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Napoli-Milan Preview: The Threat of Vesuvius


There are proverbial clouds over Vesuvius right now. Whether they are the collective angst of a fan base whose club lost two matches in a row and also their precarious perch at the top of the table, or if they are a tell tale sign that Vesuvius herself is also angry, I don’t know. But if it’s the Partenopei ready to erupt or the old volcano nearby, it doesn’t bode well for Milan’s trip there on Monday. Actually, after being annihilated 4-0 at the San Siro in October, I think I’d like to take my chances with the volcano. But either way, on Monday we face the threat of Vesuvius.

24 goals in 25 games. Monster.

Sarri’s Napoli was much anticipated this year, but started off with a few bumps and stutters. However they compensated by scoring five goals per match a total of six times this season, three of those beatdowns in the league with victories vs. Lazio, Frosinone, and Empoli. Ouch. If that’s not like being overtaken by molten lava, I really don’t know what is. They have been at the top but currently sit two points behind Juve in second place, after losing 1-0 to Allegri’s Juventus last week. Then they went to Villareal and lost the first leg 1-0 as well in their Europa League match on Thursday. While there is a slight potential for their mentality to be weaker with back to back losses, the only hope I can think of is that their legs may be a little weaker, having played so much more recently than Milan.

For the Juve match last week, Sarri used a full strength squad of Reina; Hysaj, Koulibaly, Ghoulam, Albiol; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik, Callejon, Higuain, and Insigne. But for the Villareal match, Sarri no doubt regrettably tried to rest a lot of players, having lined up: Reina; Hysaj, Strinic, Chiriches, Koulibaly; Valdifiori, Hamsik, Lopez; Callejon, Mertens, and Gabbiadini. Sarri will be missing Jorginho and Grassi to injury, but will have almost his entire first team rested and ready to erupt some more pain onto Milan. Oh, and our buddy Gabriel will be able to gaze in awe at the 16 year-old who destroyed his dreams of being a first string keeper at Milan from his permanent perch on the Napoli bench. Not too many 23 year-olds get to live that nightmare.

The happy couple. I'm sure those smiles are totally genuine

Milan have had a relaxing week filled with two days off after their win vs. Genoa, another dinner out on the town courtesy of Mihajlovic, the fifth anniversary of this spectacularly amazing blog, and are now celebrating Berlusconi’s 30 year reign of terror mark of owning the club and Mister Mihajlovic’s 47th birthday all in one day. So will they be too relaxed? Will all of these festivities distract them from the dangers in the shadow of Vesuvius? Or will the squad be confident, relaxed, but also focused on the task at hand: get in, get a result, try not to breath the ash or go near the molten lava, and get home? There’s only one way to find out, but despite our improved form and results lately, I am still afraid. Especially going to the esteemed fortress and vintage pitch that is the San Paolo, with fans who are voracious and unrelenting, too.

As if it weren’t frightening enough to tempt a volcano ready to erupt, Mihajlovic has fewer squad members now than he did at the beginning of January, and a growing and disconcerting injury list. Mexes, Ely, and Lopez are all out, of course. Kucka, Abate, and Mauri are likely to return from injury as of this writing. But most frightening is the likely absence of Romagnoli, who missed Friday's training suffering from the flu and will possibly not fit for the trip to Naples. Ouch, if he misses, that is really going to hurt. At least Locatelli has been officially promoted to the first team and should be called up theoretically.

Please, gods of football, please let him be fit. Please. 

Meanwhile, if Berlusconi gets his wish, he’ll be at Milanello today to have lunch with the team, and meet with Mihajlovic to implore him to win every game from here on out. You know, right after he announced to the world that Capello was his first choice before settling on Mihajlovic. Nothing is more charismatic than telling the public you were his second choice, then asking you to do the impossible for him. On your birthday. I’m pretty sure that’s going to go well. Maybe Vesuvius is starting to look attractive after all.

So we face a daunting task in facing a team that is every bit as volatile and destructive as the volcano they coexist with. With fans who redefine the meaning of hostile in a city the league protects under the umbrella of territorial discrimination (I’m waiting for my fine just for typing this post.) Sure, they lost two in a row. But that makes us the food for the vanquished and hungry, and you know what people will do for food when they are hungry. If I don’t seem optimistic, it’s because I’m not. I’m never optimistic when it comes to facing the threat of Vesuvius.


This post inspired by the music of Wall of Voodoo’s version of “Ring of Fire”


Napoli vs. Milan
Monday, February 22 • 21:00 CET (3pm EST)
This match will be shown LIVE on RAI and BeIN Sports in the U.S.