Best odds: 12/5
Napoli are set to host Inter Milan at the recently renamed stadium of Diego Armando Maradona in Naples on Sunday, in what can arguably be described as one of the two extremely important matches of the 31st round of the 2020-21 Serie A season, the other being the one between Atalanta and Juventus in Bergamo earlier on the same day.
For a long time it seemed it would be an underwhelming campaign for Gennaro Gattuso and his team, but the superb form they’ve recently shown has seen them rise through the table in the Italian top flight and they are now well within sights of Champions League qualification. They won five of their last six matches in the league – at home against Bologna by 3-1, away to AC Milan by 0-1, away to AS Roma by 0-2, at home against Crotone by 4-3, and away to Sampdoria last week by 0-2. The only match they failed to win in that span was in Turin against Juventus; they lost that one by 2-1.
Nonetheless, the string of good results has now put them in fifth place with 59 points, just two off Atalanta in fourth, three behind Juventus in third, and four behind Milan in second. It seems we’ll be witnessing a highly exciting race for top four to the very end. Even Lazio in sixth place are not out of it, being four points off Napoli but with a game in hand on all the other contestants.
Napoli competed in the Europa League this term, but having won Group F ahead of Real Sociedad, AZ Alkmaar and Rijeka, they were beaten tightly in the round of 32 by Granada.
Napoli will be without David Ospina between the posts. The goalkeeper suffered a bicep strain in the match against Sampdoria and will sit this one out, with Alex Meret set to deputize. Piotr Zielinski recently returned from injury and they feared in Naples he wouldn’t be ready in time, but the attacking midfielder has rejoined team training and is expected to start. However, winger Hirving Lozano is out through yellow-card suspension and is likely to be replaced by Matteo Politano.
They may have disappointed in the Champions League, but the way Inter have gone about their business in the Serie A this season can only receive praise. For a long time they were trailing city rivals AC Milan, but they stuck to the task and finally, when the Rossoneri faltered, they took their chance with both hands. The Nerazzurri now top the league with an 11-point advantage over Milan, and they’re obviously well on course to win their first Serie A title since the historic treble under Jose Mourinho in 2010, their 19th overall.
Naturally, it’s not over yet, there is quite enough time for the competition to catch up if Antonio Conte’s men stumble in a significant way, but Inter’s chances of being crowned champions look very good at the moment.
Needless to say, Inter’s recent form is superb, six wins in the last six matches. All those triumphs came with a one-goal margin, but that is often a mark of true champions – the ability to do what it takes to win. They beat Parma away by 1-2, Atalanta at home by 1-0, Torino away by 1-2, Bologna away by 0-1, Sassuolo at home by 2-1, and Cagliari at home by 1-0.
As for the Champions League, however, they probably should have done better than finishing bottom of Group B, behind Real Madrid, Borussia Monchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk.
Conte has no important players missing. The only absentee is 35-year-old defender Aleksandar Kolarov, who wouldn’t be starting anyway, through a muscle issue.
Having been rested against Cagliari, Lautaro Martinez should replace Alexis Sanchez in the starting XI and team up with Romelu Lukaku upfront again.
As has been said, both teams are on very good form at the moment, but this game will be a stern test for both. A tough battle is to be expected, with not too many goals and a share of the spoils as the likeliest outcome.
Best odds: 12/5
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