High flying Napoli will be hoping to retain top spot in the Serie A league table when they host eighth place Empoli at the Stadio San Paolo on Sunday evening in Naples. 

Napoli head into the clash against Empoli on the back of 5 successive wins in the league which have seen them plunder 17 goals past opposition defences. In fact, the Partenopei have scored more goals (45) this season than any other team in the Serie A.

With Inter Milan and Fiorentina slipping up in recent weeks, Italian champions Juventus have emerged as Napoli’s most serious title challengers. Sarri and his men know that anything less than a win against Empoli will see them relinquish the top spot in the league.

Maurizio Sarri v Marco Giampaolo

Empoli and Napoli played out a highly entertaining 2-2 draw at the Stadio Carlo Castellani when the two managers squared off against each other earlier in the season. Goals from Saponara and Manuel Pucciarelli were cancelled by Lorenzo Insigne and Allan to give both managers a share of the spoils.

A Blast from the Past for Maurizio Sarri

Bologna FC vs SSC Napoli

Maurizio Sarri knows a thing or two about Napoli’s opponents on Sunday. The Italian made his move to Naples from Empoli at the beginning of the season after being at the helm of the club from 2012-15. Under Sarri’s managerial reign, Empoli made the great leap from the second division into the Italian Serie A in 2013-14. After being widely tipped to go down immediately the following season, Sarri guided the Florence club to a respectable 15th place finish in the Serie A table.

Since moving across the divide in the summer, Sarri has worked wonders with the Naples based club. The incredible goal scoring form of Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain has propelled Napoli to the top of the Serie A table for the first time since the days of Diego Maradona. The Empoli defence will do well to keep out the mercurial hitman who has scored an astonishing 21 goals in 21 matches so far this season. The trickery of local boy Lorenzo Insigne on the left and the industry of Jose Maria Callejon on the right is also something that the Empoli defence will have to contend with.

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Marco Giampaolo continues to dream of European football

Bologna-Empoli

Marco Giampaolo was appointed as the new manager of Empoli football club at the beginning of the summer after Maurizio Sarri moved to Napoli. Sitting at a comfortable 8th place in the league table, Giampaolo has done a remarkable job at the helm of the club so far. Not only has Giampaolo managed to steer the club away from the relegation zone, he has also got the Empoli fans dreaming of European football next season.

Empoli have certainly been one of the surprise packages of the season thusfar. Giampaolo’s brand of attacking football has seen his side score 27 goals this season. Only the current top 4 in the league table – Napoli, Juventus, Inter Milan and Fiorentina – have managed to record more wins this season than Empoli (9). Massimo Maccarone, Riccardo Saponara and the returning Leandro Paredes will be the focal points in attack for Empoli on Sunday.

Key Battles

Gonzalo Higuain vs Lorenzo Tonelli 

Atalanta vs Napoli

With 21 goals in his last 21 matches, Gonzalo Higuain is perhaps the hottest striker in Europe at the moment. Stopping Higuain from getting on the scoresheet will massively boost Empoli’s prospects of getting anything out of their clash at the San Paolo. This burden will largely fall on the shoulders of central defender Lorenzo Tonelli, who has been one of Empoli’s most consistent performers this season.

Raul Albiol vs Massimo Maccarone

Bologna-Empoli

Since his move to Naples from Spanish giants Real Madrid in 2013, Raul Albiol has been the mainstay of the Napoli defence. The former World Cup winning Spanish Center back is especially known for his aerial prowess and his exceptional ability to read the game. He will be up against Empoli striker Massimo Maccarone, who has been on fire lately after blasting 6 goals in his last 6 matches for the club.

Jorginho vs Riccardo Saponara

SSC Napoli vs FK Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk

The Brazilian born Italian central midfielder Jorginho has been a revelation for Napoli since joining the club in January, 2014. His partnership with Allan and club captain Marek Hamsik has been instrumental in propelling the Naples club to stirring heights this season. Jorginho will have his task cut out against Empoli’s Riccardo Saponara on Sunday. Signed from AC Milan in the summer, Saponara has been arguably been Empoli’s stand out performer this season with 12 goals from 34 appearances. He scored against Napoli earlier in the season and will be looking to do the same when the two sides clash on Sunday.

SSC Napoli strengths and weaknesses

  • As stated earlier, SSC Napoli are the league’s deadliest attacking unit, plundering 45 goals in 21 matches – an average of more than 2 goals per match this season. Lorenzo Insigne, Allan and Jose Maria Callejon have done exceptionally well to support Gonzalo Higuain up front while Marek Hamsik and Jorginho have generally dominated proceedings in the center of the park.
  • Napoli’s attacking prowess has not come at the cost of defensive frailty. Only Inter Milan (14) and Juventus (15) have conceded less goals than Napoli (18) this season. Raul Albiol, especially, has been a rock at the back for the Partenopei so far this season.
  • Despite Napoli’s attacking and defensive qualities this season, they have generally tended to fall apart when they go behind in matches. Napoli’s phenomenal physical attributes are not always accompanied by mental composure.

Empoli strengths and weaknesses

  • Empoli’s enterprising style of play this season has certainly won them many neutral fans this season. Marco Giampaolo’s brand of attacking football has seen Empoli win 9 matches already this season. This has seen the Azzurri already surpass its last season’s tally of 8 wins from 38 matches.
  • Empoli are over-reliant on the goal scoring prowess of Massimo Maccarone and Riccardo Saponara. Without the these two firing on all cylinders, Empoli have often struggled to get on the score sheet this season.

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