Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Saturday 4th April, 2015, 12:30 GMT
The battle for a Champions League place should add extra spice to Saturday’s meeting of old rivals AS Roma and Napoli, yet the build up to the game suggests it could be played in a lukewarm atmosphere.Both teams have suffered a recent slip in form and this, combined with a Saturday lunchtime kickoff and the fears of fan violence surrounding the fixture, is expected to leave the Stadio Olimpico half empty. Roma’s grip on second place has been slowly loosened since the start of the year, and their nine-point cushion over third place has been slashed to just one, while they have dropped 14 points behind runaway leaders Juventus. Meanwhile, Napoli have dropped from third to fifth after failing to win any of their last four Serie A games. Only the top two in Serie A qualify directly for the Champions League group stage while third positioned team earns a place in the final qualifying round.Although much is at stake, Roma’s disappointing recent form and the early kickoff could result in the match being played in a half-empty Stadio Olimpico. Local media said that only 5,000 tickets have been sold so far and predicted a crowd of around 40,000, around half the stadium’s capacity. There is still tension around the fixture after Napoli’s visit to Rome for last season’s Coppa Italia final. Although Napoli were facing Fiorentina, there were violent clashes between Napoli and Roma fans, during which Napoli fan Ciro Esposito was shot and died in hospital one month later. Tickets will not be sold to residents of Naples, although Napoli fans who live elsewhere in Italy can buy them.
Team news and tactical brief
It may have only been a 1-0 win against a lowly Cesena side, but after one victory in 12 Serie A rounds, it let Roma fans breathe a sigh of relief and the three points kept them in front of bitter rivals Lazio.With Francesco Totti likely out with injury, Daniele De Rossi should take the captaina s armband, while Adem Ljajic is favourite to take Er Puponea s place, though Victor Ibarbo and Seydou Doumbia are also available at the same time, something that hasna t happened since they both signed in January.
Ibarbo is expected to get the nod, especially as he has scored in two of his last three games against the Partenopei.Gervinho, Seydou Keita, Kevin Strootman, Douglas Maicon and Salih Ucan are also sidelined, while Miralem Pjanic and De Rossi will make up Romaa s midfield trident. With many of the Roma faithful growing frustrated with Garciaa s stubbornness and unwillingness to change tactics, leaving out the former Barcelona midfielder may be just what he needs to win back the doubters. Gervinho will be out for nearly three weeks, which means that at least one of Juan Iturbe and Victor Ibarbo should be safe to play. With Francesco Totti still not fully fit, Seydou Doumbia is expected to be the main striker in the trio up front.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3):De Sanctis(Gk); Torosidis, Mapou, Manolas, Holebas; Pjanic, De Rossi, Nainggolan; Ljajic, Doumbia, Ibarbo
A stuttering Napoli travel to the capital to face Rudi Garciaa s resurgent Roma in a head to head battle for Champions League spots.Napoli seem to be ending the season as badly as they started it and have fallen five points from the final Champions League spot, meaning a loss at the Stadio Olimpico would likely leave them relying on Europa League glory, something Fiorentina are also banking on.
Napoli will be without suspended anchorman Gokhan Inler and will likely start Walter Gargano in his place, while top scorers Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon are available. Rafa Benitez benefitted from the break to recover some unavailable players and will now have a wide range of options in most positions. With Gokhan Inler out, the only struggle will be in midfield. Jorginho should sit out with Walter Gargano and David Lopez in the starting XI.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Andujar(Gk); Maggio, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Lopez, Gargano; Callejon, Gabbiadini, Mertens; Higuain
- Roma have dropped 17 points in their previous 9 matches in Serie A.
- Napoli have lost their previous 3 away matches in Serie A.
- Roma have scored only 4 goals in their previous 5 home matches in Serie A.
- In their previous 3 away matches in Serie A, Napoli have scored only 1 goal.
- In their previous 14 matches in Serie A, Roma have only scored more than 1 goal in a match twice.
Players to Watch Out For
Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma)
The Giallorossia s midfield general was at his imperious best against Cesena and even scored the winning goal. Glaringly incompatible with Garciaa s favourite Keita, the Mali internationala s removal from the starting XI will give him space to roam and allow Pjanic to move forward. A strong end to the season could bury rumours of a move to Americaa s MLS at the end of his contract.
Gonzalo Higuan (Napoli)
If Napoli are to take something from this match then former Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain has to be a pivotal figure for Benitez’s side.The 27-year-old Argentine striker has notched an impressive 13 goals in Serie A thus far this season and Napoli will hope that their talisman delivers once again in this crucial game.
AS Roma 1a 1 Napoli
Roma finally ended their winless streak in the last round by beating Cesena, but now they will have to face a much bigger obstacle in Napoli. Napoli have only collected two points in their last four league games, thus missing a good chance to close in on Roma, the way Lazio did. They are now in fifth position and below Sampdoria. Both sides know that Lazio will have tough matches in the last part of the season, but they must not give the Biancocelesti any advantage, especially in terms of morale. This game could help Roma finally get rid of one of their challengers for Champions League football, or equally allow Napoli back in the race. The environment may be quite hostile for the visitors, especially after what happened outside of the stadium before the last Coppa Italia final, so excpect a tense game in which the crowd will definitely be an element.
Blast From the Past
Miralem Pjanic scored two set-pieces to give his side a 2-0 win against 10-man Napoli in 2013.