After Monday's dramatic win at Lazio, Napoli could do much worse than playing host to 13th placed Udinese. Except there's the fact that the zebrette beat Fiorentina two rounds ago. And very nearly held on for a draw against Juventus last time out. Something's improving, whether it's the actual players or the fact that they've finally started to work under the style of Francesco Guidolin hardly matters. The real question is whether it's going to hurt the partenopei on Saturday night.
Because Napoli, bless their little hearts, won't be at their best. In addition to trying to fight their way back into a scudetto challenge in the league -- and hold off Inter Milan before that match next weekend -- Rafa Benítez also must think about how Wednesday's match at Arsenal is going to go. And he's going to have to go it without Marek Hamšík, which will affect his choices for the Udinese game.
What Rafa should do (but remember, this is Rafa) is play Goran Pandev between José Callejón and Dries Mertens for Saturday's game, and then shift Mertens to the center, adding Lorenzo Insigne on the left, for the Arsenal match. Just go for it -- why on earth not?
But what's a non-negotiable is that Pablo Armero steps out of this lineup. And not to rest him for Arsenal, either. Just...get him out of there. Left back may not be the best position for Anthony Réveillère, but he's capable of playing there and he can't be worse than the second-string Colombian. Hell, Blerim Džemaili at left back couldn't be worse. At least I've seen Dzei attempt a tackle and actually succeed. But it seems Blerim will be in midfield, with Valon Behrami suffering from "a pain in his foot," so it's up to Réveillère to show us his skills.
On the other side, some good news for Napoli: Antonio Di Natale misses out on the match due to muscle fatigue, that or just his usual desire not to play in Naples. That means Nico López will lead the attack, which sounds much less scary than Toto, Udi's top scorer. Luis Muriel, their second highest scorer with three, also misses out. However, when you realize Thomas Heurtaux and Danilo each have two, you tend to think the zebrette are able to score on a set piece. And how much do you trust Napoli to adequately defend a set piece?
Udinese also have Dušan Basta running straight at the partenopei left back so let's hope it's not Armero standing there like a stodge. Basta might not be all that fast, but he's still got the talent to slip a defender. And we haven't talked a lot about Christian Maggio's return to right back rather than wingback, but he's certainly not at his best in that position, so watching him try to deal with Gabriel Silva should be a joy.
The visitors will follow a set Guidolin pattern: sit back, wait for the right moment, and hit on the counter. They'll look to take the ball up the flanks to exploit where Napoli are at their weakest. It's taken awhile for the zebrette to get their system working this season, but it's finally starting to come together, and it could very well be to Napoli's detriment. And this defense won't be as easy to crack open as Lazio's, with only Inter having put three past thus far.
Easy Udinese? Sadly, not.
Projected (hoped?) Lineups
Napoli (4-2-3-1): Reina; Maggio, Fernández, Albiol, Réveillère; Džemaili, Inler; José Callejón, Pandev, Mertens; Higuaín
Udinese (3-4-2-1): Brkić; Heurtaux, Danilo, Domizzi; Basta, Allan, Lazzari, Gabriel Silva; Pereyra, Bruno Fernandes;López