Foreshadowing the clubs’ clash on Europe’s grandest stage, runaway Serie A leaders Napoli and reigning champions AC Milan meet at Stadio Maradona on Sunday.
Soon set to fight it out for a place in the Champions League semi-finals, two giants of Calcio convene in Campania, with the home side edging ever closer to prising the Scudetto out of Milan’s hands.
For only the second time in their top-flight history, Napoli will face Milan with more than a 15-point advantage over their second-city rivals, as a changing of the guard from one Italian champion to another takes place on Sunday evening.
Surely bound to end a 33-year Scudetto wait well before the action concludes in June, Luciano Spalletti’s men will kick off some 23 points clear of their visitors in the standings, following a miserable run for Milan and their own continued excellence at home and abroad.
Before the international break, Napoli turned over Torino 4-0, having bounced back from defeat to Lazio at the start of March by beating Atalanta BC 2-0 and Champions League opponents Eintracht Frankfurt 3-0 in Naples.
Forward duo Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Victor Osimhen were on target again during the Partenopei’s latest success streak, with the former scoring twice and the latter bagging four to take his total to 26 goals in all competitions this term.
After brushing off Frankfurt, they are strong contenders for glory in Europe’s premier club competition, but first they must find a way past Milan in the quarter-finals later this month.
The teams will therefore meet four times this season, with Napoli having already won 2-1 at San Siro in September, and Sunday’s second contest will see the hosts aim to maintain a staggering 19-point lead at the top of the table.
Ahead of their 150th Serie A fixture against Napoli, a run of only two wins from their last 16 league meetings with the southern side sees Milan facing down the weight of recent history as well as current form this weekend.
The Rossoneri may have won on both of their last two visits to Naples – and will now seek three successive wins there for the first time since the 1950s – but aside from sneaking past an ailing Tottenham team in Europe, it has been a terrible 2023 so far for Italy’s outgoing champions.
Across the last nine rounds of Serie A, only Lecce have suffered more defeats than Milan’s total of five, while only rock-bottom Cremonese have conceded more goals.
Following a 3-1 loss at Udinese just before the break – when Zlatan Ibrahimovic became the club’s oldest goalscorer from the penalty spot, but ultimately to no avail – they have now leaked the most headed goals in Serie A, while only four teams have shipped more in that manner throughout Europe’s top five leagues.
As Napoli have scored more than anyone else via headers – 15 in the league alone – Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan may need to demonstrate the kind of superb shot-stopping he pulled out on France duty last week if the visitors are to return north without suffering another blow to hopes of a top-four finish.
Their return to European competition is by no means guaranteed for next term; trailing Lazio and city rivals Inter in the race to finish second to Sunday’s hosts, the Rossoneri also have several teams on their coat-tails – including a resurgent Juventus.
Napoli Serie A form:
Napoli form (all competitions):
AC Milan Serie A form:
AC Milan form (all competitions):
We say: Napoli 1-1 AC Milan
In Serie A, Napoli last drew 23 games ago – with 21 wins being piled up in the intervening period. Yet, the absence of their attacking focal point and the disruption of the international break may prove enough to help Milan escape with a point.