After last week's disappointment, Napoli are still riding in to this match on a high and with opportunity on their wings. The 4-0 drubbing of Trabzonspor in Turkey has given the side confidence that many feared was lost in last weekend's loss to Palermo, and with Roma drawing yet again earlier this weekend, Napoli can make up ground in the race for second place. If they can beat Sassuolo, the partenopei can pull to within three points of second, something few thought would be possible after Napoli lost a week ago. The question, though, is whether or not Napoli can avoid disappointment, something that hasn't been easy these past two years.
Rising To Safety
Since we last met, Sassuolo have risen from being one of the worst sides in Italy to one of its more entertaining, pipping impressive draws off Juventus, Roma, and Sampdoria, as well as beating AC Milan and thrashing Inter Milan along the way. Eusebio Di Francesco has lead a nice renaissance in Reggio Emilia and has been rewarded with a satisfying rise up the table, reportedly earning him consideration for several of the more high-profile jobs in Italy believed to potentially be available this summer, including Napoli's.
Despite those successes, Di Francesco's side faces a tough task on Monday. Sassuolo is fairly battered at the moment, with both of their primary fullbacks out, and both Saphir Taider and Nicola Sansone looking doubtful thanks to their own injuries. Several key reserves, including versatile defender Emanuele Terranova and backup goalkeeper Alberto Pomini are out as well, making Sassuolo's bench look fairly thin for this match.
One advantage Sassuolo will have this time that they lacked in September is Domenico Berardi. The forward was suspended the last time they faced off with Napoli, but has been in red-hot form of late. Whichever of Ivan Strinic or Faouzi Ghoulam start at left back are capable of containing Berardi, but will definitely have to be on their game to keep the Italian in check.
New Verse, Same As The First?
The last time Napoli faced Sassuolo, they won to bounce back from a painfully disappointing result against Palermo. They'll face a greater challenge this time around as Sassuolo have been in better form of late than they were in that first meeting, but they also have the benefit of a confidence boost from thrashing Trabzonspor in the meantime working in their favor.
They'll have to earn the win without Gonzalo Higuain, who's suspended for the match, and optimistic hopes that Lorenzo Insigne and Camilo Zuniga might be back by now have yet to materialize. Napoli aren't exactly lacking for attacking options, though, as Duvan Zapata has proven himself a capable striker this season. None of the three healthy center backs Sassuolo are likely to choose from are particularly adept at containing Zapata's physical style, so the Colombian could have himself a fun time.
Where some questions emerge as to who Napoli could play are in the two midfield bands. Jose Callejon is the only locked-on, assured starter for the match after only serving as a reserve on Thursday; Marek Hamsik wouldn't be hurt by a little bit more rest for his thigh injury, and Manolo Gabbiadini might be needed on the bench as the only other available player capable of playing center forward should something happen to Zapata. Jonathan de Guzman is suffering in a run of dreadful form and looks tired, however, and Dries Mertens rarely starts two straight matches, so both stars could start despite those reservations.
Behind them, the midfield pivot is a bit of a mess right now. David Lopez is in a bit of a downturn of form thanks to fatigue, Jorginho's form is still not completely steady, Walter Gargano is wildly inconsistent and was mysteriously lifted from the Trabzonspor match at halftime, and Gokhan Inler has played exactly one good match in four months. Who starts there is a complete mystery at the moment.
Projected Lineups Sure To Be Wrong
Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Koulibaly, Britos, Strinic; Lopez, Gargano; Callejon, Hamsik, Mertens; Zapata
Sassuolo: Consigli; Gazzola, Cannavaro, Acerbi, Longhi; Magnanelli, Brighi, Missiroli; Berardi, Zaza, Floro Flores
At A Glance
Sassuolo: 12th; 6W 11D 6L; League Form: LDWLDD
Napoli: 3rd; 12W 6D 5L; League Form: LWWWWL
Last Time: Sassuolo 0-1 Napoli
Napoli snapped a three-match winless skid against Sassuolo in September, and got their second road win in the process. Jose Callejon scored his third goal of the season to give Napoli the lead, and the defense kept their first clean sheet of the season to earn all three points. The full recap, should you wish to read it, can be found here.
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