The last time I set out to write a match preview, I was so despondent that I ended up publishing a glass of whisky. Napoli had just managed to lose to Young Boys in the Europa League, after allowing Inter to sneak a point at the San Siro. And after less than a minute played in the game against Verona, it seemed not just a glass but the entire bottle of whisky would be needed.
Now, going into this midweek match against Atalanta, everything feels...different. The sun is brighter, the birds are louder, strangers on the street aren't just smiling but handing out free candy and balloons.
Please don't punish me for having hope, Napoli.
The struggles of Atalanta
I normally hesitate to heavily criticize an opponent. I'm a heavy believer in jinxes and am afraid that if I mock too much, it's going to come back around and bite Napoli in the ass.
But boy howdy...Atalanta sure do stink. Right now they're neatly encompassing what most outsiders hate about Serie A: negative play, extreme caution, the inability to find the back of the net, and general unlikeability. In eight matches, la dea have scored just three times. Three! They put in two against Cagliari in the second round, and edged a 1-0 win over Parma in the final minutes. That's the same Parma that have conceded 20 thus far, by the way.
Then again, it's been mighty tough for Napoli to get any sort of result in Bergamo in recent years. On the last visit, Atalanta won 3-0, and the partenopei haven't won there since the 2009-2010 season. Let us hope that Germán Denis doesn't rediscover his scoring boots during this match.
Did you miss THE game? Don't worry, we have plenty of celebrations awaiting you right here.
Browsing through a few previews today, I noticed one in which they said not a word about the wonder that is Marek Hamšík. It's a sure sign that someone didn't actually watch the 6-2 thrubbing of Verona (the belief that the scoreline actually didn't reflect the one-sidedness of the match, at least in the second half, was another). Gonzalo Higuaín may have grabbed headlines by breaking his duck with a hat-trick, but anyone watching knows that it was the revival of Marekiaro that pushed this team into such a fantastic victory.
We want Pipita to keep scoring, of course. And we love that Ziggy seems dissatisfied unless he gets a goal in every match. But if Napoli really want to fight their way back to the top, we know that it's Hamšík that must stay in form.
PS -- Napoli, if you want to wear the denim kits again, I'll not say a word.
Projected Lineups Sure To Be Wrong
Atalanta (4-3-3): Marco Sportiello; Boukary Dramé, Yohan Benalouane, Guglielmo Stedardo, Cristian Raimondi; Giulio Migliaccio, Luca Cigarini, Carlos Carmona; Maxi Moralez, Germán Denis, Marco D'Alessandro
You might notice that this is a nice, aging lineup that does not include Alejandro Gómez for some reason. Napoli should have no trouble outpacing them, assuming Atalanta doesn't simply try to break legs.
Napoli: Rafael; Faouzi Ghoulam, Kalidou Koulibaly, Raúl Albiol, Christian Maggio; David López, Jorginho; Lorenzo Insigne, Marek Hamšík, José Callejón; Gonzalo Higuaín
Jorginho might be wishful thinking, but the rest of the squad seems pretty set. Oh, except for that whole Miguel Britos is fit and Rafa is Rafa thing. Ghoulam may have been a bit rusty on Sunday but dear God Britos is the Tin Man and the scarecrow all rolled into one.
This lineup may also depend on just how worried Rafa Benítez is about Saturday's match against Roma. It's possible he'll field a weakened squad and then bring on the big guns when those b-listers can't get anything in the net. Blah.
At a glance
Atalanta: 16th in Serie A; 2W 1D 5L
Napoli: 7th in Serie A; 4W 2D 2L
TV: Premium Calcio 1 (Italy) ... and that's it.
Online: Premium Play, Sky Go Italia (Italy); beIN Sports Connect (USA and Canada)
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 do our best to post some in-game highlights on Facebook.