Last time Napoli traveled to play AS Roma, we decided to build a pillow fort to try and stay safe and snuggly while facing a side that had, at the time, only been scored on once and were perfect through seven games.
At least we had blankets and pillows to wrap ourselves up in after that match because it really didn't go so well. Miralem Pjanić got a brace - the first off a free kick, the second off a penalty. The match proved to be the final straw for former Napoli captain Paolo Cannavaro. The defender came on in the 45th minute to replace the injured Miguel Britos. He gave away the free kick just two minutes later. Then, in the 70th minute, a push on Marco Borriello resulted in a second yellow, Canna's dismissal and a 2-0 scoreline.
The good news is, Paolo won't be making an appearance in either leg of the Coppa Italia match, having taken off to Sassuolo who can use all the help they can get. The bad news? Well, Napoli still have to face Roma.
And, as we're all well aware, Napoli haven't had a great few weeks. First they dropped what surely had to be a win to a last-minute goal from Bologna. Then they barely managed a draw against Chievo Verona. Sure, Napoli managed to beat Lazio to advance in the Coppa, but then fell 3-0 -- 3-0! -- to Atalanta. Oh, and Rafa Benítez still thinks Goran Pandev is good enough to play for the partenopei.
Since when did Napoli become the team that plays for the Coppa? Well, Rafa has apparently decided he needs a trophy as insurance to keep his job. So will it be possible? Can Roma be beaten?
Well, obviously they can. By Juventus, anyway, with the bianconeri managing to beat them 3-0. Roma have also drawn five times, with Torino, Sassuolo, Cagliari, Atalanta and AC Milan managing to take points. The giallorossi are not invincible.
But they're certainly not easy opponents. Excluding the lost to Juventus, Roma have beaten their last four opponents by a combined score of 14-1. The only side that managed a goal was Hellas Verona. On the flip side, they also played Catania, Genoa and Livorno.
Roma have one of Serie A's best centerbacks in Mehdi Benatia, and Leandro Castán has proven himself to be quality at the back this season. But players have started to figure out how to draw out the defense, slipping behind Vasilis Torosidis or Maicon when they get forward and then scoring from just inside the box.
While Napoli sure do love a long range shot that goes swerving off the target, their best goals tend to team goals, scored off a fast break with some overlapping runs thrown in for good measure. This partenopei side is certainly quick enough to get past the Roma defense, and tricky enough to cause them headaches...if Rafa fields his best side, that is.
First of all, Pandev needs to come nowhere near the pitch. He started against Roma last time out, with Gonzalo Higuaín coming in with about 20 minutes left. It's Pipita that must start this time, and considering he didn't start against Atalanta, it looks likely that's what Rafa will do. Behind Higuaín? Well, Marek Hamšík of course, who didn't get any playing time this weekend. Without someone with a spark of creativity on the field, there's no way Napoli are getting a goal past Roma.
José Callejón will get the nod, of course, and it's almost certain that it'll be Lorenzo Insigne on the left, as Dries Mertens played the entire 90 in Bergamo. Excpet Jorginho paired with Gokhan Inler from the start in central midfield, and don't expect to see Anthony Réveillère at all. Faouzi Ghoulam should get the nod at left back, but it's still the rather worrying pair of Federico Fernández - who didn't have the best of matches on Sunday - and Raúl Albiol - who must be exhausted - in the center of defense.
And that defense will need to ensure they're not giving up silly fouls. As learned back in October, Roma can capitalize from a dead ball situation. In fact, they've scored twelve of their goals from set pieces and six from penalties, amounting to 40% of their goals scored in Serie A this season. The Napoli backline has enough that they'll need to struggle to cope with - trying to defend multiple set pieces is not going to be pretty.