Napoli are headed to Rome and the Stadio Olimpico to face Roma on Saturday, a match that's grown in importance for both teams as the fixture has crawled closer over the last couple of months. Neither team is in great form, and with the Serie A table bunching up in the two-through-six range, both managers will be starting their best players to try and ensure a positive result, right?
Well, maybe not.
According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, it looks as though Napoli captain Marek Hamsik will start not in his customary attacking midfield role, but watching the match from the bench, with Manolo Gabbiadini instead starting in his spot flanked by Dries Mertens and Jonathan De Guzman.
It's a head scratching decision, especially since that attacking midfield alignment and similar ones simply haven't worked for Napoli when Rafa Benitez has tried them over the last month. It's a setup that lacks creativity and stifles Napoli's ability to build up play and advance the ball effectively in to the final third, a problem that has plagued Napoli for much of their recent poor spell of play.
For whatever reason, Hamsik has gone increasingly out of favor with Rafa of late, leading to too many toothless starting lineups. It's not exactly as though Hamsik ever seemed terribly in favor with Benitez, as he's frequently been the first man taken off the pitch even when he's playing extremely well, but in his last ten matches he's started only five, including just two of the last six. This comes despite the fact that, when Hamsik has played over the last three months, he's actually been in very good form.
It's bizarre and mystifying and frustrating all at the same time. The simple fact of the matter is that, in any given match, Hamsik gives Napoli a much better chance of winning. If the club had a good backup for him, it might be easier to see, but they don't. Gabbiadini is a forward, not a creative player. De Guzman has been terrible every time he's been given the role. Michu was just plain bad. There's no good replacement for Hamsik, so this weird anti-Hamsik thing going on only hurts the team.
If he does bench his captain as is believed, Rafa Benitez is actively harming Napoli's chances of winning a crucial match and their chances of finishing in the Champions League places of Serie A come the end of the season. That's really not OK.