Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 8/5
The new Serie A champions Napoli will play host to Inter Milan on Sunday at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, in a match within the 36th round of the campaign in the Italian top flight. The match obviously holds no competitive significance for Luciano Spalletti’s team, but it’s very important for the Champions League finalists.
It’s truly been an impressive Serie A season for Napoli. The title is officially their now, the city under the Vesuvius has already held its celebrations, and it was clear it would happen several months ago as they left their competition further and further behind. With three matches left to play, their tally amounts to 83 points, 14 more than that of Juventus in second place.
Napoli’s Champions League adventure, however, ended in quarterfinal disappointment as they played three matches (two as part of the two-legged tie and one in the Serie A) against AC Milan within a span of 16 days and failed to win any of them, losing twice.
The last of those matches, the second Champions League leg played in Naples which ended in a 1-1 draw, was the one which started their current last-six run, followed by a 0-1 win away to Juventus, a 1-1 draw at home against Salernitana, a 1-1 draw away to Udinese, a 1-0 home win over Fiorentina, and a 2-0 defeat away to Monza.
The bad news for the Napoli supporters at the moment is that Spalletti has reportedly turned down an offer of a new contract amid disagreements with club president Aurelio De Laurentiis and might end up leaving the club at the end of the season.
The 64-year-old may have turned down an offer of a new contract, but the claims about his potential departure are surely an exaggeration. His contract has another year left to run, and regardless of their alleged disagreements, De Lauretiis isn’t very likely to fire a coach who just took his team to their first Scudetto in more than three decades, and being a shrewd businessman, he also wouldn’t allow Spalletti to leave on his own accord before the current contract expires.
Whatever the situation between the two men may be, it’s likely that they’ll find a way to continue working together at least for another year.
The only player unavailable for selection is winger Hirving Lozano, who won’t play again this season.
Having rotated his team for the last two games, Spalletti is likely to revert to his strongest XI for this one.
Alex Meret should return between the posts, with Kim Min-jae and Amir Rrahmani as the centre-back duo, flanked by captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Mathias Olivera. Stanislav Lobotka will be providing protection for the back four from the base of midfield as Piotr Zielinski and Frank Anguissa play between the boxes. Striker Victor Osimhen will be flanked by Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and most likely Matteo Politano, though Eljif Elmas could be an option as a wide attacker too.
Unlike for Napoli, this is the business end of the season for Inter. Every game is huge, with a lot to be won and a lot to be lost. These are the circumstances that make teams great, or break them into little pieces.
A fraction of the minds of head coach Simone Inzaghi and his players will be reserved at the moment for the upcoming Champions League final, and nobody can blame them for it. It’s a huge moment in the club’s history, a chance to reclaim the European throne after 13 years and arguably eclipse what Napoli have done on the domestic scene.
Inter also stand a good chance of lifting the Coppa Italia trophy, facing Fiorentina in that final on May 24th.
And while eyes around Europe stare at June 10th on their calendars, in Italy right now, it’s all about the top four and securing a place in next season’s edition of the Champions League without the need to win its final. At the moment, Inter are third in the Serie A table with 66 points, three less than Juventus, one more than Lazio, and five more than AC Milan. The Rosseneri are, of course, huge favourites to win their game against the Serie B-bound Sampdoria on Saturday evening, but if some crazy chance they don’t, and Inter win this one, the job will be done.
Another thing that sets apart these two teams is the fact that Inter are on a fantastic run of results. They won every single game of their last six in all competitions, starting with a 3-1 triumph over top-four rivals Lazio. Then they smashed Hellas Verona away by 0-6, beat Roma in Rome by 0-2, beat Milan in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal by 0-2, beat Sassuolo at home by 4-2, and completed the double over Milan with a 1-0 victory in the second leg.
Defender Milan Skriniar and midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan are injured and set to miss out.
Despite the importance of the game and the quality of the opponent, Inzaghi may choose to rotate his forwards for this clash and leave Lautaro Martinez and Edin Dzeko on the bench, to keep them fresh for the Coppa final.
If so, Romelu Lukaku will start upfront with Joaquin Correa by his side. Hakan Calhanoglu and Nicolo Barella will be tasked with creating from the middle of the park, with Marcelo Brozovic there as rearguard, Denzel Dumfries on the right and Federico Dimarco on the left. The back three should consist of Alessandro Bastoni, Francesco Acerbi and Danilo D’Ambrosio, ahead of goalkeeper Andre Onana.
As strange as may seem at first glance, Inter seem more likely to win this game. With both sides boasting plenty of quality, the Nerazzurri’s need for points and Napoli’s patchy recent form are sure to play a part.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 8/5
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