It's been a perfect 2014 for Napoli thus far, starting with a 2-0 victory over Sampdoria, then a dramatic 3-0 win over Hellas Verona at the Bentegodi, and, of course, advancing in the Coppa by beating Atalanta 3-1. Now, it's time for a win at Bologna, an absolute necessity to keep momentum alive and to foster hope of catching Roma in second.
Bologna, on the other hand, are winless in 2014. Then again, they've played just two matches, having been kicked out of the cup by Siena back in December.
The first match of the year saw Bologna falling 2-0 to Catania. Apparently a loss to the league's bottom-dwellers was too much for the club, who promptly sacked Stefano Pioli. Davide Ballardini now holds the reins, and he managed a goalless draw with Lazio last weekend.
And yes, we can probably expect more of the same. To be fair to Ballardini, his team displayed more of an attacking threat than the biancocelesti last time out, but with Lazio taking just two shots, it wasn't really that difficult to show more teeth. Ballardini has just one objective: make sure the rossoblu don't fall to Serie B. He's done it with Cagliari and he did it with Genoa just last season.
But if you're hoping for thrills, Ballardini likely isn't the man to expect them from. It's worth remembering that Genoa barely squeaked into Serie A last year, and did so thanks to three consecutive goalless draws to conclude the season. Ballardini isn't going to make Bologna any less dull.
So we've likely got fair warning on what to expect: the hosts sitting back in a 3-5-1-1, possibly hoping to hit on the counter. Napoli hoping to break them apart with their counter, which, at least, is one of the best in Europe when it's clicking.
And it seems we might finally see the attack we've been wanting: José Callejón, Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne behind Gonzalo Higuaín, with Goran Pandev sitting on the bench. Marek Hamšík? Well, he's certainly going to complicate matters, but it looks like he's not ready for a start just yet. That's fine - let's get Marekiaro as healthy as possible before risking him once more.
But man, he looked good on Wednesday....but that's for another post.
The rest of the lineup will be as expected, with the usual clowns taking their place in the back. If Christian Maggio gives another performance as inspired as the one against Atalanta, however, we won't need to worry quite so much about the defense. Ok, that's a lie. Pablo Armero will continue at leftback and we'll still fret about any Bologna attack that might develop down the right.
There's one more piece of good news: should Bologna field their projected lineup, just two of the ten outfield players are under the age of thirty. They're going to catch Insigne, Mertens and Ziggy?
Bologna: Curci; Antonsson, Natali, Cherubin; Garics, Kone, Pérez, Pazienza, Morleo; Diamanti; Bianchi
Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Fernández, Albiol, Armero; Inler, Džemaili; Callejón, Mertens, Insigne; Higuaín
At a glance
Bologna: 17th; 3W 7D 9L
Napoli: 3rd; 13W 3D 3L
Reverse fixture: Napoli 3-0 Bologna
Napoli started the year off right with a comprehensive win over the rossoblu, with Ziggy opening his Napoli account in the first half and Marek adding two more, one on either side of the break.
Watch it: Wherever you can find it. Inter wins out over Napoli, so that'll be the match most stations are broadcasting.
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- Napoli vs. Atalanta, Coppa Italia style: Lineups and Match Talk
- Napoli vs. Atalanta, Coppa Italia edition: Napoli aim to make it past the Round of 16