How, oh how, did Bologna become Napoli's bogey side? Oh, that's right: a miserable set of matches last December, both which saw Napoli drop points at the San Paolo. In both matches, Bologna scored in the dying minutes, and in the case of the second match, it meant Napoli, the holders, were out of the Coppa Italia.
An argument can be made that the curse is over, seeing how the partenopei beat Bologna back in May. But even a 3-0 drubbing, featuring goals from Marek Hamsik, Edinson Cavani and Blerim Dzemaili, does not break this hoodoo. Nope, Napoli must beat Bologna in Naples in order to really shake off this strange spell the rossoblu have cast.
Plus, there's that whole getting the season off on the right foot thing. Napoli have had their club shaken and stirred over the summer, and it's high time we figure out how things are going to settle. Even the most avid watcher of preseason calcio can't gauge how the partenopei will perform when the games actually matter. It's terrifying to think that Rafa Benítez could actually choose to use some of the lineups he trotted out over the summer, but as someone who watched nearly every Chelsea match last season, I can safely say he just might.
And we must address the elephant in the room: what's going to happen now that Edi has left the building? Sure, Gonzalo Higuaín will score goals, but he won't score 38 of them (no, he won't. And if you think he will, you're lying to yourself). Perhaps more importantly, he won't bail out the defense as Cavani was capable of doing -- and with very little reinforcements going into that defense, the loss of El Matador becomes even more terrifying.
But it's not all doom and gloom at Napoli. The squad's been reinforced with Higuaín, José Callejón, Raúl Albiol, Pepe Reina and probably some other Spaniards we're not aware of yet. Oh, and Dries Mertens has been brought in as well, but it looks like he'll be taking a backseat for now.
Perhaps most importantly, Napoli have held on to Marek Hamsik, who, despite being mugged more than once in Naples, has gone as far as to say he'd like to end his career with the club. Hamsik is the orchestrator of the side, the one that doesn't always attract the attention, yet in his absence, things fall apart. And yes, this point will be reiterated again and again because Hamsik is absolutely vital to this side. Pay attention to him on Sunday; see for yourself if you're not already a Marek disciple.
Finally, there's Lorenzo Insigne, who has looked absolutely immense in preseason. One of Walter Mazzarri's significant failings was his unwillingness to give youngsters enough time on the pitch. That means we didn't see nearly as much of Insigne as we would have liked last season. But he seems favored over Mertens, and provided the flu he's been suffering for the last few days hasn't left him too weak, we should see him start.
Napoli Injuries and Suspensions
Out: Pablo Armero and Blerim Dzemaili (suspended) In Doubt: Lorenzo Insigne
Bologna Injuries and Suspensions
Out: Nicolò Cherubin, Archimede Morleo and Frederik Sorensen (injured) In Doubt: None known
Napoli (4-2-3-1) - Reina; Maggio, Albiol, Britos, Zuniga; Inler, Behrami; Callejon, Hamsik, Insigne; Higuain.
Bologna (4-2-3-1) - Curci; Garics, Antonsson, Natali, Cech; Krhin, Della Rocca; Christodoulopoulos, Diamanti, Konè; Bianchi.