Straight from the dark heart of Italy
RESULTS Fri 9 March Napoli 6-3 Cagliari, Chievo 0-2 Inter Sat 10 March Palermo 0-1 Roma Sun 11 March Cesena 0-2 Siena, Atalanta 1-1 Parma, AC Milan 2-0 Lecce, Genoa 0-0 Juventus, Catania 1-0 Fiorentina, Novara 1-0 Udinese, Lazio 1-3 Bologna
Napoli may have warmed up for their Champions League showdown at Chelsea with a 6-3 rout of Cagliari, but given AC Milan put four past Palermo prior to their embarrassing narrow escape at Arsenal, Walter Mazzarri’s side will still be more than a little cautious ahead of their trip to London.
The Azzurri hold a narrower lead than Milan did heading into the second leg of their last-16 tie, and although they have demonstrated that scoring goals comes easily to them, they have also shown that conceding goals does too. With the tie delicately poised at 3-1 in their favour, there is still plenty of work to be done.
Cagliari forward Joaquin Larrivey’s hat-trick may have been little more than a personal triumph, with each goal ultimately proving a mere consolation, but worryingly for Walter Mazzarri all three were simple headers from routine crosses.
The first came with Napoli already leading 3-0, when an in-swinging free-kick from wide on the right put the home defence on the back foot; enabling Larrivey to guide his header home unmarked.
The second and third were both the result of chipped crosses into the six-yard box, where once again the back-line were out of position and goalkeeper Morgan De Santcis rooted to his line.
Chelsea will no doubt attempt to pepper the Napoli box with a few high balls in the early stages, but the visitors will also need to prevent their opposition from getting to the by-line to deliver crosses under the crossbar of a keeper who is less than secure with his handling.
Much will depend on the back-three of Hugo Campanaro, Salvatore Aronica and the commanding figure of captain Paolo Cannavaro maintaining a tight line to ensure that they no one is left isolated one-on-one.
However, the wing-backs will have an equally crucial role on closing down the space along the flanks, and if the team can repel Cheslea through the first half an hour then space will open up for Ezequiel Lavezzi, Edison Cavani and Marek Hamsik to work their magic on the counter-attack.
Lavezzi and Cavani in particular have been in breathtaking form, with the Argentine scoring for the sixth consecutive game in all competitions on Friday to equal a club record set by compatriot Diego Maradona back in the 1987/88 season. For many, El Pocho is the man who can take Napoli all the way in Europe.
Cavani, of course, has been bubbling over nicely in front of goal, but Hamsik has been a little quiet of late, despite the spikey-haired playmaker being back on the scoresheet against Cagliari.
With Lavezzi free to attack from wherever he feels he can do the most damage and Cavani drifting out to either flank, Hamsik has been restricted into playing a more withdrawn role. Although he doesn’t get into the opposition penalty area as much as did last season, the Slovak is developing into something of an all-rounder – and a very good one, at that.
He could be the key to stemming the Chelsea side higher up the pitch, while also acting as the launch pad for attacks involving the pacy front-two as they search for that vital away goal.
Napoli’s trip to Stamford Bridge promises to be another emotional European night for Serie A, with most involved in Italian football hoping the only tears shed by the visitors will be those of joy, which was how exactly Claudio Ranieri greeted Inter’s win over Chievo.
Such has been the pressure on the ever personable Roman to halt the Nerazzurri’s recent slump that when Walter Samuel and then Diego Milito struck to secure a first league victory in seven, it all became just a little too much.
The result, which just happened to come on the club’s 104th birthday, and the coach’s misty-eyed reaction certainly gives the much put-upon side and its weary fans a massive lift ahead of their European encounter with Marseille.
With Inter trailing 1-0 from the first leg, the San Siro should finally resound to some genuine cup-tie atmosphere, but even qualification to the quarter-finals is unlikely to save Ranieri’s bacon in the longer term.
As he was drying his tears and calming his nerves, reports were filtering through that Moratti had already met with Andre Villas-Boas to sound out the recently-sacked Chelsea manager about taking charge next season.
In the meantime it would be a crying shame if Serie A does not have three representatives in the quarter-finals come Wednesday evening.
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