Having seen their Scudetto party spoiled last weekend, Napoli now aim to secure the Serie A title away to Udinese on Thursday night.
On Sunday, Italy’s champions-elect were denied victory by a late Salernitana goal that silenced a packed Stadio Maradona, but even if Lazio win on Wednesday, they will need just one more point to guarantee finishing in first place.
Despite stumbling at the final hurdle, when their regional rivals from Salerno stunned Naples by virtue of Boulaye Dia’s equaliser, it is surely just a matter of time before Napoli confirm their first Scudetto since 1990.
A third national title awaits, such is their commanding lead at the top of the table, which stands at some 18 points after a deflating 1-1 draw against Salernitana followed Lazio’s loss at Inter.
In addition to tumbling out of Europe at the hands of Milan, Luciano Spalletti’s side had shown signs of either nerves or fatigue in recent Serie A fixtures – perhaps both – but a last-gasp defeat of Juventus took them within touching distance of the prize which has remained elusive for three decades.
Though star forwards Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia have both seen their form dip, Napoli could still get over the line this week and be crowned champions: only two other teams this century have done so with five games left to play – Juventus four years ago and Inter in 2006-07.
Often derided for his shortage of trophies on Italian soil – though he twice led Zenit St Petersburg to the Russian title – 64-year-old Spalletti is set to become the oldest coach ever to win Serie A, and he will expect his team to get the job done on Thursday if Lazio do not slip up at home to Sassuolo 24 hours earlier and make the result in Udine inconsequential.
Before arriving at the Dacia Arena, Napoli have won each of their last eight away matches in the top flight – keeping a clean sheet in seven – and they have also won 12 of their last 13 league meetings with Udinese.
Further demonstrating the disparity between the two clubs, Udinese have conceded at least twice in each of their last six encounters, and their last home win over Napoli came back in April 2016 – since then, they have lost five and drawn one.
More recently, the Friulani – who were beaten 3-2 in November’s reverse fixture – lost their top-half place by suffering another away defeat, as they returned from Lecce empty-handed in their final fixture of April.
Fresh from a 3-0 win over Cremonese, Andrea Sottil’s side were undone shortly after the hour mark, when Tottenham Hotspur-bound Destiny Udogie conceded a penalty and Marco Silvestri was then sent the wrong way from the spot.
As a result, their last five losses have all come on the road; by contrast, they have not lost at home in Serie A since January. In fact, the Bianconeri have already beaten both Milan clubs and Roma at the Dacia Arena this season, so hosting supreme leaders Napoli may not cause much concern.
Having recovered from an awful run of one win in 17 league matches to stabilise themselves in the standings, Udinese could feasibly finish as high as eighth if results go their way between now and June, so they will not roll out the red carpet on Thursday.
Udinese Serie A form:
Napoli Serie A form:
Napoli form (all competitions):
We say: Udinese 0-1 Napoli
Having stormed through most of the season at an incredible pace, Napoli have been off the boil in recent weeks and now lack the same intensity. That does not diminish their feat of claiming a first Scudetto since the days of Diego Maradona, and they can celebrate doing so with a ninth straight away win.