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Napoli vs. Genoa, preview: Napoli must tighten their grip on the Champions League spot

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It's a battle for third place on Monday night in Serie A.

Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

When Napoli beat Lazio last week, they were at the top of the Ferris Wheel, looking down at the vast expanse of Serie A. Now they're ready to complete the circle, cycling back through the teams until they arrive at the...bottom.

Ok, perhaps this analogy didn't work quite as well as I'd hoped. The point is that it's time for the second half of the season, the reverse fixtures, the days that get longer. And there's something to be said for Napoli having been dangling over the abyss just last week. With that hard-fought win to take third place, the side made a decision to keep striving for the Champions League. Alas, with the table the way it is, they'll need to keep making that decision week in, week out.

NAPOLI vs. Genoa:Monday, January 26 9 p.m. CET, 3 p.m. ET Stadio San PaoloNaples
Genoa are in a downward spiral

After an excellent run which saw the rossoblu go nine unbeaten, Genoa are now coming down from their flirtation with a return to Champions League football -- and Napoli must ensure they do not get their hopes up again.

Gian Piero Gasperini's beloved 3-4-3 was working like a dream there for a bit, but after Genoa have bled 10 goals in four matches, it's not looking quite so charming. Then again, was it really a shock that they were able to hold off the likes of Cesena, of Chievo, of Cagliari and Milan? Gasperini switched to a 4-3-3 for last week's 3-3 draw against Sassuolo, but apparently he's going back to what he loves this week.

Genoa's only real surprise came when they handed Juventus their only loss of the season. And that's what Napoli have to be worried about. Because the rossoblu still do have some oomph going forward, and it's quite likely they'll score. It sounds like new signing M'baye Niang will be on the bench, but there's still plenty up front to irritate the Napoli defense.

Napoli must keep climbing

The Coppa win over Udinese was surely exhausting, but Napoli must put that behind them and make sure nothing comes between them and three points. The battle for third is simply too tight to allow any mistakes: Lazio beat Milan, Sampdoria picked up a point against Palermo, and Fiorentina could well get something against Roma.

How, then? Well, by reverting back to something close to the lineup we saw against Lazio. Not exactly, because Walter Gargano is suspended and Rafa Benítez will be forced to use Jorginho (hurray!) And it's highly likely that Jonathan de Guzmán will head back to the bench, making way for Marek Hamšík. Thank goodness, because after that absolutely brilliant goal against Udinese on Thursday, Marekiaro must be on the pitch, if only to give him a chance to demonstrate that he can score in the league as well.

Pretty much Napoli need all the firepower they're able to throw at Genoa. Not because of their defense -- we've already discussed that -- but because when Mattia Perin is on form, there's almost no stopping him. In fact, if Dries Mertens really wants to prove that he should be starting regularly, scoring against Buffon's heir-apparent would surely help.

Projected Lineups Sure To Be Wrong

Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Koulibaly, Albiol, Strinic; Jorginho, David Lopez; Callejon, Hamsik, Mertens; Higuain

Genoa: Perin; Roncaglia, Burdisso, De Maio; Edenilson, Rincon, Bertolacci, Antonelli; Iago, Fetfatzidis, Perotti
At a glance

Napoli: 4th, 9W 6D 4L; League Form: WLWWL

Genoa: 7th, 7W 7D 5L; League Form: DLDLL

Genoa 1-2 Napoli

The season kicked off with a trip to the Marassi, with Napoli feeling awfully despondent after getting themselves kicked out of the Champions League. It looked like things were only going to get worse after Mauricio Pinilla canceled out José Callejón's early goal. Fortunately -- amazingly -- new boy Jonathan de Guzmán struck the winner deep into stoppage time, and Napoli started the season with all three points.

For more details on the reverse fixture, we've got you covered

Watch It

TV: beIN Sport, RAI International (USA and Canada); ESPN UK; Premium Calcio, Sky Calcio 1 (Italy)

Online: beIN Sport Connect (USA and Canada); Premium Play, 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, and we'll have updates of the most important events on our Facebook page, which you should definitely like.