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Nov 29, 2020 at 7.45pm UK
Insigne (31'), Fabian (64'), Mertens (81'), Politano (86')
Di Lorenzo (32')
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Ibanez (29'), Cristante (77')

Preview: Napoli vs. Roma - prediction, team news, lineups

:Headline: Preview: Napoli vs. Roma - prediction, team news, lineups:
Sports Mole previews Sunday's Serie A clash between Napoli and Roma, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Sports Mole

A club in mourning must rouse itself once more for a traditional clash of Southern heavyweights as heartbroken Napoli prepare for the visit of red-hot Roma on Sunday.

The inimitable Stadio San Paolo will be renamed after this game - in which Paulo Fonseca's third-placed visitors look for a fourth consecutive Serie A win - in honour of their greatest ever exponent of the beautiful game, Diego Maradona.

Match preview

The city most synonymous with the Maradona myth and legend will play host to an emotional occasion on Sunday night, as his beloved former club take on potential Scudetto rivals Roma, separated by three points in the table.

On Thursday, the Partenopei were victorious in the Europa League against Rijeka, shortly after the news of the Argentinian maestro's untimely death broke. With qualification now one step away, Gennaro Gattuso's squad are in a strong position in continental competition, but in the league they are in need of a tonic after losing 3-1 at home to relentless leaders Milan last week.

Despite their relatively strong start to the season, the sixth-placed side have now lost their last two league home games and Gattuso could become the first Napoli coach to suffer three consecutive Serie A home defeats on two separate occasions.

It has been more or less a case of win or bust for the Azzurri so far this term as they are entirely draw-free in the league after eight fixtures - only three times before have a team begun any Serie A season without a draw in their opening nine games.

Napoli's historic record against their Roman rivals had been poor until recent times, but has picked up significantly of late.

They have won four of their last seven matches against Roma, just one win fewer than in their previous 23 meetings - losing 12 of those encounters. Since 2016-17, no other side - including serial champions Juventus - have beaten the Giallorossi in more league games.

Nonetheless, several of their current squad spoke after the Rijeka game of how difficult it was to focus on football amid the emotion and intensity of a global news story and a heartfelt tragedy for thousands of the famed city's Calcio lovers.

With the outpourings of grief reaching almost hysterical levels, perhaps the absence of fans - though particularly unfortunate given the circumstances - may in fact be more beneficial for the home side than it otherwise would have been.

They must be primed for a serious test, as Roma are experiencing a period of dazzling form - with five league and cup wins on the spin. The rampant Giallorossi are still undefeated in Serie A - at least on the pitch, if not in the adjusted league table.

Last week, Fonseca's team summarily dismissed Parma 3–0 at the Olimpico and went on to pick off CFR Cluj in Europa League action on Thursday, as the path to goal seems to be infinitely wide and open for his prolific side.

They can boast the second-best attack of 2020-21 so far, with 19 goals scored – only Inter and Sassuolo have fared better in front of goal - thanks in large part to the creative input of top scorer Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who has five goals and four assists already. With Edin Dzeko set to return to league action after a spell of self-isolation, the Roman attack grows ever more fearsome.

Naturally then, Sunday night's clash of two big beasts in Italian football promises to be action-packed and finely balanced.

Intriguingly, Napoli have lost the fewest Serie A points from leading positions in 2020 (just four), while on the other hand, only city rivals Lazio have gained more points than Roma's 20 when coming from behind over the same time period. So, if the home team were to take the lead on a poignant night for their city, fireworks could reasonably be expected from free-scoring comeback kings Roma.

Whatever the result, it is set to be a fitting tribute to a game now left behind by one of the true masters of the art.

Napoli Serie A form: LWWLWL
Napoli form (all competitions): WLWWLW

Roma Serie A form: WWDWWW
Roma form (all competitions): DWWWWW

Team News

Napoli will be without midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko after his red card against former club Milan earned him a suspension, so Diego Demme or Stanislav Lobotka will start instead.

Dries Mertens is most likely to feature up front in place of Victor Osimhen, who is still struggling with a shoulder problem. Defenders Elseid Hysaj and Amir Rrahmani continue to self-isolate due to COVID-19 infection, so Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Kostas Manolas, Kalidou Koulibaly and Mario Rui should comprise Gennaro Gattuso's back four.

Roma have their own, more pressing, defensive issues as Gianluca Mancini and Roger Ibanez are nursing minor thigh problems, while Chris Smalling has only just recovered from the knee injury which has kept him out of action lately.

Fortunately for Paulo Fonseca - who had to improvise with Bryan Cristante and Leonardo Spinazzola featuring in his back three on Thursday - Federico Fazio and Davide Santon have cleared COVID-19 protocol, though Marash Kumbulla is still in quarantine.

Most tellingly, attacking focal point Edin Dzeko returns to league action after infection to replace Borja Mayoral, who proved himself to be an adequate replacement in the Bosnian star's absence but must return to the bench.

Napoli possible starting lineup:
Meret; Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Koulibaly, Rui; Ruiz, Demme; Politano, Zielinski, Insigne; Mertens

Roma possible starting lineup:
Mirante; Smalling, Jesus, Mancini; Karsdorp, Veretout, Pellegrini, Spinazzola; Pedro, Mkhitaryan; Dzeko

We say: Napoli 1-1 Roma

Though the result may seem unimportant for Napoli amid the groundswell of tragedy which has befallen the club - and city - this week, a win against old rivals Roma would galvanise their chase for a first Scudetto since Maradona's dramatic departure.

Nevertheless, Paulo Fonseca's side seem unlikely to bow to sentiment, with a very real shot at Serie A glory on the cards for one of Europe's most in-form teams.

Therefore, a score draw is the most probable outcome between two typically entertaining sides on what will be a solemn but celebratory occasion.

Top betting tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting a double chance bet on a home win or an away win in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Home/Away:data

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