Napoli in bid to reclaim top spot


Sat, Sep 28, 2013 - Page 19

SSC Napoli face struggling Genoa away in a bid to reclaim top spot in Italy’s Serie A today, when AC Milan host UC Sampdoria in the hope of finally kickstarting their disastrous season.

Napoli, believed to be the biggest threat to champions Juventus, dropped two precious points in a surprising 1-1 draw at home against basement side US Sassuolo on Wednesday.

It came days after the league new boys were thrashed 7-0 at home by Inter and allowed AS Roma to stretch their lead at the top of the table to two points following their 2-0 away win at Sampdoria.

Despite claiming Napoli did not underestimate a determined Sassuolo side, coach Rafael Benitez was coy after the game.

“We have to learn from this match,” the Spaniard said.

The slip means the Azzurri will head to Genoa — who by today’s game will have met five of the top six teams from last season — extra determined to secure all three points.

Slovakian forward Marek Hamsik, who has scored four goals in five games, said: “It wasn’t a satisfying result for us, but now we have to look ahead to Genoa and make amends.”

Having just scraped into the top three at the end of last season, a raft of injuries and some poor displays have seen AC Milan drop to 12th.

Massimiliano Allegri’s side are already 10 points behind Roma and are missing recently signed playmaker Kaka, who is sidelined with injury, as well as other key players including striker Mario Balotelli.

Serving a three-game ban for being sent off in last week’s 2-1 home defeat to Napoli, Balotelli was conspicuous by his absence when Milan scraped a 3-3 draw away to Bologna on Wednesday.

Balotelli on Thursday apologized to his fellow players and the fans for his costly outburst.

“Firstly, I am sorry for my teammates,” Balotelli said in excerpts of an interview which was to be published in yesterday’s Gazzetta dello Sport. “They train and work hard with me. What I did hasn’t helped our cause. I also feel guilty for the fans, who care so much for the team.”

However, the former Manchester City striker suggested there was a limit to just how far his apologies would go.

“I made a mistake when I was provoked ... but I’m not going to apologize to everyone. It’s not as if I killed someone,” added Balotelli, whose absence has heaped the pressure on misfiring fellow striker Alessandro Matri.

Although Napoli can go top of the pile today, a draw at Genoa would boost Juventus’ hopes of taking the lead for the first time this season when they face Torino away in the city derby.

Juventus were lucky to come away from AC Chievo Verona with a 2-1 win on Wednesday thanks to an own-goal by Alessandro Bernardini in the 65th minute.

However, by Juve’s standards, it was a poor overall performance and ’keeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon — who was at fault prior to Chievo’s early opener — says it is time to roll up the sleeves.

“We all could have played better, me included,” the Italy international said.

Striker Carlos Tevez, who played only the last 15 minutes against Chievo, is expected to start, as well as midfield star Arturo Vidal, who was given a cameo role at the end of the midweek game.

It means Fernando Llorente, who scored on his debut last week, should return to the bench — a sign that Juve coach Antonio Conte may be preparing the Spanish striker for the Champions League clash against Galatasaray next week.

If both Napoli and Juventus slip up, it would pave the way for Inter, who are away to Cagliari, to go top, having moved up to second with a 2-1 win over ACF Fiorentina on Thursday.

Leaders Roma host Bologna in tomorrow’s late game while Parma, who claimed their first win of the campaign in midweek, are away to Fiorentina.