Napoli - Roma is a classic of Italian football, but this time, it goes beyond the three points that are on the table. Should the hosts Napoli lose, they'll likely miss out on second place -- which Roma currently occupy -- and direct qualification to the Champions League. The giallorossi are currently eleven points back of leaders Juventus but with a game in hand and need a win to extend their lead over Napoli and keep alive any tenuous hope of the title.
The two teams just met last month, vying for a place in the Coppa Italia final. Roma won the first leg, 3-2, but Napoli came back to win 3-0 and advance to the final. Since that match, Roma are unbeaten and haven't conceded even one goal, while the partenopei -- although also unbeaten -- have managed just a point apiece from two games they should've won.
It is expected that Rafa Benítez will use his strongest possible team, with only fullback Camilo Zúñiga and goalkeeper Rafael out with injury. Jorginho is certain to start in midfield, but it's between Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami for the second midfield spot. Dries Mertens, one of the best for Napoli in recent weeks, will be favored over Lorenzo Insigne to start alongside Marek Hamšík and José Callejón, with Gonzalo Higuaín up top.
Roma have not lost a Serie A game in forever and look on paper to be in better form. In reality Rudi Garcia's boys look tired (strange, as they aren't involved in European competition) and are not performing nearly as well as in the first half of the season. The fact that the lupi are without the injured Francesco Totti and and lost Daniele De Rossi to a three-match ban certainly doesn't help either.
Tactically, there shouldn't be too many surprises. Under Rafa, we've come to expect possession based, attacking-minded football from Napoli. Expect a battle on the flanks, with Mertens and Callejón going up against Maicon (whose form took a slight dive recently) and Vassilis Torosidis. It will be crucial for Roma that Florenzi and Gervinho help out their colleagues in defense to stop Napoli's wide men from punishing them.
With Roma's selection problems and increasing fatigue, it is expected that Garcia will instruct his team to sit back and soak up the pressure, waiting for the opportunity to launch a counterattack. The visitors will be looking to hit on the break, taking advantage of the acres of space Napoli often leave behind.
Napoli injuries and suspensions
Camilo Zuniga, Rafael (injuried)
Roma injuries and suspensions
Francesco Totti (injured), Federico Balzaretti (in doubt), Daniele De Rossi (suspended)
Projected line ups
Sunday, March 9, 8:45 p.m. local, 3:45 p.m. ET
Stadio San Paolo, Naples
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