Preview: Napoli vs. Empoli

Preview: Napoli vs. Empoli

After sealing European progress in dramatic fashion during midweek, Napoli return to Serie A duty with a visit from the league’s surprise package Empoli on Sunday.

The teams convene at Stadio Maradona – where the Partenopei host their third successive fixture – with the hosts now two points off the pace at the top, and their 11th-placed visitors seeking an eighth victory of an excellent campaign.

Amid an injury crisis at the club, Eljif Elmas was Napoli’s unlikely saviour on Thursday night, as they sent Premier League side Leicester City crashing out of the Europa League and advanced to the knockout stages with a 3-2 win – sealing second place in Group C and a spot in the playoffs against one of the third-placed Champions League teams.

Having squandered a two-goal lead as the Foxes struck back to level by half time, a second Elmas goal ultimately won it for the absence-hit Azzurri, who had suffered their third loss in five during the previous weekend.

Luciano Spalletti’s side have conceded nine goals in their last five league games – as many as they had in their previous 18 Serie A matches – after a 3-2 reverse to Atalanta last Sunday followed the concession of two to Sassuolo and three versus Scudetto rivals Inter.

Though they took a one-goal lead into the final third of the game, Napoli were undone by their visitors’ relentless attacking drive, and following their long unbeaten start, they have recently been toppled from the summit of Serie A and trail both Milan clubs.

Nevertheless, the defeat to La Dea was their first on home soil this season in the Italian top flight, and Napoli have won six of their eight fixtures at the Maradona so far. Precedent is on their side too, for Empoli’s visit, as they have won the same number from their eight most recent games against the Tuscan club – scoring at a rate of almost three goals per match.

Empoli, though, will not be too concerned with the past this week, as they continued their fine run of results since promotion back to Serie A by claiming a 3-1 win over Udinese last time out.

The Azzurri picked up another victory to climb within touching distance of the top half, as goals from Petar Stojanovic, Nedim Bajrami and Andrea Pinamonti secured all three points for Aurelio Andreazzoli’s confident side on Monday night.

Now unbeaten in three games, picking up two wins in the process, Empoli are just four points adrift of Juventus and only two behind the Roman clubs, who sit seventh and eighth.

The vastly experienced Andreazzoli has re-stated his team’s modest target is to reach safety as soon as possible, but given their enterprising play and ability to grind out unlikely results, their fans may dream of attaining greater heights.

To date, Empoli have earned 23 points – their second-best haul at this stage of a top-flight campaign – while racking up an impressive 23 goals: a club record after 16 Serie A matches. Therefore, they travel south in hope of adding Napoli to their growing list of victims this term, which includes Bologna, Fiorentina and Juve.

Napoli Serie A form:
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Napoli form (all competitions):
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Empoli Serie A form:
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We say: Napoli 2-1 Empoli
Napoli can ride the momentum of their European win on Thursday and overcome the restraints of a depleted squad to secure a precious three points in the league.

Set to be a close-fought encounter – given Empoli have won twice as many as they have lost on the road – the hosts still possess a little extra star quality in the final third, which will prove decisive in the end

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