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Napoli vs. Catania, preview: Will Catania pull a Sassuolo?

The last time Napoli faced a relegation-dwelling side that had experimented with tactics only to be comprehensively beaten the week before, the partenopei couldn't pick up more than a point at the San Paolo. Could that happen again on Saturday evening?

I'm willing to admit that's a nice Catania tie.
I'm willing to admit that's a nice Catania tie.
Maurizio Lagana

It should be simple enough for Napoli, beating a team from the relegation zone at the San Paolo. But while we fans may not be as paranoid as romanisti (I swear, they believe someone is posting false results or something of that nature), the last few years under Walter Mazzarri has left many of us a bit gun-shy when it comes to what should be routine wins. Add to that the dropping of points against Sassuolo, and perhaps it's reasonable to be a bit edgy.

With the reverse against Marseille midweek, followed by a trip to Turin that absolutely must result in a result, and Rafa Benítez is bound to make some changes to the lineup that beat Fiorentina 2-1 on Wednesday. And that starting XI still wasn't his best -- what, was he saving Marek Hamšík to use against the elefanti? Fiorentina were the better side for much of the match, and it was only through a bit of luck that Napoli took all three points.

So who sits? Well, Christian Maggio for one, after he picked up a second yellow in Florence. It's probable that Paolo Cannavaro comes in to give Raúl Albiol a rest, and the usual change of Gökhan İnler making way for Blerim Džemaili. The papers suggest it'll be Goran Pandev up top for Gonzalo Higuaín, but, despite Pandev not yet being thirty, he still seems like he's unable to start back-to-back games. It'd sure be nice to see Duván Zapata get a start instead. Finally, it seems Dries Mertens will remain in place, although personally I'd rather see Lorenzo Insigne against Catania and rest the Belgian, who's been fantastic as of late, for the next two matches.

As for the opposition, well, the Sicilians have it so bad it's almost enough to make you sorry for them. Almost. We can save the sympathy for Sunday. First off, Catania made some, shall we say, interesting decisions in the transfer market. Say what you will about the sanity of Pietro Lo Monaco, but at least he rounded up some useful players. This summer, Catania let go of both Alejandro Gómez and Francesco Lodi, replacing them with Sebastián Leto and Panagiotis Tachtsidis -- and no, it's not even adequate compensation. The complementary skills of Gómez, Pablo Barrientos and Gonzalo Bergessio, with a little bit of Lucas Castro thrown in and a game winning Lodi free kick every once in awhile, was what lifted Catania to their highest Serie A finish.

And now they're a mess. Half the team is on the treatment table. Barrientos broke his back. Bergessio fractured his leg in last week's outing. They join eight others on the injury list. Then, because this was clearly the fault of Rolando Maran, Catania sent the coach packing and brought in Gigi De Canio. After earning a point against Sassuolo using the squad's more or less normal 4-3-3 (except for Mariano Izco at right back, which was, um, odd), De Canio went a little crazy against Juventus.

Using a 3-4-1-2 formation beloved by coaches the world over, the new coach shuffled his deck then dropped the cards on the floor. Izco and Norbert Gyömbér, both fantastic against Sassuolo, were deemed inadequate to keep the bianconeri at bay, and dropped to the bench. Pablo Álvarez and Cristiano Biraghi were used as wingbacks in this odd formation, and the Juve midfield was able to easily overpower Sergio Almirón and Tiberio Guarente, who was favored over Tachtsidis only to pick up two yellows. Finally, De Canio dropped Castro, the best healthy attacker remaining, to hand Bruno Petkovic his second start of the season.

Unfortunately, the last time a manager saw his tactics fail so miserably was when Eusebio Di Francesco watched his side lose 7-0 to Inter. He wised up and found a way to shuffle things so that Sassuolo could come away with a point from Naples. De Canio may not be the smartest man in Serie A, but he's not so stupid that he'll try that set up again. Even with an injury plagued squad, he's got enough healthy defensive-minded players to put out a starting XI that will likely be able to contain Napoli much more effectively than they could Juventus.

PS -- Catania have picked up three red cards in six matches so, if all else fails, provoke 'em.

Projected lineups

Napoli (4-2-3-1): Reina; Mesto, Fernández, Cannavaro, Armero; Džemaili, Behrami; Callejón, Hamšík, Mertens; Pandev

Catania (4-4-1-1): Andújar; Álvarez, Legrottaglie, Gyömbér, Biraghi; Izco, Tachtsidis, Almirón, Castro, Keko, Maxi López