Roma vs. Napoli, preview: build a pillow fort and climb inside

Giuseppe Bellini

Napoli may have built a strong side under Rafa Benítez, but perfect Roma are downright terrifying. Here's what to expect when the two teams meet on Friday evening in Rome.

Well, um, this is gonna be fun, isn't it?

Maybe for a neutral. How can it not be, watching the top two teams in Serie A coming together on a Friday night, (mostly) free of other footballing distractions? Here's a quick look at how AS Roma and Napoli compare:

Roma

  • 7 wins from 7 games
  • 20 goals scored
  • 1 goal conceded (someone should give Jonathan Biabiany a medal)
  • 9 different goalscorers
  • Biggest win: 5-0 over Bologna
  • Top goalscorer: Alessandro Florenzi (4)

Napoli

  • 6 wins, 1 draw
  • 18 goals scored
  • 4 goals conceded
  • 7 different goalscorers
  • Biggest win: 4-0 over Livorno, last time out
  • Biggest disappointment 1-1 draw with Sassuolo at the San Paolo
  • Top goalscorer: Marek Hamšík (5)

Roma are ruthless. Yet to win a match by just one goal, the giallorossi love to score in the last 30 minutes of the match, often by wearing down their opponents and making them cry like newborn infants. Until Round 6, Roma hadn't scored in the first half, but considering they've put in eight in the last two matches with no regard to when and why, Napoli can't count on them being considerate enough to wait until the final third of the match.

Rudi Garcia has put together an excellent team in his short time with the club. No side has yet to figure out how to contain Roma's blend of possession, passing and pressing. They'll launch a lightening quick counter and the goal could come from anywhere: outside the area, from the flanks via a revived Gervinho, or inside the area, late in the match through substitute Adem Ljajic dribbling his way through the opposition. It's nearly impossible to break through the defense as well, with Kevin Strootman and Daniele De Rossi providing extra protection for the likes of Mehdi Benatia and Leandro Castán, centerbacks defying Italy's standard of playing defenders aged 30 and over.

There are a few reasons for Napoli to be hopeful going into this match. Both Gervinho, who ran wild against a hapless Bologna defense, and Strootman, able to break down attacks before they come anywhere close to goal, picked up slight knocks while on international duty. Of course, Garcia could just be luring the partenopei into a false sense of security prior to the game. One thing that's certain: Federico Balzaretti, who picked up a second yellow in the dying minutes of the match against Inter Milan, will be out. Vasilis Torosidis could move to the left, and Maicon, healthy again, take his place on the right.

Yet Napoli, too, have concerns of their own. Camilo Zúñiga is injured, and Pablo Armero has spent the week in Colombia with los cafeteros. This prompted Rafa Benítez to say he'll move Giandomenico Mesto to the left and bring back newly recovered Christian Maggio at right back. If fit, Raúl Albiol will slot in alongside Miguel Britos in the center.

If that's not enough to make you want to build a fort out of your couch cushions and not come out until Saturday afternoon, I don't know what is. Garcia may have talked up Napoli having built a squad able to compete for the scudetto and in the Champions League, but the defense is still shaky. Sure, only four goals have been let in, but that doesn't mean Napoli supporters don't flinch each time the ball goes into the final third.

A major part of the reason the partenopei have conceded so few goals is the paring of Valon Behrami and Gökhan İnler -- but İnler played the full 90 in both of Switzerland's qualifiers. Let's hope he's not too beat. We'll likely see him replaced by Blerim Džemaili in for the last 20-30 minutes if the Napoli attack isn't able to break through the Roma defense.

And who will be in that attack? Earlier we dealt with the question of whether it'll be Lorenzo Insigne or Dries Mertens on the left. José Callejón will be on the right, por supuesto, hoping to catch up to Hamšík again in goals scored. The Slovak and Napoli captain (Cannavaro who?) will orchestrate the attack, with a recovered Gonzalo Higuaín up front.

We hope, anyway.

To make matters even more complicated, Napoli face Marseille on Tuesday for a Champions League match that's already a must win. Roma...have no such concerns. But this isn't the time for Rafa to be shy on his selection. Forget all the talk about how this match won't define the sides, or decide the scudetto. If Napoli really want to make an impact in the league, they're going to have to forget about Europe and make this match their priority. Do or die time, boys.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to get to work constructing my pillow fort.

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