With their Scudetto hopes hanging by a thread, Napoli travel to Tuscany on Sunday, where they meet an ailing Empoli side without a win in 2022.
The Azzurri-clad clubs convene at Stadio Carlo Castellani after the visitors blew a lead to drop points against Roma last time out, while their hosts were beaten yet again – going 16 games without success for the first time in Serie A.
Though they remain in the race for a first title in over 30 years, the result of Napoli’s 150th top-flight encounter with Roma on Monday makes them outsiders heading into the final five games of their 2021-22 campaign.
The growing reputation Jose Mourinho’s men have for striking in stoppage time was embellished at the Partenopei’s expense, as substitute Stephan El Shaarawy netted a 91st-minute equaliser – cancelling out Lorenzo Insigne’s eighth goal from the penalty spot this term.
Luciano Spalletti’s men therefore enter the weekend with a four-point deficit to leaders Milan, though reigning champions Inter – who play on Saturday – sit between them and the Rossoneri and still have a potentially decisive game in hand.
Following a loss at home to in-form Fiorentina a fortnight ago – their fifth league defeat at Stadio Maradona already – Napoli will now hope that their superb record on the road can continue, and keep them in the hunt for Scudetto glory.
Away from home, Spalletti’s side have posted the joint-best performance in Serie A this season (37 points from 16 games, along with Milan), while losing only once – and that was against Inter last November.
Indeed, outside of their Campanian headquarters, Napoli have averaged 2.31 points per match – far higher than a rate of 1.76 recorded at home – but the waning effectiveness of their previously watertight defence is becoming a concern.
Ahead of their trip to the Castellani – where they have won just once in eight previous top-flight visits – Napoli have conceded in each of their last nine league games.
Empoli have actually won their last two league games against Napoli, including a 1-0 victory in December’s reverse fixture, and will now attempt to complete a seasonal double over their fellow Azzurri for the very first time in Serie A.
However, when the clubs last met, the Tuscan team were flying high in the top of half of the table, as they enjoyed a remarkable return to the Italian elite. Now, though, coach Aurelio Andreazzoli – once Spalletti’s assistant at Udinese and Roma – leads a side bereft of confidence and in an apparently endless downward spiral.
Last year’s Serie B champions have not won any of their last 16 league games – both losing and drawing eight – following a 4-1 humbling at Udinese last Saturday.
That represents the longest ongoing winless streak across the top five European leagues, and only the combination of an excellent autumn period – when they not only toppled Napoli but also beat Juventus – with the shortcomings of sides below them has stopped Andreazzoli’s men descending into a scrap for survival.
Still sitting 14th, Empoli remain 12 points above the bottom three, but will surely not want to break a record which has stood throughout Serie A history: no team has avoided relegation without winning a single match in the second half of the season.
Empoli Serie A form:
Napoli Serie A form:
We say: Empoli 0-2 Napoli
Empoli have scored only twice in their last six games; winning just three times at home all season. They should therefore be a welcome proposition for Napoli, who cannot afford to falter in the final few weeks.
It may not be entirely straightforward for the Partenopei, given the pressure on their shoulders, but they can break their brittle hosts down more than once over the course of 90 minutes.