In contrast to the Premier League and the Spanish top flight, Italy’s title race is as good as over. After scoring during a 2-0 win for the imperious Juventus at Milan, Carlos Tevez proclaimed the scudetto to be ‘three quarters ours.’ Even that statement could be construed as modest – The Old Lady are eleven points clear of second place Roma.
Whilst the title conversation may be a moot point, the race to be the best of the rest in Serie A is very much on and will be decided in large part when the aforementioned Roma travel to third place Napoli this Sunday evening. A mere four points separates the two.
Napoli v Roma Betting Odds
Napoli win –
Roma win –
(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)
Recently Rafa Benitez’s team has endured some disappointing draws in the league. Last weekend’s round of fixtures saw the Partenopei travel to struggling Livorno only to manage a 1-1 draw. A first half penalty converted by Belgian international Dries Mertens was cancelled out shortly after thanks to a fumble by ‘keeper Pepe Reina. Post-match the coach said he was, “disappointed with everyone,” whereas the team’s colourful owner, Aurelio De Laurentiis stated “I don’t want to talk about the game yesterday.” In their league game prior to this the spoils were also shared at home to Genoa.
Napoli’s fans and their film producing benefactor may hark back to the embryonic stages of the season in which the side won nine of their first eleven games. Nonetheless their record at the Stadio San Paolo remains remarkably strong with just one blot on the copy book; a 1-0 loss to Parma back in late November. Crucially their last game on the Ligurian Sea did not feature Gonzalo Higuaín. This was not trademark rotation from Benitez. The Argentine hitman was suspended along with centre back, Raul Albiol. ‘We do not depend on Gonzalo, but we do depend on determination,’ said Benitez at the weekend. The accuracy of that view is debatable and the issue could well be addressed in this summer’s transfer window.
The former Real Madrid striker will be available for the upcoming clash with Roma. He leads the way in goals and assists for the Neapolitans this season. El Pipita has found the net thirteen teams this league campaign and assisted his teammates on seven occasions. His unerring finishing, clever passing and strength on the ball is fundamental to the success of the team. His presence invariably brings the best out of the attacking triumvirate that feature behind him, ensuring their enterprising play has an effective outlet. The forward was on target the last time Napoli met Roma in the second leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final. He helped them to a 3-0 (agg 5-3) win to take Napoli to their fifth domestic cup final.
Roma’s Rudi Garcia was undoubtedly frustrated by that loss but the French tactician can take solace from their previous league meeting which ended in a 2-0 win at the Olimpico. That victory was in the halcyon days of the Giallorossi’s ten straight wins at the beginning of the campaign. However, they had their own dour draw to reflect upon last weekend as Inter held them 0-0 at home.
Stand-in captain Daniele De Rossi is suspended having been punished retrospectively for punching Mauro Icardi in an ill tempered stalemate, and Francesco Totti is unlikely to feature as he continues to regain fitness following an injury. On the plus side Brazilian full backs Maicon and Dodo will be vying to return to a back line which remains the stingiest in Europe’s major leagues with Leandro Castán and Mehdi Benatia imperious in central defence. The latter has attracted admiring glances from some of Europe’s elite clubs, while the same applies to the young Bosnian central midfielder Miralem Pjanić who plays with a composure and intelligence indicative of someone ten years his senior.
Both Napoli and Roma have comparable styles characterised by short passing, possession, attempting to get beyond the opposition’s line of defence and controlling the ball in the opponent’s half. Both have free kick specialists and relish the chance to attack set pieces. Can punters, therefore, expect each side to nullify the other? That is arguably where the smart money will go, with both teams just over evens to win the game. Yet a returning Higuain could be telling. Benitez should be emboldened by the gap between Napoli and fourth place Fiorentina (seven points). The onus is on the Azzurri to pressure Roma in the race for automatic qualification for next season’s Champions League.
Betting Instinct Tip – With Roma’s formidable defensive record and Napoli netting just once in each of their last two games, less than 2.5 goals can be backed at 2.00 with Intertops.eu
JACK HOWLETT spends most of his time following the ups and downs (mostly downs) of West Ham United. To find some solace he takes a keen interest in foreign leagues, especially Italy’s Serie A. Follow Jack on Twitter @Jack_Howlett.