Napoli vs. Cagliari, preview: Will in-form Cagliari throw a wrench in Napoli's Champions League Plans?

Marco Luzzani

With Milan set to play Juventus on Sunday night, it's imperative that Napoli get all three points to increase their lead in second place. Unfortunately, they're set to host Cagliari, one of the hottest sides in Serie A right now.

Last time around, Napoli refused to give AC Milan more than a point, with Goran Pandev equalizing just after Mathieu Flamini opened the scoring. That meant the partenopei remained four points clear in second, but they have a fantastic chance to extend their lead this weekend, with Milan traveling to Juventus. Plus, Napoli have lost just once at home, so hosting a midtable side should be a piece of cake.

Except it's Cagliari that are visiting. Now, trips from the Sardinians don't normally strike fear into the hearts of most Serie A sides, but circumstances this time around are somewhat different. Cagliari beat Inter Milan last time around -- and if you're about to say that beating Inter isn't exactly difficult these days, let's remember that Cagliari also held Europe challengers Catania to a draw after beating Fiorentina 2-1. The rossoblu are on a five match unbeaten streak and have lost just twice in 14 matches.

Feeling nervous yet, Napoli fans? Perhaps we shouldn't mention, then, that starting keeper Morgan De Sanctis and most-reliable defender Hugo Campagnaro both sit out one-match bans. Cagliari aren't exactly prolific in front of goal, having scored 39 to Napoli's 58. But a back line of Alessandro Gamberini, Paolo Cannavaro and Miguel Britos, sitting in front of Antonio Rosati, is likely to make for an even more terrifying defensive display than what we normally see from the partenopei.

Because it's unlikely that such a frail defense can be relied upon to prevent goals, Napoli will have to engage the just-score-one-more strategy. It worked against Atalanta (3-2) and against Torino (5-3), but last week against Milan, it was clear that the objective was to simply eke out a point. But with just six games to go and Milan sitting uncomfortably close to second, Walter Mazzarri will have to make it clear to his men that just one point won't be sufficient.

Napoli certainly have the talent to score plenty of goals -- problem is, if they're not moving in sync, those goals just won't come. Sure, there's the possibility that Blerim Dzemaili will perform some long-distance magic once again, but for the most part, Mazzarri will be looking to Marek Hamsik to create the chances. The Slovak already has 14 assists this season, but even when he's not the direct provider, it's usually his vision and passing that create momentum for Napoli.

And, of course, there's Edinson Cavani. El Matador has 22 goals in Serie A thus far, and looks a shoo-in to win the Capocannoniere. But Cavani can be wasteful in front of goal (see, particularly: Penalty, missed) and he hasn't scored in the last two matches -- something of a long drought for the forward. If Cavani and Hamsik find the "click" on Sunday, Napoli have nothing to worry about. If not, it could be a very long 90 minutes for a side so hopeful of securing the Champions League position.

Napoli Injuries and Suspensions

Hugo Campagnaro and Morgan De Sanctis (suspended)

Cagliari Injuries and Suspensions

Francesco Pisano (injured); Daniele Conti and Mauricio Pinilla (suspended)

Match Date / Time

Sunday, April 21 at 3 p.m. local, 9 a.m. ET

Venue

Stadio San Paolo, Naples

TV

Sky Calcio 1, beIN Sport, beIN Sport en Español, RAI Internazionale

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