As they attempt to keep pace with the Milan clubs in the Scudetto race, Napoli host struggling neighbours Salernitana on Sunday afternoon.
The Campanian counterparts meet at Stadio Maradona with the hosts having picked up two wins and a draw since Serie A resumed, and their visitors seeking just a fourth league win of their comeback campaign
After an awful, injury-afflicted run in which they recorded just two wins from nine top-flight games, third-placed Napoli continued to inch towards a revival following three points secured against Bologna on Monday, thanks to Hirving Lozano’s brace.
His goals either side of the break ensured the Mexican winger registered his third Serie A double in Azzurri colours, but as one of many affected by either injury, illness or both this term, his previous two league goals had taken a total of 21 appearances.
Record signing Victor Osimhen also brightened the picture for head coach Luciano Spalletti, as the Nigerian striker returned in their 2-0 win, having last featured for the Partenopei in November, when he suffered a broken cheekbone against Inter.
The recent setback of a Coppa Italia exit at the hands of Fiorentina – when they went down to nine men and capitulated 5-2 on Neapolitan soil – is a reminder of Napoli’s increased fragility in recent weeks, but they remain strong favourites to emerge with maximum points from the second of three favourable fixtures this weekend.
Having seen off Bologna, and with Venezia next on the horizon, Spalletti’s side welcome a lowly local rival to the Maradona, having won the reverse fixture earlier this season.
Set to face the league’s weakest attack, Napoli have conceded the fewest goals in Serie A this season (15), while Salernitana have shipped the most. Furthermore, the Azzurri have kept the most clean sheets so far (12) – fewer only than Manchester City throughout the top five European leagues.
Salernitana players line up before their match against Roma on August 29, 2021© Reuters
Following a brief ray of light when they celebrated their takeover with an unlikely win over Verona to belatedly start 2022, Salernitana returned to more familiar form last time out, as they succumbed to a 3-0 home defeat against Lazio.
Two goals behind to a quickfire Ciro Immobile brace after just 10 minutes at Stadio Arechi, the Granata were merely playing for pride from that point on, ultimately slipping to a 15th league defeat of the season.
Since their long-awaited return to Serie A in the summer, Salernitana have largely followed in the footsteps of their southern counterparts Crotone, who were relegated after a single season last spring, having leaked goals left, right and centre.
Indeed, the last club to concede as many at this stage but go on to avoid the drop was Bari, back in 1938, so Stefano Colantuono’s side are certainly up against precedent for the rest of the campaign.
Seven points from safety – though that will depend on various appeals due to cancellations for COVID-19 – they have been rooted to the foot of the table for much of the season, and their hopes of at least leapfrogging crisis club Genoa have receded with news of another virus outbreak at the club.
Threatening Sunday’s derby, which will be played in front of a limited crowd, several players have been quarantined this week – only adding to Colantuono’s problems.