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Napoli-Milan Preview: The Fight of the Century


Somewhere in the manmade oasis called Las Vegas, there is a boxing match being held tonight that is being called the fight of the century. But in Napoli on Sunday, there is a very different match taking place. It is a battle of two teams who are struggling not just for honor, but their very dignity. And then there are their two respective coaches, both of whom are being held accountable for the sheer lack of dignity in their teams’ performances. It’s not just Napoli vs. Milan, it’s Benitez vs. Inzaghi: The Fight of the Century.

"Who wants a piece of me?"

In this corner, we have the experienced Spanish tactician, Rafa Benitez. It seems ironic that people have called for Benitez’ head, considering that Napoli sit in fourth place on the table, five points behind Roma. Nevermind that they are twenty points behind Juventus, that’s a different problem altogether. But despite having three wins in a row as well as qualifying for the Europa League semifinals, they lost 4-2 to Empoli on Wednesday. You know, Empoli, that team in 15th place? And two of Empoli’s four goals were own goals by Britos and Albiol, too. Ouch. It is that inconsistency in form that has Benitez fighting for his job.

For that fateful match against Empoli, Benitez lined up Andujar; Britos, Maggio, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Callejon, Mertens, Hamsik, Gargano, Inler; and Higuain up front. He will be missing Michu to a long-term injury, but could see Zuniga, de Guzman, and Strinic return after their injuries. However, he will have to be thinking about the Europa League semifinal first leg on Thursday when he chooses his squad, which could be a blessing for us.

Yes, the ref heard you. Now you sit four games.

In the other corner, we have the young and inexperienced Pippo Inzaghi. If ever there were an underdog, he would put him to shame. With every card stacked against him, including inexperience, years of club mismanagement and poor transfers, inheriting a squad who had been emotionally run into the ground, player transfers in record numbers, a poor squad, and more, he still took the job out of love for the shirt. And as if that weren’t enough, there is much uncertainty at the club with the possibility of Berlusconi selling a majority share of it at any moment after 29 years of ownership. Oh, yeah, and a Curva Sud who are acting like spoiled toddlers. Needless to say, there will not be a lot of support for him tomorrow.

So it was nice of Benitez to change the odds a little bit by choking against Empoli midweek. But while Inzaghi seems to be the only one on the team with any grinta left, it may not be enough to get a result, especially in the fortress that is the Stadio San Paolo. Additionally, he’ll be missing Menez, Mexes, and Abate to suspension. Longterm injuries like Montolivo, El Shaarawy, and Essien are working their way back to fitness, but may not be called up. Then there are players like Alex, Paletta, Antonelli, Bonera, and Suso who could possibly be fit but are still in doubt as of this writing. So yeah, that’s the luck of the underdog, I guess.

Is it a fair fight if he can't even get into the ring?

And I can’t even say that this team will come out fighting, as they apparently used up the last tiny drops of grinta in the Derby. So the real fight is the coaches’ fight for their jobs. Which one will inspire their team enough to pull out a result worthy of staying on after this season? The odds are stacked in Benitez’ favor, but his ability to uninspire against teams like Empoli may prove to be his knockout. And Inzaghi may get a boost from the potential sale of the club, or at least the talks about it. Or, in true Serie A fashion, this fight could be decided by Mazzoleni. So if you’re looking for action and excitement, you should probably watch the boxing match. Because two coaches at opposite ends of the spectrum fighting for their jobs is never going to be pretty. But if you are looking for football… well, nevermind. If you are looking be true to that red and black blood coursing through your veins, then you should watch the game. Because watching two coaches fight it out for their respective jobs and two teams fighting for a shred of dignity is never going to be the fight of the century.


This post inspired by the music of LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out”


Napoli vs. Milan
Sunday, May 3 • 20:45 CEST (2:45pm EDT)
This match is being shown LIVE on RAI and BeIN Sports in the U.S.