ROME - Clashes between AC Milan
and Napoli are often described as North against South and,
at times, David versus Goliath, but there will be extra spice in
Monday meeting's at the San Siro with the outcome
likely to go a long way in deciding who wins this season's
Milan's hotly disputed 2-1 win over Chievo Verona last
weekend maintained their three-point cushion over Napoli, who
inched past Catania 1-0 at the San Paolo.
They also hold a five-point gap over third-placed Inter
Milan, who were also helped by a favourable decision in
struggling to a 1-0 win at home to Cagliari.
After the disappointing 1-0 defeat at home to Tottenham
Hotspur in the last 16 of the Champions League three days
previously, victory in Verona was dedicated to Italian prime
minister Silvio Berlusconi, who celebrated 25 years as Milan
Berlusconi's more liberal use of the cheque book this season
has quietened criticism and brought back memories of his early
years at the helm when Milan and Maradona's Napoli was a pivotal
fixture in Serie A.
The Rossoneri won the scudetto in 1988 with the Azzurri
picking up two titles in 1987 and 1990, but while bankrupt
Napoli imploded, Milan went on to conquer Europe five times with
its owner going on to become the country's leader.
This season Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Brazilian
Robinho, the scorers in Milan's 2-1 victory in Naples last
October, have been drafted into a new-look front-line.
And while the disappointing Ronaldinho departed during the
winter break when Milan appeared to be struggling with injuries,
coach Massimiliano Allegri has been allowed to add significant
squad strength, picking up Antonio Cassano from Sampdoria and
Mark van Bommel from Bayern Munich.
Just as Ibrahimovic goals have begun to dry up, Pato's
spectacular winner in Verona signified a return to form for the
precocious but sometimes frustrating striker.
"He's been out injured for a long time, and come back had to
play in a different position in a much changed team so it's not
been easy for him," Allegri told reporters.
"The boy has been catapulted into the limelight but remember
he's only 21 and he's bound to have ups and downs."
Pato will vie with Cassano for a starting spot on Monday but
left-back Luca Antonini has been sidelined for three weeks with
Massimo Oddo likely to start against his former side.
"Milan certainly have the quality to win the scudetto,"
Mirko Borghesi, editor of club fan site IlMilanista.it told
"But we've had to overcome an injury crisis. We've slowed
down but not stopped thanks to the clever signings in the winter
The fight for places in a winning team has, at times, boiled
Gennaro Gattuso, banned by UEFA for four matches after
headbutting Spurs assistant coach and ex-Milan forward Joe
Jordan in that first leg defeat, has remained typically
"I lost it and made a fool of myself but respect is
important for me," the midfielder said on an Italian talk show.
"They gave me five games (four plus an automatic one-game
suspension for accumulation of yellow cards) the only thing
missing was a month in prison."
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