Sports Mole previews Wednesday’s Coppa Italia clash between Napoli and Atalanta BC, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Wednesday’s first leg of the cup semi-final will go some way to deciding who will meet either Inter Milan or Juventus in what is sure to be a final befitting the competition’s long and illustrious history.
As their Serie A form has waned slightly since the turn of the year, Napoli sit sixth in the tightly-packed top half of the Serie A standings and are nine points off top spot – albeit with a game in hand on most sides around them – including Atalanta, who they now lead by a point.
Head coach Gennaro Gattuso – who has yet to agree a new contract with the club’s similarly fiery president Aurelio de Laurentiis ahead of his current deal’s expiry in the summer – has seen his position come under scrutiny in recent weeks. The former Milan boss has complained of “being slaughtered” by the media and that events have been “badly managed” by the club hierarchy.
An improvement in fortunes during the past few days, however, brought victory over Parma, following an impressive quarter-final cup win over Spezia last week.
Apparently in cruise-mode, the Partenopei strode into a four-goal lead by half time before carelessly allowing their Ligurian visitors a couple of consolation goals in the second period, as Gattuso’s men stayed on-track for a second Coppa Italia triumph in as many years.
Certainly they have few issues scoring goals from all quarters and despite the absence – for various reasons – of strikers Arkadiusz Milik (now departed on loan to Marseille), Dries Mertens and Victor Osimhen throughout much of the first half of their campaign, Napoli’s remaining attackers have fired in the most shots of any Italian team this season.
The odd blip aside, they have been relatively resilient at the back too. Defensive mainstay Kalidou Koulibaly scored the opening goal in the previous round and has since spoken out in support of his manager, claiming that this current Napoli unit are one of the best in which he has featured so far.
If they are to prove the much-admired Senegal international right, his teammates must focus fully on Wednesday’s dangerous opponents, who they previously managed to defeat 4-1 earlier in the Serie A campaign.
Atalanta last reached the Coppa Italia final as recently 2019, arriving in search of a first piece of major silverware – being crowned Serie B champions notwithstanding – since 1963.
On that occasion La Dea were defeated by Lazio – an opponent who they have become all too familiar with again in the past week. Gian Piero Gasperini‘s side fell to a disappointing home defeat against the steadily strengthening Biancocelesti in league action at the weekend – a mere matter of days since overcoming the Roman outfit in the cup quarter-finals.
Having bade a bittersweet farewell to out-of-favour captain Papu Gomez shortly before the game, the Nerazzurri progressed 3-2 in Bergamo last week – despite being reduced to ten men for most of the second half when Jose Luis Palomino was sent off.
With Sunday’s subsequent reversal against the same opposition just their second defeat in 15 matches – and first of the calendar year – attack-minded Atalanta will still travel south in a positive frame of mind.
A further two meetings with their Neapolitan counterparts this month – first in the second leg, then soon after in the league – could prove telling for the hopes of the Bergamaschi in turning their abundant promise and inherent ‘watchability’ into something more solid and silver.
Napoli Coppa Italia form: WWW
Napoli form (all competitions): WWLLWW
Atalanta BC Coppa Italia form: WWW
Atalanta BC form (all competitions): WDDWWL
An injury-scarred campaign continues for Napoli stalwart Dries Mertens, as the Belgian forward has returned to his homeland for treatment on an ankle injury. The 33-year-old limped off during the defeat at Inter Milan last month with a sprained left ankle and has struggled for fitness since.
Midfielder Fabian Ruiz has been out of action with COVID-19, so must wait to return a negative test before rejoining his teammates. Otherwise, Gennaro Gattuso has a clean bill of health and is expected to name a strong XI – with tight calls to be made between Andrea Petagna and Victor Osimhen up front and in the ongoing saga of Alex Meret versus David Ospina in goal.
For the visitors, Gian Piero Gasperini has a significant defensive headache to resolve, as Jose Luis Palomino is suspended following his dismissal in the quarter-final and Cristian Romero tested positive for COVID-19 late last week.
Back-up Bosko Sutalo is also in doubt, so Mattia Caldara could complete the back three with regulars Rafael Toloi and Berat Djimsiti. Wing-back Hans Hateboer remains a concern though, so new signing Joakim Maehle could continue on the right, while key attacking threat Robin Gosens will be back after serving a suspension in Serie A.
Napoli possible starting lineup:
Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Koulibaly, Hysaj; Demme, Bakayoko; Lozano, Zielinski, Insigne; Osimhen
Atalanta BC possible starting lineup:
Gollini; Toloi, Caldara, Djimsiti; Maehle, De Roon, Freuler, Gosens; Pessina, Ilicic; Muriel
We say: Napoli 2-1 Atalanta BC
With at least 180 minutes to play out between two high-quality but slightly flawed sides, the entertainment value of this semi-final match-up promises to be high.
Napoli can eke out a narrow advantage to take to Lombardy next week, as they seem to find goals from contributors all over the pitch and Atalanta have been defensively suspect in their two most recent outings.
Top betting tip
At the time of writing the odds being offered for this match were – Napoli to win: 2.40 (7/5), Draw: 3.50 (5/2), Atalanta BC to win: 2.75 (7/4).
— to www.sportsmole.co.uk