Sandwiched between two huge matches, it would be easy to overlook and/or entirely forget about Livorno. The 18th-placed club in Serie A isn't exactly an exciting opponent, but this is the exact kind of match that Napoli have struggled with all season.
The Hopeful Spoilers
To say that Livorno has struggled this season is an understatement. They've won just five matches all year long, and none have come against squads in the upper half of the table (though Atalanta was ninth when Livorno beat them in November). Their attack has been woeful, scoring at least three goals just four times this season, and netting twice only another four (though that does include their last two matches). They've surrendered at least three goals seven times, and kept just three clean sheets. It's been a rough ride.
They've been somewhat better of late, however, since Domenico Di Carlo took over. Under Davide Nicola, Livorno managed a meek 0.68 points per game through mid-January, but since Di Carlo replaced him, they've managed a respectable 1.4 PPG in his five matches in charge. Given that they're three points clear of last-place Sassuolo and just one point behind 16th-place Chievo Verona, that form might be enough to keep them in Serie A if they can maintain it.
Di Carlo has been using the same 3-5-2 favored by Nicola, though with a few tweaks. He keeps it a bit less bunkered, and his wingbacks are much more free to join in the attack than they were before. The loss of Andrea Luci to a torn knee ligament is going to be difficult for them to deal with, however, as Leadro Greco just isn't on the same level as Livorno's captain.
With Raul Albiol and Gonzalo Higuain suspended, and Giandomenico Mesto and Camilo Zuniga still not ready to return from their injuries (though reports have them coming back before too much longer, not that we haven't heard that before with Zuniga), the lineup is a bit thin. Trying to keep players fresh for Roma makes things even more of a challenge.
We'll certainly see Jorginho return to the lineup after sitting out the Europa tie, and Gokhan Inler will likely partner him after Valon Behrami looked poor and tired against Swansea. Duvan Zapata is a near-lock to start after Rafa specifically mentioned needing to see him play to evaluate him. Rafa also mentioned a potential rest for Jose Callejon, which makes sense as he's looked a bit tired again lately and had a nightmarish time with Ben Davies on Thursday.
Given that he was used as a sub against Swansea, Marek Hamsik should start in midfield, especially given that Goran Pandev is needed on the pitch as the only other active striker for this match. Federico Fernandez should return to the lineup after his exceptional performance in the draw against Genoa, and he'll likely be partnered by Henrique Buss.
The important part, as always, is for Napoli to stay focused on this match here and now. They cannot afford to look past Livorno and drop points to a minnow yet again, especially after Roma dropped points against Inter Milan. If Napoli want to try to take second place, they need to take all three points at every possible opportunity, and this is most certainly one of them.
Livorno: Bardi; Ceccherini, Rinaudo, Emerson; Mbaye, Duncan, Greco, Benassi, Mesbah; Paulinho, Emeghara
Napoli: Reina; Reveillere, Fernandez, Henrique, Ghoulam; Jorginho, Inler; Insigne, Hamsik, Mertens; Zapata
At a glance
Livorno: 18th; 5W 5D 15L; -19 GD; LWLDW
Napoli: 3rd; 15W 6D 4L; +22 GD; DWWLD
Napoli won easily at home back in October, taking a poor Livorno side to task for a 4-0 final scoreline. Pandev and Inler opened the scoring in the first half, and Callejon and Hamsik finished them off in the second. If you don't remember the match, that's perfectly fair, because it was the kind of match that was forgotten hours after it was over, despite the entertaining scoreline for the partenopei.
The match will start Sundayu at 8:30 PM CET/12:30 PM EST. Television coverage will be on Sky Supercalcio HD in Italy, ESPN UK in the UK, and beIN Sports in America. Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, we'll have a match thread live here for discussion of the game at hand. You can also follow along with us live on Twitter.