Napoli look to cement second, Juve await title
Agence France-Presse in Milan
Napoli have all but given hope of snatching the Serie A title from Juventus, but have no intention of giving up a coveted runners-up spot that would guarantee their return to the Champions League next season.
With an 11-point cushion on Napoli and requiring only four points from their last five games, Juventus are virtually assured what would be their 29th league title, their second under coach Antonio Conte.
The Bianconeri even have the chance to secure the championship on Sunday if they prevail over city rivals Torino and Pescara do the unthinkable and defeat visiting Napoli.
Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini, for one, does not expect Juventus to break open the bubbly this weekend.
“I don’t believe Napoli will slip up, they’re in the hunt for second place,” said Chiellini. “Honestly, I don’t think [Walter] Mazzarri’s team will have any problems.”
Having suffered only four defeats away from home, from five in total this season - while the biggest of Pescara’s six wins came away to Fiorentina -- Napoli are expected to account for Pescara at the Stadio Adriatico.
Arguably the bigger question on the Napoli fans’ minds, however, is how well they would fare in next season’s Champions League without star striker Edinson Cavani.
Uruguayan international Cavani tops the Serie A scoring charts with 23 goals from 30 appearances, five ahead of in-form Udinese veteran Antonio Di Natale.
Cavani’s performances, however, have alerted a number of top clubs with media reports suggesting Real Madrid are set to break the bank to release Cavani from a contract which has a release clause in excess of 60 million euros.
Napoli ‘keeper Morgan De Sanctis, meanwhile, admitted in a radio interview Thursday the club had harboured bigger expectations.
“We thought we could win the league title,” De Sanctis, who grew up in Pescara, told Radio Marte. “But after our 1-1 draw, Juventus have won all of their games and collected 18 points while we’ve taken 13.”
Now with a seven-point deficit to Napoli following their 1-0 defeat at Juventus last week, AC Milan face a potential banana skin at home to Catania as they look to secure at least third place, which offers a Champions League place through preliminary qualification.
Having accounted for a number of ‘bigger’ sides including Lazio (4-0), Roma (1-0) and Fiorentina (2-1), the Sicilians have punched above their weight this season, although not always away from home.
Striker Alejandro Gomez is hoping Catania can make up for recent setbacks -- including conceding a late draw against Palermo last week -- by grinding out a result at the San Siro that would allow them to set a new points record in Serie A.
“It’s a shame because if we hadn’t lost points at the end of the (Palermo) match we would be in the Europa League (qualifying) zone,” said Gomez, who would love nothing better than to score at the San Siro.
“I would love to score at Milan, the match will be shown all around the world and it’s one of the few major grounds I haven’t scored at.”
Fellow Sicilians Palermo, meanwhile, could not have picked a better time to host Inter Milan.
Inter moved up from seventh to fifth last week thanks to a late win at Parma, but are still missing over a dozen players as they battle for a place in the Europa League next season.
Palermo have plenty of incentive - they are third from bottom on 29 points, the same as second-from-bottom Genoa and one shy of Siena in the safety zone.
Elsewhere, Fiorentina will look to cement fourth place away at Sampdoria while Roma and Lazio are at home to Siena and away to Parma respectively as they look to capitalise on a slip-up from Inter to break into the top five.