LA DEA VS GLI AZZURRI

Serie A leaders Napoli will be hoping to get back to winning ways on Saturday as they host title challengers Atalanta at the Diego Maradona Stadium.

After thumping Lazio 4-0 last weekend in the league, Napoli could only manage a 2-2 draw with Sassuolo, conceding an 89th minute equaliser. The result saw their lead atop the table be cut to just one point to AC Milan with defending champions Inter a further point away.

 

 

A defeat on Saturday could also throw Atalanta straight back into the mix, as three points for Gian Piero Gasperini’s men will see them to within two points of Napoli. Atalanta are unbeaten in their last nine matches cross all competitions, and defeated Juventus last weekend thanks to a solitary Duvan Zapata strike.

 

 

The Bergamo side backed it up with a commanding 4-0 win over Venezia in midweek and they will be looking to  keep the hot streak going against Napoli.

 

TEAM NEWS

Despite dropping points, the worst thing to happen to Napoli boss Luciano Spalletti was a serious hamstring tear to his star defender Kalidou Koulibaly. The Senegal centre-back is likely to be ruled out for several weeks – a massive blow in the side’s title ambitions.

 

Koulibaly is a long-term absentee for Napoli (Courtesy: Napoli/Twitter)

 

He joins a growing list of injury concerns which includes in-form striker Victor Osimhen and defensive midfielder Andre Zambo Anguissa, Lorenzo Insigne and Fabian Ruiz were also substituted in the midweek draw but it remains to be seen whether that was due to an issue or just a precautionary measure.

NAPOLI PREDICTED LINEUP: Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmain, Jesus, Rui; Zielenski, Lobotka, Elmas; Lozano, Mertens, Insigne

The news for Atalanta is much more cheerful as they welcomed back Hans Hateboer to the starting eleven in midweek while Rafael Toloi, Marten de Roon and Remo Freuler who were all rested in midweek are expected to return to the first eleven. The only absentees for Gasperini are German Euro star Robin Gosens and young defender Matteo Lovato.

 

 

ATALANTA PREDICTED LINEUP: Musso; Toloi, Demiral, Djimsiti; Zappacosta, Freuler, de Roon, Maehle; Pessina, Pasalic; Zapata

 

GAME CHANGERS

Dries Mertens has only scored four goals in the Serie A this season after fitness struggles in the opening few weeks but the fact that his four goals have come in the last three games is encouraging for Napoli. Mertens’ rediscovery of his goalscoring form comes at a good time with Osimhen ruled out until February with a cheekbone fracture.

 

 

The Belgian forward will be looking to make it goals in four matches in a row against an Atalanta side that will inevitably leave space in behind when they push forward in their uber attacking style of play. Even at the age of 34 Mertens has the pace to hurt an opposing defence that gives him any opportunity to do so.

For Atalanta, the threats come down the wings and in a side without any outright wingers, the overloads are usually created by the creative duo playing behind the striker. Pessina, Malinovskyi, Illicic have all played that role but the one who has shone is 26-year old Croat Mario Pasalic.

 

 

Pasalic has seven goals and seven assists to his name and is in good form after scoring a hattrick against Venezia in midweek. His spatial awareness and running will be key in creating openings against a Napoli defence that is likely to struggle without mainstay Koulibaly at the back.

 

PREDICTIONS

Napoli have had the best defence in the league so far but it will be interesting to see how they cope with a very attacking Atalanta side without Koulibaly. We can expect an open game as the best way for Napoli to counter Gasperini’s side is to throw it right back at them. FootTheBall predicts that Atalanta will just about edge this one out with the score Napoli 2-3 Atalanta.

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