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Napoli vs. Empoli, Serie A Match Preview: A test of mettle and progress

Napoli have a chance to close the gap on Roma and Juventus after the league's top two teams both drew this weekend. Can Napoli rise to the occasion against the kind of team they've struggled against all year?

Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

It's time for Napoli to get on a roll again. Empoli are coming to town, a team that Napoli should be able to not just continue their ten-match unbeaten run, but end their two-match winless skid. Napoli can't go in to this match thinking it's already won, though; Empoli are exactly the kind of club that they've had issues handling too frequently in the last eighteen months.

Napoli vs. Empoli:December 7th, 2014 12:30 P.M. CET, 6:30 A.M. EST Stadio San PaoloNaples, Italy
Trying To Prove Their Place

Despite winning just three matches this season, Empoli are not a side to be taken lightly. Their current three match loss-less streak comes on the heels of a three match losing streak, but it's been rare this season that they've looked out of their depth, despite many assuming before the season that Empoli would head straight back down to Serie B.

While Empoli lack a dominating goalscorer, leaving them with just 14 tallies in 13 matches, they have proved opportunistic this season. They're solid on set pieces, something that's often a concern for Napoli, and are good on the counter. AC Milan, Genoa, and most especially Lazio have all learned the price of not taking Empoli seriously enough; hopefully, they don't add Napoli to that tally.

An Opportunity To Close

Napoli have been gifted a rare opportunity this weekend: both Juventus and Roma slumped their way to draws in the last two days, meaning that a win can drag our beloved partenopei closer to the top of the table. With gap-closing opportunities proving difficult to come by this season, Napoli must take full advantage.

They'll have to do it without Kalidou Koulibaly, though, as their best defender of the season so far is out suspended after his sending off against Sampdoria. That's going to make life a lot harder for Napoli, as no matter how hard Henrique tries, he's simply not as good as Koulibaly. There's also a decent chance that Gonzalo Higuain misses out with a muscular issue of some kind.

Napoli will have to be focused and driven to make sure they get something out of this match. Come out swinging, land punches early, then keep on swinging. Don't let Empoli in to the match at all, because if they do, they'll regret it. Win, and Napoli can close to within six points of second, and within nine of Juventus. Closing that gap as much as possible by the winter break is vital to try to give Napoli momentum heading in to the second half of the season.

Projected Lineups Sure To Be Wrong

Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Henrique, Albiol, Ghoulam; Lopez, Jorginho; Callejon, Hamsik, Mertens; Zapata

Empoli: Sepe; Hysaj, Rugani, Tonelli, Rui; Croce, Valdifori, Vecino; Verdi; Pucciarelli, Tavano

At a glance

Empoli: 13th; 3W 5D 5L; League Form: DWWLL

Napoli: 3rd; 6W 5D 2L; League Form: DDWWD

Watch It

TV: RAI International (U.S.), Sky Calcio 1 (Italy), BT Sport 2

Online: beIN Sports Connect (U.S.), Sky Go Italia (Italy)

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.