Preview: Napoli vs. Udinese
Eight points clear at the top of the table after securing 10 Serie A wins in a row, Napoli aim to extend their incredible run on Saturday, as they host Udinese at Stadio Maradona.
Having followed last week’s defeat of Atalanta BC with a midweek victory over Empoli, Luciano Spalletti’s side are certain to lead the standings heading into 2023 and now continue their pursuit of a first Scudetto since the 1980s.
Only twice before in the Campanian club’s history have Napoli strung together 10 league wins on the spin, but this year’s crop have equalled that feat following two more successes during the past few days.
Last Saturday, they came from behind to beat potential title rivals Atalanta 2-1 in Bergamo – the fourth time they have taken maximum points in Serie A despite conceding the opening goal – and they were also able to extend their scintillating streak in midweek.
Having made a handful of changes to his lineup – a couple enforced by injury – Spalletti saw his side dominate the ball at Stadio Maradona, but they had to wait for Hirving Lozano to convert a second-half penalty to break the deadlock, before the Mexican winger went on to set up another substitute, Piotr Zielinski, for the second.
They join fellow Champions League hopefuls Paris Saint-Germain as the only teams still undefeated in Europe’s top five leagues, and will hope to retain such status at least until the competition’s last 16, where they will meet Eintracht Frankfurt in February.
Before now and then, though, Napoli are intent on being crowned Campione d’Inverno (‘winter champions’) by leading the way in Italy at Serie A’s halfway stage – a point delayed this year by the small matter of a winter World Cup.
After hosting Udinese at the Maradona, the Partenopei will not play again until early January, when they return to action with a bang: facing Inter and Juventus within their first three fixtures of 2023.
It remains to be seen whether Spalleti and co can maintain their momentum following such a long break, but they will certainly want to round off a spectacular start to the season by getting the better of faltering opponents on Saturday.
Continuing their slide down the Serie A standings, Udinese were unable to break a worrying winless streak on Tuesday, when they were held to a 1-1 draw by struggling Spezia.
Nonetheless, the Bianconeri still sit inside the top half of the table, having previously won six games on the spin, and have actually lost just two of their last seven outings – including a Coppa Italia exit at the hands of Monza.
Five draws from six in the league, though, have resulted from the Fruilani’s previously potent forward line drying up, and only Andrea Sottil’s secure defensive structure has kept the points total ticking over during that time.
The former Ascoli coach still has plenty of credit in the bank from his side’s remarkable autumn run, but will be keen to cause an upset on Saturday afternoon, in order to end the year on a high.
As Udinese boast the sixth-best away record in the top flight and have conceded goals at a rate of just one per game, they may fancy their chances of halting the Napoli juggernaut – even if the odds are stacked against them.
Napoli Serie A form:
Napoli form (all competitions):
Udinese Serie A form:
Udinese form (all competitions):
We say: Napoli 2-1 Udinese
Napoli are seeking their ninth straight home win in all competitions, and an Udinese side that could not maintain their magnificent start are not best placed to stop them. Such is the hosts’ firepower, they can score goals from all quarters of a talented squad and will ultimately break down well-drilled opponents.