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Return Of The Walter: Napoli v. Inter Preview

Tomorrow sees the long-awaited matchup against Walter Mazzarri and Inter Milan. How will Napoli fare against their former manager?

Claudio Villa

Everyone always gets excited when a manager and his former club go head to head, but somehow it feels even more poignant than normal with Walter Mazzarri and Napoli. Mazzarri did a lot to drag Napoli in to the limelight it now enjoys, and it's a bittersweet thing to see him in another club's dugout on the sideline.

Still, it's Rafa Benitez's job to have Napoli destroy Mazzarri's side, and after the inspired performance against Arsenal midweek, it feels like the partenopei are primed to do just that. With their Champions League campaign cut short, Napoli's focus is now entirely on Serie A. Inter have had no continental football to distract them, but Mazzarri has had a shallow and older squad that has seemed to be tiring and losing form in recent weeks. Add those two things together and the potential for a thorough beating feels high.

For Internazionale, who sit four points back of Napoli in fourth, Diego Milito and Walter Samuel are getting close to a return to health, but will likely remain benched. Christian Chivu, who's missed the entire season after a summer knee surgery, is also supposed to be nearing a return to health, but it feels like a big match like this would be too much too soon for the Romanian international.

Inter is likely to line up in Walter's trademark 3-5-2, with Wilson Palacio leading the line and Freddy Guarin behind, despite Guarin's struggles for form as a playmaker. Hugo Campagnaro has been a rock in Mazzarri's defense, and Samir Handanovic has a legitimate claim as potentially the best netminder in Italy.

The injury front for Napoli remains largely unchanged: Marek Hamsik and Camilo Zuniga are out, but Pepe Reina appears ready to return to goal after Rafael put in a heroic performance against the Gunners on Wednesday. Indications are that Goran Pandev might be dropped in favor of Lorenzo Insigne, especially given that he's never played particularly well against his former club. Given all that, this seems like the most likely formation for Benitez' boys tomorrow:

Reina

Maggio  Britos  Albiol  Armero

Behrami  Dzemaili

Callejon  Mertens  Insigne

Higuain

While it'd be good to see a return for Gokhan Inler, his form has sagged of late, and both Valon Behrami and Blerim Dezemaili quietly had fantastic matches on Wednesday. Miguel Britos looks in line for a return after Federico Fernandez started the last two matches, though the Argentine has also impressed of late. A return for Anthony Reveilleire seems possible, but I'd imagine that Benitez would rather avoid someone still finding form and fitness for a match this important.

In the end, this is a must-win match for Napoli. They desperately need to keep pace in the Serie A table with Juventus threatening to pull away and also having been bounced from the Champions League. Keeping a distance from the clubs behind is also critical, with Inter, Friorentina, and Hellas Verona all within six points.

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The match will start Sunday at 8:45 PM CET/11:45 AM EST. Television coverage will be on BT Sport 1 in the UK, Sky Sport 1 Italia in Italy, and beIn Sport 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.