Napoli flying the flag | Football Italia

  Gennaro Gattuso painted the Saturday night match as a test for the upcoming Champions League Round of 16, pointing to the similarities in playing style between Roberto De Zerbi’s Sassuolo and Barcelona. It was a stretch, but had some truth to it, so we might see the Napoli offside trap play a crucial part at Camp Nou.

  This meeting between two of the Peninsula’s most exciting attacks was unlikely to skimp on emotion and chances at both ends. Despite the forecast for a high-scoring affair, the domestic fates of both clubs were already decided before kick-off, leaving little to play for at the San Paolo. Nevertheless, Napoli and Sassuolo fulfilled expectations in a pulsating encounter that demonstrated why the visitors have become Serie A’s Cinderella side, while an erratic home team can look forward to a bright future under Gattuso.

  Few expected these squads to be where they were heading into Saturday night’s match-up. Sassuolo had become accustomed to finishing in the bottom half of the table since their debut top-flight campaign in 2013-14, after the initial heights of a Europa League run under Eusebio Di Francesco had dissipated. Meanwhile, Napoli established themselves as a consistent challenger to Juve’s throne over the past few years.

  The Neroverdi’s unlikely rise is largely down to the brilliant work of Roberto De Zerbi, whose forward-thinking outlook has drawn the admiration of none other than Pep Guardiola. Even though Napoli came into Week 36 as close to 18th-placed Lecce as they were to the top of the table, Gattuso also deserves credit for turning around a club that was a shambles both on and off the field before he took over in December. Illustrious predecessors Carlo Ancelotti and Maurizio Sarri were unable to lift a major trophy with the Neapolitans, which Gattuso did at the first time of asking in the Coppa Italia Final against Juventus.

  That epic night against The Old Lady was a reminder of how an in-form Napoli can be a match for anyone in Europe. They were similarly inspired in the first half against the Neroverdi, breaking through the visitors’ midfield press to repeatedly threaten Andrea Consigli’s goal. By the break, the Partenopei deserved much more than their slender 1-0 lead.

  Yet, the second stanza confirmed that Napoli’s rehabilitation under Gattuso is far from complete. The crisp interchanges of the first 45 minutes were replaced by a laxness in possession that let Sassuolo grow into the game. Elseid Hysaj looked far less comfortable containing the lively Domenico Berardi than he did charging upfield from an unfamiliar left-back role. In midweek, VAR had condemned the hosts to a contentious defeat at Parma, with two questionable penalty decisions going against Gattuso’s men. Yet, the technology saved them here, ruling out no less than four Sassuolo goals for offside.

  Even in defeat, Sassuolo can take encouragement from their improved second half performance. Their thrilling eight-match unbeaten run after the lockdown will go down as one of the high points in a glorious recent history for the club. Napoli’s Serie A showings this season are unlikely to be remembered as fondly, but all will be forgiven if they can pair their Coppa triumph with a deep run in the Champions League.

  Gattuso has not cured Napoli’s Jekyll and Hyde tendencies, but the fight and organization they showed to manage the closing stages of Saturday’s triumph bodes well for the impending clash against Barcelona. Sassuolo’s transformation into one of Europe’s brightest attacking outfits would have seemed impossible just a few short years ago. A Napoli victory at the Camp Nou could be deemed similarly far-fetched, giving Gattuso the chance to end a tumultuous campaign in a blaze of glory.

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Highlights Bologna 1-1 Napoli

  Bologna were unlucky not to get the full points against Napoli, as after Kostas Manolas nodded in, Musa Barrow converted one of many chances for the home side.

  It seemed to be the ideal start for Gennaro Gattuso’s men when Manolas got his head to a corner just seven minutes in at the Stadio Dall’Ara.

  However, Bologna pushed forward constantly, having two goals disallowed for narrow offside decisions on Ibrahima Mbaye and Rodrigo Palacio.

  Barrow did eventually grab the equaliser after running on to a Roberto Soriano through ball.

  It could’ve been the win for Bologna, but Palacio drilled wide and Danilo rattled the woodwork in stoppages.

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Juric close to new deal at Verona?

  Hellas Verona are reportedly close to renewing Ivan Juric’s contract until June 2022, but Fiorentina are allegedly not slowing down their pursuit.

  La Gazzetta dello Sport claims Verona are close to announce the renewal of Juric’s contract, as the Gialloblu sit ninth in Serie A after a great season.

  New terms doesn’t guarantee permanence, according to the newspaper, as a host of Serie A teams are lining up ready to pounce if the 44-year-old becomes available.

  The Croatian coach has reportedly become the number one target for the Viola in recent weeks, putting pressure on their current coach Beppe Iachini to deliver during the run-in.

  But Fiorentina have, in addition to Juric, kept an eye out for Fabio Liverani’s situation at Lecce. The Giallorossi coach has been linked with Cagliari too.

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CAN MANCHESTER CITY GO THE ENTIRE SEASON UNBEATEN?

Manchester City have looked so imperious this season that there are suggestions that they could go the entire season in the Premier League unbeaten. There have been some tricky games and the Citizens have had to come from behind but Pep Guardiola’s side have always risen to the occasion. There is still a long way to go this campaign and the Christmas period is going to be very tricky as always but, for the first time since the Arsenal Invincibles in 2002, there is a team in the Premier League who genuinely look like they could win the Premier League title without losing a single match.

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City are the overwhelming favourites for the Premier League title with odds of 1/10, while city-rivals Manchester United are second favourites with odds of 11/1. City have arguably the strongest squad in England and the best starting lineup. In fact, Guardiola’s team have the best attacking unit in the Premier League in which even Sergio Aguero is not guaranteed a place, and Aguero is arguably the best striker in England and one of the deadliest in the world.

One of the main reasons why City’s great form so far this season has been great is the redefined role of Kevin De Bruyne. The former Chelsea man is an attacking midfielder, but this term the 26-year-old has played in a deeper role from where he has been able to pull the strings and make attacking forays.

The world-class Belgium international has controlled the midfield and has played some wonderful passes, showing the full extent of his vision and offering something of a boon to betting fans; with a successful tackle percentage of 77%, De Bruyne is a popular bet in the in-play at sportsbet.io. The former VfL Wolfsburg midfielder has scored three goals and provided six assists in 13 Premier League appearances for City so far this campaign.

Another player who has taken his game to another level is David Silva. A player with similar qualities and attributes to De Bruyne, the 31-year-old attacking midfielder continues to play well. The Spain international has one goal and provided eight assists in 13 Premier League appearances for the Citizens so far this term. Silva’s evolution in the number eight role has been marvellous, and the Spaniard’s natural inclination to create chances has only been beneficial to the team.

City have improved defensively as well this season, with goalkeeper Ederson, signed in the summer transfer window, showing what manager Guardiola was missing last season. The 24-year-old Brazil international goalkeeper is so stunning with the ball that, at times, he looks like he could play in midfield. With central defender Vincent Kompany returning from injury and Nicolas Otamendi showing the kind of form that convinced City to sign him from Valencia in 2015, City can only get better in the coming weeks and better.

Of course, there will be a lot of twists and turns, and the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are not going to roll over, but all signs point to City winning the Premier League title without losing a single match.

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