With their Scudetto hopes essentially ended by a late collapse last week, Napoli will aim to restore some pride on Saturday, when they host Sassuolo at Stadio Maradona.
Squandering a two-goal lead in the final 10 minutes saw the Partenopei’s dreams of ending a 32-year wait for Serie A supremacy shattered at Empoli, while their visitors were also beaten by a late goal last time out.
Knowing nothing but a win would do if they were to remain even outsiders in the title race, Napoli travelled to Tuscany last Sunday having dropped two points to a stoppage-time equaliser by Roma a week before, and were four adrift of top spot with five games left to play.
Not only did they implode at Stadio Carlo Castellani – allowing opponents who had not won throughout 2022 to fight back from 2-0 down during a crazy eight-minute spell from the 80th minute – but Milan later stole victory over Lazio to leave them well and truly out of the running for silverware.
Following a third successive loss to Empoli in Serie A, Napoli are winless in their last three league matches, and the last time they went on a longer such streak in the top flight was at the end of 2019, when Carlo Ancelotti’s reign came to an ignominious end and Gennaro Gattuso stepped into the dugout.
Controversial club president Aurelio De Laurentiis has even gone as far as to apologise to his club’s long-suffering fans, who have so often had their hopes stirred in recent times but always end up watching others take home trophies.
Perhaps a little after the horse has bolted, Luciano Spalletti’s squad have been sent into a ‘retiro’ (or training retreat) until the end of the current campaign, which concludes with fixtures against three bottom-half clubs.
Before tackling Torino, Genoa and Spezia, though, Napoli will welcome to Campania a side they have failed to beat in each of their three most recent league meetings – including another late lapse in December’s reverse fixture.
Gianluca Scamacca in action for Sassuolo in December 2021© Reuters
Always a goalscoring threat thanks to their prolific front four, Sassuolo were able to fight back from behind to salvage a 2-2 draw when these clubs last met, with Gianluca Scamacca and Gian Marco Ferrari both finding the net in the final 20 minutes.
The Neroverdi also won their last away match against their southern counterparts, after having drawn two and lost five of their previous seven in Naples, so any inferiority complex will have surely been shed when they arrive at Stadio Maradona this weekend.
Losing three of their last four league games, however, has seen Alessio Dionisi’s men hit the buffers following a fine spell of form, and their most recent reverse came at the hands of Juventus on Monday night.
Despite taking the lead through Giacomo Raspadori’s 10th goal of the Serie A season, Sassuolo were denied even a point by the somewhat fortunate Old Lady, as Moise Kean snatched Juve’s winner with only two minutes left on the clock.
They may well have endured some misfortune at the Mapei Stadium, but Dionisi will be concerned that his team have now gone eight games without a clean sheet in Serie A since returning from San Siro with a 2-0 win over Inter – one of only three shut-outs recorded all season.
Still sitting comfortably in mid-table, the Emilian outfit only have a top-half finish to fight for before the curtain falls on another productive season – one which will end with several of their stars in high demand.