Whilst the champions of most of Europe’s major leagues have already been decided at this point in the season, or virtually so, the race for the title in Serie A was blown wide open in that dramatic clash at the Allianz Stadium last weekend.
With Juventus facing a difficult trip to the San Siro to face Inter on Saturday, they will be anxiously aware that another slip up could cost them dearly, with Napoli travelling to Florence for their match the following day. Allegri’s side can ill-afford another setback with Napoli breathing down their necks.
Maurizio Sarri’s side will be gunning for another win against Fiorentina this time out, regardless of the Juventus score, with four games still to play in an excitingly open and unpredictable end to the Italian season and the two-horse race for Serie A supremacy.
Napoli’s recent run of form has been greatly encouraging in their late surge towards the summit of the Serie A table. Having not lost a league match since their 4-2 defeat away to Roma at the beginning of March, they have put together an impressive run of form which would be worthy of champions.
A run of seven games without defeat has seen them cut the gap between themselves and Juventus in the top two down to that one solitary point.
Last week’s stunning late triumph over Juve was preceded by an impressive 4-2 success over Udinese, following on from narrower victories over Chievo (2-1) and Genoa (1-0), interspersed with three successive away draws with Inter Milan, Sassuolo and AC Milan.
Any concern over their previous struggles to convert draws into wins away from home in that recent run should have subsided ahead of this weekend’s trip to Florence, following that stunning show in Turin last week.
Fiorentina, meanwhile, are having a rather more disappointing league campaign by their traditional standards. Stefano Pioli’s side currently reside in ninth place in Serie A, having struggled to find the consistency in form to match some impressive recent results.
A poor 1-0 defeat away to Sassuolo last weekend was below the expected standards and was made worse by Bryan Dabo’s early red card. That dismissal capped Fiorentina’s second red card, and second defeat, in their last two matches. A 4-3 defeat at home to Lazio just three days earlier, in which both sides had a player sent off, largely summed up Fiorentina’s form of late, and indeed their underwhelming season as a whole.
A 2-0 success away to Roma at the beginning of this month proved that Fiorentina are capable of performing against the bigger sides, and they will be keen to replicate something closer to that result against Napoli on Sunday to prevent their season from fizzling out.
The reverse fixture in December ended 0-0 at the Stadio San Paolo. Napoli were, as expected, the dominant side. Though they enjoyed 62 percent of possession and had ten shots to Fiorentina’s six, Napoli only managed four on target, as Dries Mertens and co failed to capitalise on their ascendancy in the match.
Their added incentive to push for title glory this time out should provide Napoli with the added cutting edge required to avoid another stalemate with Sunday’s opponents at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
As is typically the case in Italian football, the tactical battle between the two sides will be central to the action. Positionally, the most intriguing battle on the pitch will come down to who can take control of the game in the middle of the pitch.
Fiorentina and Napoli are both sides who like to dominate possession and take control of the game in midfield. Fiorentina marginally dominated the ball with 55.2 percent of possession against Sassuolo, but ultimately succumbed to defeat for having failed to make productive use of the ball, managing just six shots on goal compared to ten efforts from their opponents, despite Fiorentina’s edging of possession.
Napoli managed to command an impressive 59.8 percent of possession in their previous match against Juventus, remarkably dominating the play against a home side which featured Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic and Blaise Matuidi in midfield.
This will be the key area of play during Sunday’s match, as Fiorentina must compete with Napoli’s dominant trio of Allan, the highly rated Jorginho, and Naples icon Marek Hamsik in the middle of the park. That trio will look to dominate the physical and passing aspects of the game, and feed the dangerous attacking trio of Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne at will.
Crucially, Fiorentina will be without Bryan Dabo for this battle, following the midfielder’s red card against Sassuolo last week. This will increase the responsibilities of Jordan Veretout and Marco Benassi in the Viola midfield, who must assume the duties of discipline and control in the middle of the park.
In addition to the absence of Dabo, Fiorentina remain without midfielder Milan Badelj and forward Simone Lo Faso for Sunday’s match.
Napoli manager Sarri, meanwhile, remains without left-back Faouzi Ghoulam, who is still suffering from a broken knee which has kept him out since February, as Napoli’s only major injury concern.
Fiorentina (4-3-3): Dragowski/Laurini, Milenkovic, Hugo, Olivera/Benassi, Veretout, Saponara/Cheisa, Simeone, Falcinelli
Napoli (4-3-3): Reina/Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Rui/Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik/Callejon, Mertens, Insigne
Whilst Fiorentina will be keen to claim a positive result from this match in front of their home crowd and provide a positive injection to the end of a disappointing season, Napoli’s extra quality in every area of the pitch, as well as their renewed bid to land the Serie A crown following last weekend, should give Sarri’s side the edge for a comfortable victory on Sunday.
Score prediction: Fiorentina 0-3 Napoli