AC Milan host second-place Napoli at the San Siro on Sunday, April 15. Here’s what you need know before tuning in.
Napoli aren’t conceding the scudetto to rivals Juventus that easily. After last Sunday’s heart-pounding 2-1 victory at home against Chievo, the Partenopei will face a much tougher opponent on the road in the form of a surging AC Milan side looking for a place in next year’s European competitions.
With so much to play for, this game has the gravitas of past AC-Milan-Napoli games when the league title was often on the line. Unlike those games from the late 1980s and early ’90s, AC Milan aren’t the best club in the world. In those days, Diego Maradona was the world’s best player and Gianfranco Zola a budding star for Napoli. AC Milan, on the other hand, were a collection of superstars led by Dutch strikers Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit. They were unstoppable in that era.
These days, AC Milan are trying to salvage a season that included the arrival of nearly a dozen new faces and a series of poor results that triggered the sacking of coach Vincenzo Montella.
While Montella has gone on to some success at Spanish side Sevilla, his replacement, former Rossoneri midfielder Gennaro Gattuso, has slowly molded the lineup into his image after a rough start. It will be very interesting to see what they can do against the likes of Napoli, who have dominated opponents for much of the season and are now four points behind Serie A leaders Juventus.
The win against Chievo, fueled by an Arkadiusz Milik equalizer in the 89th minute and an Amadou Diawara goal three minutes into stoppage time, have given Napoli more motivation to go out and try and win their first league title since 1990.
“We won a game that we thoroughly deserved to win,” Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri told reporters. “It had seemed cursed, as we had 31 shots on goal, missed a penalty, hit the woodwork. It was one of those classic games where the team does everything right and the ball won’t go in.”
It’s this kind of win that has re-ignited the title race, but also allowed Sarri to depend on fringe players such as Milik and Diawara. Milik has been injury-plagued since his arrival at Napoli last season, while Diawara has been on the bench for most of the year. Napoli haven’t had much depth all season, while players such as strikers Lorenzo Insignie and Dries Mertens have carried the team. Milik could be exactly the type of player Napoli need to grab points, particularly with their looming showdown at home against Juventus just a week away, down the stretch.
While the Chievo win could be seen as nerve-wracking, it also saw Napoli do what Juventus have done for most of the season — win games in which they’ve struggled in. AC Milan, meanwhile, are sixth and trying to catch city rivals Inter Milan who are seven points ahead of them.
While Gattuso admitted that his team’s hopes of playing in the Champions League have dimmed following their 1-1 draw at Sassuolo this past Sunday, he added, “We could have moved five points behind Inter and six behind Champions League qualification and that would have been much nicer.”
Gattuso, who recently signed a contract through to 2021, needs the points in order to secure Europa League berth.
“We’re playing well, but we’re not picking much up,” he told reporters. “We’re in a battle for Europa League qualification with many other clubs and that has got to remain our objective now, then we’ve got the Coppa Italia final [against Juventus]. We still have a lot of motivation, even if the Champions League is distant.”
AC Milan’s efforts will be hampered given the absences of defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Alessio Romagnoli. Bonucci will miss the game due to suspension, while Romagnoli sustained a thigh injury against Sassuolo and could be sidelined for at least two weeks.
The match between AC Milan and Napoli will be broadcast live on beIN Sports. Live streaming is also available on beIN Sports Connect, which you can access with your cable or satellite subscription, either online or through their app.
Napoli defeated AC Milan 2-1 when the teams met on matchday 13 in Naples. It remains to be seen if AC Milan’s newfound motivation since then can trump Napoli’s urgency in the latest chapter of this rivalry where so much remains on the line for both teams. AC Milan may want to play the role of spoiler given they’re a team with no title hopes.