Napoli will face AC Milan in the top clash in Serie A this weekend, hoping to bounce back from two consecutive defeats.
Rafa Benitez and his team know anything less than a win will put a dent to their title aspirations as they currently lie 15 points behind runaway leaders Juventus.
For AC Milan, there is a sign of hope after former player Clarence Seedorf was appointed coach back in January. The 37-year-old Dutchman, who played for Milan between 2002 until 2012, replaced the sacked Massimiliano Allegri, who was dismissed after a poor start to the season.
Milan are currently 15 points behind Napoli and will be trying their best to get a win and slowly climb back up the table.
When: Saturday, February 8 at 2:45pm. EST/7:45 p.m. GMT
Where: Stadio San Paolo, Naples, Italy
Watch: BT Sport 2/BT Sport App/BT Sport Online
AC Milan are hoping the good times can return to the San Siro after what has been an awful season thus far. The 18-time Serie A champions have already lost 10 league games this season and lie in 10th position, 30 points behind leaders Juventus.
The appointment of Clarence Seedorf was an emotional decision by Milan president Silvio Berlusconi, with the hope the Dutchman can evoke the spirit of Milan’s past. Playing in Brazil for Botofago, the opportunity to coach Milan was an offer he truly couldn’t refuse.
As a player, Seedorf was one of Milan’s greatest—winning two Serie A titles and two Champions League medals. A fan favourite, since his return to the San Siro Milan are undefeated in the league.
But the former Netherlands midfielder knows he has a big task at hand with the Rossoneri. Upon his arrival, he acknowledged the club have much to do in the next few months to get Milan back on track, reported the BBC:
We have a lot to do to get the club back where it belongs and I'm very happy to be back here. At the moment, I feel very emotional and I also feel a sense of duty. I have to give 100% to rebuild, and to give enthusiasm and a sense of security. We can look to do important things for the fans. I left Milan in May 2012 at the end of a cycle. My job now is to open a new one.
Milan will welcome back superstar Mario Balotelli. Having scored in all three games since Seedorf's arrival, the Italian striker will relish a game against Napoli.
When the two clashed in September at the San Siro, a game Milan lost, Balotelli went on an amazing journey throughout the 90 minutes.
First he missed the first penalty of his career but then redeemed himself by scoring a magnificent goal late on. Then, after the final whistle, he was sent off for remonstrating with the referee.
Balotelli will be joined by new signing Adel Taarabt, who was signed on loan from QPR. Taarabt will have plenty of motivation to do well at Milan with the club having an option to sign him on a permanent basis this summer, reports BT Sport.
If the two players combine, they’ll have a chance to breach a defence who have conceded six times in their last two matches, per Eurosport.
Milan could also give a debut to former Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien.
But they will be without Brazilian Kaka. According to Football Italia (via Eurosport), he player missed training again and has flu-like symptoms.
For Napoli, a season that started with so much promise has spiralled downwards in the last month.
Rafa Benitez's men need to win to keep in touch with high-flying Roma in second place. With Fiorentina just three points behind them, the Napoli manager will know nothing but a victory is required.
Napoli may have to consider resting some players as they face Roma again three days later in the Coppa Italia. But that would be risky—winless in their last three games in Serie A, Napoli will not want Roma to win their own match and end up being nine points behind them.
Despite their recent defensive problems, Napoli will pose a major threat going forward. Gonzalo Higuain has 15 goals in 25 starts, per ESPN. And from midfield, they have young Spaniard Jose Marie Callejon, who has scored nine goals this season, ESPN stats show.
There are no favourites in this game and the match will be a hard one to call. Napoli need to win to stay within the Champions League places, with Fiorentina just three points behind them.
For Milan, they will turn up expecting nothing from a season that has brushed them aside into mid-table mediocrity.
However, Clarence Seedorf is keen to stamp his authority, so it will be interesting to see the tactical battle he has with tactics-focused Rafa Benitez.
Prediction: Napoli 1-2 Milan