Stadio San Paolo, Naples
Sunday 31st May, 2015, 19:45 GMT
Rafael Benitez is determined to leave Napoli with a farewell gift of Champions League football next season as the Spaniard prepares for his final game in charge of the Partenopei. Benitez announced on Thursday that he is leaving the club after two seasons in charge, with all signs pointing towards the former Liverpool boss being confirmed as the new Real Madrid coach next week.Before then though, Benitez is determined to go out on a high with Napoli, with his side hosting Lazio on Sunday where a victory could see them snatch third place off their opponents and with it entry into the Champions League.Benitez, who led Napoli to the Coppa Italia and a top-three finish in Serie A last season, believes the club is stronger than it was when he arrived.Napoli, who were eliminated by Dnipro in the semi-finals of the Europa League, have lost just three games at their San Paolo stadium this season and are unbeaten in their last five league meetings with Lazio, winning four.
Despite those records, however, Lazio coach Stefano Pioli is optimistic his side will rise to the occasion and get the result they need to qualify for the Champions League. Lazio only require a point in Naples to seal third place and join Juventus and Roma in Europe’s elite club competition next season. Lazio head into the match wounded by Monday’s 2-1 derby defeat to Roma, a result that ensured their city rivals of direct qualification to Europe’s elite club competition.Lazio have won just one of their last four league games but have lost just once in their last seven games away from home.
Team news and tactical brief
Having announced his intention to step down as manager at the end of the season, where he will almost certainly walk straight into the vacant Real Madrid job, Rafa Benitez now has the chance to part company with Napoli on a high. It could have been even better, of course, had they not come out second best in their Europa League semi-final clash against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk earlier this month. All the talk in the build-up to that game was about the Spaniard’s impressive record in European competition, but he failed to navigate his side beyond the Ukrainian club. That means Champions League qualification will now have to be done the hard way. Heading into the final matchday, their meeting with third-place Lazio is now essentially a straight shootout for a spot in the elite club competition. In truth, it has not been the greatest send-off for Benitez, with that failure to beat Dnipro in either leg coming in the middle of a five match run which has seen the Partenopei claim just one win.
That sole success came against relegated Cesana nearly a fortnight ago, but otherwise it is a potentially disastrous set of results should they fail to limp over the line in Serie A. However, should Napoli fall short this weekend by failing to pick up the win they need, then it will not be their league results this month that has cost them. Instead, their run of form between March and mid-April, in which time they picked up just two points from a possible 15, will ultimately be scrutinised. It is not all bad news for the Naples outfit, of course, as their fate is still technically in their own hands as we head into the final matchday of the campaign. But a failure to get beyond the qualifiers back in August will still stick firmly in the minds of supporters, who know that their could be further pain to follow in the coming days.Giandomenico Mesto is in line for a return to action for the final game of the term, although Miguel Britos will miss out as a result of the red card he received against Juventus last time out. That could mean Ivan Strinic coming back into the starting lineup for his 12th appearance since joining from, ironically enough, Lazio’s conqueror’s Dnipro back in January.Benitez will be without Miguel Britos after his indiscretion in the defeat at Juventus, while long term absentees Michu, Camilo Zuniga and Jonathan De Guzman are set to miss out again through injury. Christian Maggio and Higuain are both set to start, and, should Higuain score, will each jump to joint 11th in Napolia s all-time records for appearances and goals, respectively. Marek Hamsik is joint Serie A leader on 10 assists this season, so another may see him claim that crown outright.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Andujar(Gk); Maggio, Albiol, Britos, Ghoulam; Inler, David Lopez; Callejon, Hamsik, Mertens; Higuain
While Napoli may be reeling from a bad few weeks, things have not been all that great in Rome, either. It was not long ago that Lazio were on a high, having collected 30 points from a possible 33, which left them looking good for a place inside the top three. Since then, just two wins in their last eight outings have followed. Most tellingly of all, the Biancocelesti have slipped up right at the vital time at the business end of the campaign. It would be harsh to criticise Stefano Pioli’s men for failing to beat Juventus in last week’s Coppa Italia final, but after taking an early lead, and eventually forcing extra time, they will feel hugely disappointed not to have taken advantage of the minor chink in Juve’s armour when it appeared. There was also a cruel defeat to city rivals Roma on Monday evening, which came about in a cruel fashion shortly after they had dragged themselves level, leaving Lazio now needing a point from their final game.
Pioli admitted himself in the aftermath of the 2-1 reverse that his players had been left hugely disappointed – a psychological blow which the Eagles must quickly shake off in order to get the job done against Napoli.Individual league matches certainly do not come much bigger than this one, which is estimated to be worth around at least A?30m to the winning side in UEFA prize money. While it never should have gone down to the wire, Lazio will need to find some of the spirit which helped them overcome the same opposition in the semi-final of the Italian Cup earlier this year. The difference between winning and losing, in a day and age when the Champions League truly dominates the European game, really could not be much more stark. Stefan Radu may be welcomed back into the fold. He found the net against Juventus in the recent cup final only to have been sidelined since, and this game may still be a little too soon for him to return. Lucas Biglia is also considered a doubt, meanwhile, after leaving the field early against Roma. The defensive midfielder was replaced by Luis Pedro Cavanda in the Eternal derby, but he should be okay to feature from the off.
Probable Starting Line-up (3-4-3):Marchetti(Gk); Gentiletti, De Vrij, Mauricio; Basta, Cataldi, Parolo, Lulic; Candreva, Djordjevic, Felipe Anderson .
- Napoli are unbeaten in five Serie A games against Lazio (W4, D1).
- Moreover, the Azzurri have not lost any of the last five home meetings versus Lazio (W3 D2).
- Napoli have won five of the last eight Serie A matches (D1, L2), scoring 2.6 goals and conceding 1.6 on average.
Players to Watch Out For
Gonzalo Higua n (Napoli)
Gonzalo Higuina s Napoli future remains very much in doubt. But what seems certain enough is that that wona t be enough to stop the hitman from continuing his lethal streak against Lazio. Seven goals in four games against the capital team mark them out as the strikera s favourite target in Serie A.
Miroslav Klose (Lazio)
Miroslav Klose is set to start up front and would reach usurp Simone Inzaghi in Lazioa s list of top 10 scorers if he were to find the net. Having joined the Aquile on his 33rd birthday, that would represent an impressive achievement for the veteran.
Napoli 1a 1 Lazio
As Inter did in the previous round, Napoli did not manage to beat a Juventus side that was full of fringe players and only Roma’s victory over Lazio gave them one last chance to seize Champions League qualification.Lazio have wasted many points over the season, but they travel to Napoli knowing that a positive result will secure a top-3 finish. This will be the only game of the round in which both sides will actually be fighting for something, and what makes it more interesting is that they are battling each other for 3rd place. Napoli were favourites to secure a Champions League place at the beginning of the season, but Lazio managed to gain a 3-point advantage coming into this game. Napoli will give everything they have in a very intense game.
Blast From the Past
Napoli are unbeaten in their last five games against Lazio, with the most important of those recent wins being the 1-0 victory back in January.