AC Milan versus Napoli – Sunday, 5 February 2012 – 14:00 GMT (LIVE on ESPN)
Later this month, Napoli host Chelsea in the Last-16 of the Champions League. It is arguably the biggest match in the club’s recent history. It could also be their last for some time should they fail to oust the Premier League outfit over two legs, because finishing in the top-three (the only position to award Champions League football the following year) is looking an impossible task for the men from Naples.
A run of four successive league games without a win – the latest a 0-0 draw at home to second from bottom Cesena in midweek – has left Napoli, a team who this time last year were genuine title contenders, a staggering 11-points adrift of Udinese in third. It also leaves them in the precarious position of having to win the majority of their remaining fixtures, which includes Sunday’s daunting visit to the champions.
AC Milan themselves will be looking for a response, as they too suffered a setback in midweek. A 2-0 loss to Lazio in the Roman capital means it’s advantage Juventus in the race for the Scudetto, with the Turin giants now a point clear at the Serie A summit, despite playing a game fewer than their rivals.
So it’s a must-win game for both sides, who clash for the first time since their incredible encounter in Naples last September. A precise header from on-loan Alberto Aquilani had AC Milan in the ascendency early on at Stadio San Paolo, however Napoli – spearheaded by hat-trick hero and goalscoring supremo Edinson Cavani – stormed back to claim a famous 3-1 comeback victory.
The Rosonerri will feel they have a score to settle after their humbling in Naples, so we should see a much-improved performance from AC than in midweek, or even in last week’s routine 3-0 win at home to Cagliari, who were extremely poor on the night. They’ll have to improve as well, as Napoli are a very dangerous opponent at the best of times, but even more so now that they’re backed into a corner.
It’s all or nothing now for Walter Mazzari’s charges, do or bust for the remainder of the campaign, and defeat on Sunday would effectively eliminate them from the race for a top-three finish. With this in mind, I reckon the visitors will pose what has been a lacklustre and disinterested AC Milan problems on Sunday. They were comfortably beaten 3-0 in last season’s corresponding, but they did exorcise some of their San Siro demons by thrashing AC’s Milanese neighbours, Inter Milan, 3-0 in October.
Napoli’s deadly three-pronged attack of Lavezzi, Hamsik and Cavani are 4/6 to notch at least one goal (with Betfair, who offer odds of 1.64 on AC Milan NOT keeping a clean sheet) – a bet I find incredibly alluring seeing as they’ll have to score if they’re to take anything away from this game, as Milan average over two goals a game at home and, with a forward-line to die for, could quite easily maintain that average against a Napoli defence that conceded three in their last away contest, in a 3-2 defeat to Genoa last weekend.
Baring all this in mind, 10/11 on both teams scoring appears cracking value! I am also rather keen on a correct punt, with 3-1 AC Milan an enticing proposition at 14/1 (WilliamHill).