-minute shot wide last week against Genoa.

So suddenly, it's Blerim Dzemaili that's expected to carry the goal scoring burden for the partenopei. His hat-trick against Torino made him a hero, but it seemed like a fluke. When he scored the second against Genoa, it seemed there might be something we'd all been overlooking about Dzei. If the midfielder can rise to the occasion in this crucial match, expect Napoli fans to have a favorite new player to shout about.

AC Milan Injuries and Suspensions

Massimo Ambrosini (injured); Mario Balotelli (suspended)

Napoli Injuries and Suspensions

None known

Match Date / Time: Sunday, April 14 at 8:45 p.m. local, 2:45 p.m. ET

Venue: Stadio San Siro, Milan

TV: Sky Calcio 1, ESPN UK, beIN Sport en Español, RAI Internazionale

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