After the rapturous joy of thumping Roma to progress to the Coppa Italia final, Napoli have what should be a much easier test against Italy's 19th placed side this weekend. With it brings a manager still learning his squad, as well as a date with an old and dear friend of the partenopei faithful.
A Blast From The Not-So-Distant Past
As is all too common in Italy this time of year, Sassuolo is breaking in a new manager. Alberto Malesani has been in charge of the neroverdi since the end of January, and has so far overseen two losses in charge of his new club. It's been a long time since Malesani has seen much success, but he did win a Cup double with Parma in the 98/99 season, bringing home the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup that season. In recent years, he's preferred a very defensive 3-5-2 formation that sits very deep and is almost completely reliant on scoring off the counter as opposed to trying to build up play. That's not great news for leading goalscorer Domenico Berardi, who is sure to see his goalscoring pace slow down considerably from here.
The bigger news for Napoli fans, however, is facing off against former captain Paolo Cannavaro, a deadline day loan addition aimed at solidifying a leaky back line. Canna has already started two matches for Sassuolo, wearing the armband both times while their captain Francesco Magnanelli is out injured. Sassuolo's injury ward has been a busy place this season, with a large number of players missing time this season, including several long-term injuries to players the club was counting on. Joining them on the sideline is newcomer Aleandro Rosi, who had started at right wing back in both matches he was eligible for after joining on loan from Parma.
Sitting To The Occasion?
Napoli will have to do some rotation, thanks to tired legs and a bevy of yellow card suspensions. Gokhan Inler, Jorginho, and Jose Callejon are all suspended, so a double pivot of Valon Behrami and Blerim Dzemaili is a certainty. There's also the Europa tilt against Swansea next Thursday to consider, so some of the more important names in the starting lineup might get a rest to make sure they're in top condition. It's also likely that Henrique Buss is given his full debut after coming on as a late sub against Roma.
The main concern for Napoli is making sure to keep their eyes on the prize. All season long, they've had problems playing at their full potential against teams much lower in the table than they are, especially around big matches. With Sassuolo in 19th and the fixture sandwiched between the dramatic Coppa Italia semi and the Europa League tie against Swansea, the chance for the same happening here seems uncomfortably high. Hopefully the squad will manage to be more focused tomorrow, because from this point to the end of the season, every single point will be vital.
Sassuolo (3-5-2): Pegolo; Antei, Cannavaro, Bianco; Gazzola, Brighi, Marrone, Missiroli, Longhi; Berardi, Floccari
Napoli (4-2-3-1): Reina; Maggio, Henrique, Albiol, Reveillere; Behrami, Dzemaili; Mertens, Hamsik, Insigne; Pandev
At a glance
Sassuolo: 19th; 4W, 5D, 14L; League Form: LLLLW
Napoli: 3rd; 14W 5D 4L; League Form: WLDDW
Sassuolo was the first club to make Napoli drop points all the way back in September. Blerim Dzemaili scored the first of his four goals this season, but it wasn't enough to seal the victory as Simone Zaza equalized just a few minutes later. That was the first sign of what's become a disturbing trend of Napoli falling completely flat against minnows, especially right around big matches.
The match will start Sunday at 3:00 PM CET/9:00 AM EST. Television coverage will be on Sky Sports 1 Italia in Italy and beIN Sports Español 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.