Napoli vs. Atalanta -- Saturday, September 14 at 8:45 p.m., Stadio San Paolo, Naples
I sat here and typed up the beginnings of an informative preview. I had the "probable lineups" section and the "injuries and suspensions" part and even the "where to catch on TV and online" blurb. And then I hit the delete button. You know why?
Because no one has any clue, that's why.
Of Rafa Benitez's preferred starting XI, eight were away on international duty this past week. Not all started in either or both matches, but all did play some minutes over the past week. Then there's Wednesday, when, just in case you've managed to forget, Dortmund come to town. That's a match that seems pretty important, wouldn't you say?
That's why I don't understand match previews projecting lineups like this one:
Reina; Armero, Albiol, Cannavaro, Maggio; Behrami, Inler, Hamsik; Insigne, Mertens, Higuain
Did Jose Callejon get hurt and I missed it? That's the only reason I can think for dropping one of the few starters that didn't go away on international duty. Should we drop Gonzalo Higuain in favor of Goran Pandev, while we're at it?
But, as I said, I can hardly do better. Mostly because I fear the fact that Marek Hamsik will be rested, given that he started both hard-fought matches against Bosnia. While Atalanta aren't a great side, they're also not going to just give up and start thinking ahead to next week. The main goal for la dea is to avoid relegation, and that means coming to the San Paolo and playing for a point. If anyone is going to break them down, it's going to be Marek.
Rafa knows this. But he also knows that these boys are tired. He knows that they have a killer game midweek, followed by a match away at Milan and then another midweek Serie A match. It's unlikely he'll save the rest time for Genoa, three rounds from now. So, if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say Hamsik will start on the bench.
I'm also guessing that Rafa won't start both Valon Behrami and Gokhan Inler, seeing as they're his preferred pairing, they both played the full 90 against Norway on Tuesday, and he'll want them for the Dortmund match. Expect one, likely Behrami, to give way for Blerim Dzemaili.
Lest we forget, though, this is Rafa. His lineups at Chelsea last season rarely revealed him to be in tune with the average supporter, or even with all of his brain cells. Though I'm prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt at Napoli, particularly as I haven't had issue with his lineups thus far, a little part of me still says he's liable to throw us a curveball at any time. That time might be on Saturday against Atalanta.
So all you need to know about this match is the date and time, which is sitting up there for you at the top of the post. You're welcome. Forza Napoli!