Sports

Napoli Face Lecce Ahead Of Milan Showdown

Napoli travel to Lecce on Friday trying to bounce straight back from their crushing home defeat at the hands of AC Milan with the all-Italian Champions League quarter-final between the two looming.

Coach Luciano Spalletti said he would know whether his team’s four-goal thumping on Sunday was “a crack or a crater” after a Good Friday trip across to the Adriatic coast.

With Napoli then travelling up to the San Siro for the first leg of a blockbuster European tie on Wednesday, Spalletti and a surprisingly split fan base will want the hole Milan punched through to be quickly closed.

A 16-point advantage over second-placed Lazio with 10 games to go, means Napoli are still all-but guaranteed their first Scudetto since 1990 but a strong display is needed after Milan made them look ordinary in the first of a trio of clashes.

Star striker Victor Osimhen will again be out of action with a thigh injury after also missing the Milan defeat, but the Nigerian and Napoli are both cautiously optimistic he could return midweek.

He will also have a new face mask to wear on the pitch after losing the now iconic headgear while on international duty with his country, with whom he picked up his knock.

In his place will be either Giovanni Simeone or Giacomo Raspadori, the former more likely to start by virtue of his performance when Osimhen was last injured in the autumn.

For Milan, who take to the field at the San Siro in the third game on Friday, mid-table Empoli are the perfect opposition to test whether last weekend was a freak result or a blazing return to the form which won them the league last season.

Stefano Pioli has finally returned to a back four, the formation which served him so well in his team’s thrilling run to the title.

Brahim Diaz, who starred in Naples alongside side two-goal Rafale Leao, is set to be rested ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash. In Serie A, Milan are trying to cut a four-point gap between them and second-placed Lazio.

Maurizio Sarri’s Lazio host Juventus on Sunday night with both teams involved in racism controversies, the capital club for anti-Semitic chanting during last month’s Rome derby and Juve for monkey chants aimed at Romelu Lukaku on Tuesday night.

Juve are only six points off the Champions League places despite being deducted 15 points for transfer offences similar to the ones for which Lazio and their local rivals Roma are being investigated by criminal prosecutors.

Juve have won seven of their last eight and are closing in on a top-four battle which looked impossible when they were sanctioned by the Italian Football Federation in January.

Player to watch: Giovanni Simeone
The Argentine has performed admirably as a deputy to Osimhen on the rare occasions that Serie A’s top scorer has been out injured this season, but was practically invisible last weekend.

Restricted to just four starts in all competitions this season but the scorer of some important goals he will be key to Napoli trying to bounce back from that heavy defeat ahead of the Champions League double header.

Key stats
16 – The gap separating Napoli from Lazio with 10 matches remaining

8 – The number of goals Simeone has scored in the small amount of playing time this season

Fixtures (times GMT)
Friday

Salernitana v Inter (1500), Lecce v Napoli (1700), AC Milan v Empoli (1900)

Saturday

Udinese v Monza (1030), Fiorentina v Spezia (1230), Atalanta v Bologna, Sampdoria v Cremonese (both 1430), Verona v Sassuolo, Torino v Roma (both 1630), Lazio v Juventus (1845)

AFP

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