The international break is finally over, and Napoli are back in action with a trip to Udinese with a chance to not only keep themselves in the Serie A title race, but to potentially throw the zebrette into the thick of the relegation battle.
This won't be an easy match, though -- Napoli haven't won at the Stadio Friuli in several years, though they've earned more draws than losses in that time. It would be wonderful to end that streak, but that will be easier said than done -- though at least Udinese have lost three of their last six home matches, and won just once in their last 12 overall matches.
That poor form has Udinese sitting just three points above the relegation zone, and incredibly desperate to regain some semblance of positivity for this season. They can't afford to keep losing matches, and they're going to throw everything they can at Napoli to earn an upset -- including Napoli loanee striker Duvan Zapata, fully recovered from his early-season hip injury and the zebrette's second-leading scorer with six goals to his name. His physicality added to Cyril Therueau's trickery will sorely test Napoli's back line, and both Raul Albiol and Kalidou Koulibaly will have to be on their toes all match long.
The bigger question for Napoli is who lines up behind those two defenders. Pepe Reina traveled with the team to Udine, but his status after suffering a calf injury in training late in the week is still very much up in the air. Rafael Cabral and Gabriel have been doing extra training sessions to prepare if needed, and Gabriel is more likely to get some playing time if Reina can't go -- he's the only other Napoli goalkeeper to play this season, after all. Hopefully whoever is in goal is up to the task, because with Juventus continuing to win, Napoli cannot afford to drop any points right now.
Projected Lineups Sure To Be Wrong
Udinese: Karnezis; Heurtaux, Danilo, Felipe; Widmer, Kuzmanovic, Hallfredsson, Fernandes, Armero; Thereau, Zapata
Napoli: Gabriel; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik; Gabbiadini, Higuain, Insigne
At A Glance
Udinese: 16th; 8W 7D 15L; League Form: DLLWLL
Napoli: 2nd; 20W 7D 3L; League Form: WWWDDL
Reverse Fixture: Napoli 1-0 Udinese
It wasn't one of Napoli's prettiest wins of the season, but an incredible defensive performance meant that Napoli only needed one goal to win. Gonzalo Higuain was up to the task with a fantastic finish of an excellent through ball from Jorginho. Napoli were in the midst of their first climb up the table this season, and had a lot of tired legs just before a well-timed international break. This time, they're fresh coming out of an international break and arguably have even more momentum behind them.
TV: Sky Calcio 1 (Italy), BT Sport Europe (U.K.), RAI International
Online: beIN Sports Connect (U.S. & Canada), Sky Go Italia (Italy)
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