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Napoli vs. Livorno, preview: ready, set, reset

A tough schedule has taken its toll on Napoli, with injuries forcing Rafa Benítez to swap out his starters. Will rotation work this time around, or will the partenopei stumble as they did against Sassuolo?

No, I don't get it, either
No, I don't get it, either
Paul Gilham

It's time to wipe the slate clean, to push the reset button and clear away any and all lingering thoughts about the Champions League loss to Arsenal. What's done, well it's done. There will be no more of that Champions League experience if Napoli can't manage to keep themselves in the top three in Serie A, so the squad must keep their focus and turn their attention to Sunday's match against Livorno.

Wow, that was a lot of cliches in one paragraph. And really, some rather pointless directives to the Napoli players. Of course they know to focus on the task at hand. It's we fans that get stuck, fretting about past performance and wondering when our club is going to be as good as the squad we've assembled on Football Manager.

What both the players and the fans will need to deal with against Livorno is more changes to the starting XI. Last time Rafa Benítez decided to rest his favored players, it didn't work out so well, with the partenopei unable to take more than a point from Sassuolo. But this time, Rafa doesn't have much choice. Christian Maggio is recovering from knee surgery, so we'll see Giandomenico Mesto again. Paolo Cannavaro comes in for the injured Raúl Albiol, and Camilo Zúñiga is complaining of a hip problem, so compatriot Pablo Armero will take his place. Just, please, Rafa, keep Federico Fernández on the bench.

The defensive changes are made all the more alarming by the rumors that Blerim Džemaili rather than Gökhan İnler will likely partner Valon Behrami in midfield. How long will it take, I wonder, before Benítez learns that if he's using a weakened back four, he must, must, must favor İnler over Dzei?

Finally we come to the attack. Marek Hamšík and José Callejón will play, but it looks likely that it'll be Dries Mertens rather than Lorenzo Insigne. No biggie -- Mertens has looked sprightly in all of his performances. The bigger concern is that Gonzalo Higuaín continues to miss out. Most favor Goran Pandev to start up front in his place, but other sources are saying it'll be Duvan Zapata. It'd be nice to see what Napoli's newest striker can do, but at the same time -- hasn't Rafa learned his lesson about underestimating smaller sides? This is almost the same squad that took on Sassuolo, after all.

And Livorno aren't sitting dead last in the table. In fact, they're currently ninth. Level on points with AC Milan. Not that being level on points with Milan is any great feat, but the amaranto have two wins and two draws thus far, and have conceded just six goals. It's clear that the chief concern for Davide Nicola this season is simply to stay up. With that in mind, expect Livorno to set out in their 3-5-2 formation, with the wingbacks more likely to sit back rather than attempt to venture forward.

it also won't help that the visitors are still smarting from last week's 2-1 loss to Hellas Verona. With fifteen minutes left to play, Verona took the lead from a penalty on Luca Toni, one that Livorno didn't think was all that fair. Last week's loss probably won't be enough to set the visitors on the attack, but it will likely keep them even more cautious on their visit to the San Paolo.