Preview: Napoli vs. Roma
Continuing their Scudetto crusade into the second half of the Serie A season, league leaders Napoli welcome southern rivals Roma to Stadio Maradona on Sunday.
The teams contest the Derby del Sole having enjoyed some fine form so far this year – the Partenopei’s advantage at the top has recently grown to 12 points; their visitors have won three of their last four league games.
Becoming only the fifth side in Serie A history to have won at least 16 of their first 19 fixtures, ruthless Napoli took care of business against their Campanian counterparts Salernitana last time out, and a 2-0 win at Stadio Arechi means Luciano Spalletti’s side have won their last three matches by an aggregate score of 9-1.
With his 50th goal in Europe’s top five leagues, leading scorer Victor Osimhen put the Partenopei on the road to 50 points from the first half of a remarkable campaign by doubling their lead following Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s opener in first-half stoppage time.
That success provided an immediate response to a very rare failure, after they had slipped out of the Coppa Italia against a Cremonese side yet to win even once in Serie A, and also consolidated their 5-1 destruction of Calcio’s crisis club Juventus.
Every other team to have reached their half-century by the halfway stage subsequently went on to secure the Scudetto, and Napoli are now firm favourites to end a long title drought stretching back 33 years.
Before resuming their electrifying Champions League campaign at the end of next month, they face surely their toughest test between now and then this weekend; yet Napoli are unbeaten in eight of their last nine league matches against Spalletti’s former club and last lost to Roma in the top flight back in 2019.
Not only that, they turned over their capital city counterparts in Rome earlier this season – with Osimhen netting the only goal late on – and are also undefeated in their last four league games at home to the Giallorossi.
The last time Roma suffered a longer such streak against Napoli in Serie A was between 1989 and 1995, and current coach Jose Mourinho also has precedent stacked against him when he aims to end that run on Sunday.
The Portuguese coach’s nearest thing to a nemesis will occupy the home dugout this weekend, as Mourinho’s win-rate against Spalletti stands at just 20% – with only one league victory to his name from five meetings between the pair, and none since October 2008.
However, he may still fancy his chances of playing the pantomime villain in Naples once again, as his Roma side have been grinding out results in 2023, despite lacking a little fluency and flair.
Since the turn of the year, only Nantes and Newcastle United have posted more clean sheets than the Giallorossi among teams in the top five European leagues, and their fourth from five outings came in La Spezia last weekend.
In fact, they prevented their hosts having a single shot on target at Stadio Alberto Picco, where goals just before and after the break – scored by Stephan El Shaarawy and a revitalised Tammy Abraham – condemned Spezia to a 2-0 defeat.
As a result, Mourinho’s men are still level with arch-rivals Lazio on points, and now within just one of second-placed Milan. Given the self-inflicted woes of Juventus, a clear route back to the Champions League lies ahead in the second half of the season, though whether wayward striker Nicolo Zaniolo will play any part in that journey remains to be seen.
Napoli Serie A form:
Napoli form (all competitions):
Roma Serie A form:
Roma form (all competitions):
We say: Napoli 1-0 Roma
Napoli and Roma have conceded the fewest shots on target in Serie A this season, so a goalfest is perhaps not in store on Sunday evening. They are also the teams to have leaked the fewest goals during the second half (only seven apiece), which suggests an early strike for the red-hot hosts could be enough to win it.