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Napoli-Milan Preview: Southern Pride

Saturday we head south to Napoli. They are always a club to be feared, particularly when playing at the San Paolo. But this year, they have some fears of their own. After selling their capo cannoniere Higuain to direct and hated rivals Juventus, they seem to be afraid of winning. That was especially true last week when they were away to Pescara and were down 2-0, and were only able to claw their way back to a 2-2 draw. They still have plenty of talent, and many have speculated that losing Higuain simply opens up even more scoring options. But don’t tell that to the fans. They are still “mourning” in their own special way. It’s that good old fashioned Southern pride.

That's an expensive cover for a trash bin

Higuain had to know what he risked by leaving Napoli. Their fans are the only ones to seek protection about what is considered sporting rivalry in the rest of the country and to receive such protection from the Lega Serie A under the umbrella of  “territorial discrimination.” (For the record, I do not condone actual territorial discrimination.) Meanwhile, their fans are some of the most vicious and unrelenting in Serie A. This summer, while most fans of the other clubs were focusing on what their clubs were actually doing to prepare for the season, Napoli fans were burning Higuain’s jersey, shoving it down their toilets, attaching it to their trash trucks and trash cans, marring their own city with graffiti about him, and more. And their anger was fueled even more by the legendary De Laurentiis, who was busy brokering the deal to cash in on his star for €90m, but to the fans he was saying that Higuain was a traitor, etc. Napoli really do give special meaning to the phrase “Southern pride.”

As if those distractions weren’t enough, tragedy struck yesterday in central Italy, with a 6.2 magnitude earthquake. As of this writing, the death toll is around 250, while obviously rising as rescue workers sift through the rubble. I was pleased to hear that De Laurentiis is planning on giving a portion of the proceeds from this match to assist the victims of the earthquake. Even if his offer only came after a generous donation was already made by Juventus’ Agnelli Foundation, it is always important to give support at a time like this. And speaking of support, there will be a minute of silence ahead of all of the matches this weekend to honor the victims of the quake.

Sarri has to remember how well his team played without Higuain last year... but does his team remember?

Those are the distractions off of the pitch. On the pitch, Napoli fans also have a lot to worry about. Like how did they concede two goals to Pescara last week? Mertens’ brace brought them back into the game, but fans may still be whining about the penalty they were almost given, but was immediately called back due to a foul on the keeper before the penalty was awarded. Sorry, Napoli fans, that is not territorial discrimination. And it was the right call, too. Besides, you conceded two goals to newly promoted Pescara. At some point you’ve got to take responsibility for something.

But don’t let that pathetic display fool you. They have so many scoring threats. If they realize that ahead of our match on Saturday, we have so much to worry about. For their fateful match with Pescara last week, Sarri lined up Reina; Koulibaly, Albiol, Ghoulam, Hysaj, Valdifiori, Hamsik, Allan, Gabbiadini, Insigne, and Callejon. He will still be without Giaccherini, Tonelli, and El Kaddouri due to injury. Although Jorginho should be available after serving a suspension last week.

We know Donnarumma will be up for the challenge, but will the rest of our team be ready? 

Speaking of suspensions, Paletta will sit this match out for getting his shirt ripped last week against Torino. It is hoped that we will have the chance to see Gomez make his Serie A debut in his place. Also missing due to injury are Bertolacci, Vergara, and Zapata. Mauri is unlikely to feature as he is being pushed to be loaned out. As of this writing, it is thought that Sosa has everything resolved regarding his transfer and could be called up, and it is thought that Lapadula should be fit and could also be available. But Milan had their own nightmare last week, giving up a two goal lead and needing a heroic penalty save from Donnarumma to keep all three points vs. Torino. They’ll need a lot more than diversion tactics to come away from the San Paolo with points. Especially if Napoli wake up and realize what they have.

This will be a tough match for both teams. Napoli have the advantage of their fortress and their fans, whom, despite their embarrassing lack of responsibility and morals, always stand behind their team at home. Outside of that advantage, I’d say the game will be won or lost by mentality, with both teams having played below their abilities last week. Will Milan rise to the occasion and overcome their midfield and defensive liabilities? Because if not, Napoli could easily realize their own strengths and take advantage of their Southern pride.

This post inspired by the music of The Prodigy

Napoli vs. Milan
Saturday, August 27th • 20:45 CEST (2:45pm EDT)
This match will be shown LIVE on RAI in the U.S.