Rudi Garcia was walking a tightrope after a 3-1 defeat to Fiorentina at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona left the reigning Scudetto holders seven points adrift of the summit going into October’s international break.
The Partenopei’s troublesome start to their title defence had prompted intense speculation over the Frenchman’s future in Naples. But the ex-Roma boss has secured a lifeline after the two-week pause.
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia re-embraced the starring role in the absence of marquee striker Victor Osimhen, netting on either side of half-time to inspire Napoli to a 3-1 win at Hellas Verona last weekend.
Following a rough start to the new campaign, the Georgian winger has looked more like his old self after the break. He provided a crucial assist in a 1-0 win at Union Berlin in midweek Champions League action.
Milan wished they were as lucky in their European fixture on Wednesday, but Paris Saint-Germain’s rampant home performance condemned them to a 3-0 loss in France.
Nailed to the bottom of the so-called ‘Group of Death’ as the only scoreless side at Europe’s top table, Pioli’s men will hope the immediate return to domestic football could clean their slate.
But unlike Napoli, the international break seems to have curtailed the Rossoneri’s momentum as Juventus took full advantage of Malick Thiaw’s first-half expulsion to win last weekend’s derby 1-0.
Despite overseeing back-to-back victories in the build-up to this mammoth contest, Garcia isn’t off the hook yet, with Napoli bidding to avoid an unwanted feat on Sunday.
Real Madrid and Fiorentina have each put three goals past the Partenopei in their last two competitive losses in Naples, putting them at risk of losing three consecutive home games for the first time since 2020.
On the upside, Kvaratskhelia has timed his return to form to perfection. Napoli will need their quicksilver forward at his best to overcome a dreadful run of three defeats in their last four home outings (W1).
While the results have not gone their way, Garcia’s men have at least entertained neutrals during that sequence, with all four of those matches producing at least three goals and seeing both teams score.
Entertainment has been at a premium in Milan’s recent games, as six of their last eight have seen one or both sides fail to score in matches garnering under 2.5 total goals.
However, three wins and two draws across their last five visits to Naples suggest the Maradona Stadium has been a happy hunting ground for the Rossoneri in recent years.
Pioli’s men obliterated Napoli 4-0 in this corresponding fixture back in April, though it’s worth noting that Luciano Spalletti’s team already had the Scudetto wrapped up.
Milan must pay attention to their discipline on the field after being reduced to ten men in their last two Serie A outings to boost their chances of defying a woeful streak of three scoring blanks in four games.
Osimhen is still out with a thigh injury, the same problem that torments his Napoli teammate Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, rendering them both unavailable for this clash.
Milan’s bill of health looks much more ominous, with Ismael Bennacer, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Samuel Chukwueze, Noah Okafor and Marco Sportiello stuck in the treatment room.
Pioli cannot count on Thiaw, but he’ll at least welcome first-choice goalkeeper Mike Maignan back from suspension.
Napoli potential starting line-up:
(4-3-3): Alex Meret; Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Amir Rrahmani, Natan, Mario Rui; Stanislav Lobotka, Jens Cajuste, Piotr Zielinski; Matteo Politano, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Giacomo Raspadori.
AC Milan potential starting line-up:
(4-2-3-1): Mike Maignan; Davide Calabria, Fikayo Tomori, Simon Kjaer, Theo Hernandez; Yacine Adli, Yunus Musah; Christian Pulisic, Tijjani Reijnders, Rafael Leao; Olivier Giroud.
We Say: Napoli 1-1 AC Milan
Milan’s confidence is in tatters after being knocked down from a four-game winning league run and relinquishing the stranglehold on the summit.
Paris vanquished Pioli’s troops on Wednesday, adding insult to injury.
Napoli should have the psychological advantage here, but they’ve been far from impressive this season, leading us to believe a draw is the most realistic outcome.
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