Sports Mole previews Sunday’s Serie A clash between Napoli and Cagliari, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Having remained in the hunt for a top-four finish by posting back-to-back wins, the Partenopei will now seek to extend their recent dominance over the Isolani, who have managed to string together three successive wins to keep hopes of a great escape alive.
A spectacular 11th-minute strike from forgotten man Tiemoue Bakayoko set up a barnstorming start to Napoli’s most recent success – a 2-0 win over Torino last weekend. Followed soon after by a Victor Osimhen goal on the counter-attack, that opening salvo proved enough to brush aside an improving Granata and keep Gennaro Gattuso‘s men locked on points with third-placed Juventus and fast-fading Milan, now fifth.
As Chelsea loanee Bakayoko has intimated that his future in Naples is in doubt – and Napoli do not have an option to make the player’s move permanent – it seems likely the next few weeks will be his last in an Azzurri shirt.
Before his potential departure, the French midfielder will be involved in a collective effort to extend the Partenopei’s recent run of fine form until the season’s finale. In their last 11 games, Napoli have posted eight wins, two draws and only one defeat – against Juventus, in their fixture controversially rescheduled from the autumn.
Having previously enjoyed a 5-2 destruction of then-closest rivals in the Serie A standings, Lazio, the Neapolitan outfit are now set to face a less challenging run-in than many of their fellow top-four contenders – with four of their remaining five opponents currently sitting in the bottom half of the table.
Since their exit from the Europa League, Napoli’s forward department has gone into overdrive and their 73 goals so far this season represents the second-best attack in the league after Atalanta (78) – while bettering the haul of runaway leaders Inter (72). Not only that, but Gattuso’s strikeforce have averaged nearly 17 shots per game in the current campaign – the highest rate in the top five European leagues.
Ahead of this Sunday’s game, one of the chief architects of their final-third fluency, Dries Mertens, has scored ten times in previous matches versus Cagliari and will fancy his chances of adding to that impressive total against opponents whom Napoli have beaten in nine of their last 10 encounters.
Following a stirring 3-2 victory over Roma last weekend, that puts them level on points with both Torino (who still have a game in hand) and Benevento, a remarkable revival is now on for 18th-placed Cagliari.
Inspirational captain Joao Pedro shook off his marker to head in the third and ultimately decisive goal for the Sardinian side, making their current top scorer the first Brazilian since Kaka to register 15 goals or more in successive Serie A campaigns.
Three straight wins have now come after a previous run of four losses – and at 3-1 down with more than an hour played in the first of those successes, the Rossoblu seemed dead and buried – but since clawing their way back from the brink to snatch a 4-3 victory over Parma, they have never looked back.
However, Cagliari have only picked up 13 points from their 16 away games so far, with just three league wins on the road to date, and with a run-in still featuring meetings with both Napoli and Milan, the Isolani’s top-flight future remains in jeopardy.
An upcoming clash with Benevento could instead prove to be the decisive moment in their season, while mid-table outfits Genoa and Fiorentina have little left to play for and could potentially be overcome. On Sunday, though, they face a motivated Napoli team who are almost equally desperate for points.
Napoli Serie A form:
Cagliari Serie A form:
While Napoli goalkeeper David Ospina remains out of action with a thigh strain – the former Arsenal man is expected to make his comeback in the next few days – Napoli coach Gennaro Gattuso has only long-term injury victims Faouzi Ghoulam and Stanislav Lobotka otherwise unavailable on Sunday afternoon.
Cagliari, meanwhile, have Radja Nainggolan back from a ban served in the victory over his former club Roma last Sunday, but both Riccardo Sottil and Matteo Tramoni remain out of action due to thigh injuries.
Though Italy international goalkeeper Alessio Cragno has finally returned a negative COVID-19 test, he has been absent from training for several weeks, so deputy Guglielmo Vicario may be pressed into service again. Gaston Pereiro is still self-isolating with the virus, however, while influential midfield colleague Razvan Marin must sit out through suspension – with Alessandro Deiola covering his absence.
Napoli possible starting lineup:
Meret; Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Koulibaly, Hysaj; Demme; Ruiz; Lozano, Zielinski, Insigne; Osimhen
Cagliari possible starting lineup:
Vicario; Ceppitelli, Godin, Carboni; Zappa, Duncan, Deiola, Nandez, Lykogiannis; Nainggolan; Pavoletti
We say: Napoli 3-1 Cagliari
With much to play for at both ends of the Serie A standings, this fixture promises to be hard fought throughout the 90 minutes.
While Cagliari have shown true grit with backs against the wall – and a talented squad can still prolong their four-year stay in the top flight in the coming weeks – Gennaro Gattuso’s free-scoring Napoli side can exploit the Isolani’s defensive deficiencies to take all three points.