Having stalled at the end of 2020, Napoli travel to out-of-form Cagliari on Sunday looking for all three points to keep them in touch with Serie A’s top four.

Their Sardinian hosts have plummeted down the standings after failing to win in the league since early November, while Gennaro Gattuso‘s visitors are now nine points off top spot following three games without victory.

Match preview

Napoli players celebrate scoring against Rijeka in the Europa League on November 5, 2020© Reuters

The short-lived Christmas break gave respite to Napoli, as their Serie A fortunes took something of a nosedive in the final weeks of the year, though they did seal Europa League progress from a testing group.

Successive losses against close rivals Inter and Lazio were followed by a disappointing home draw with Torino, in which Lorenzo Insigne bailed the Partenopei out of trouble by virtue of his fifth goal of the campaign.

With injuries piling up and results taking a turn for the worse, at least coach Gennaro Gattuso could take solace from the club’s successful third appeal against a forfeited three points – plus one point penalty – for failing to face Juventus after a COVID-19 outbreak.

The CONI (Italian National Olympic Committee) ruling effectively gave Napoli back a point and offers them a chance to play the game with Juve at a later date.

They also face the defending champions twice more in the upcoming weeks – both in the league and the Supercoppa Italiana – so will welcome a less challenging start to 2021, with fixtures against struggling Cagliari, then Spezia, Udinese, Empoli (in the cup) and Fiorentina to come.

In all, Gattuso has a strong base to build on, as his side are fifth in the standings – just ahead of Juventus – and have a game in hand on those above them.

They can also boast the best defensive record in the top flight so far, with only 12 goals conceded and five clean sheets registered in the process.

Eusebio Di Francesco, now in charge of Cagliari, pictured in September 2019© Reuters

After their disastrous close to the calendar year, Cagliari currently occupy 15th place in the league – now only four ahead of Genoa in the relegation zone.

Eusebio Di Francesco‘s team set out with lofty aims and playing a carefree form of the beautiful game, but things turned sour in late autumn, as their form fell off a cliff.

It is no secret why Gli Isolani have faltered so badly, as not only have their previously prolific forwards hit a brick wall in terms of goalscoring, theirs is the fourth worst defence in Serie A this term – with 27 goals conceded.

Without a win in seven games, in a period when they have collected only four points while losing to Roma, Juventus and Inter, the Rossoblu have suffered from the ongoing absence – through illness and injury – of veteran centre-back Diego Godin.

Although his abilities are clearly in decline, the former Atletico Madrid stalwart still brings a wealth of experience and organisational qualities to the team and has been missed in recent weeks.

The visit of Napoli this week will see Cagliari’s toiling back line once again under threat from a Serie A big boy with a point to prove – and three points to earn – so the prospects of a quick turnaround are slim.

Cagliari Serie A form: DDLDDL

Napoli Serie A form: WWWLLD
Napoli form (all competitions): WDWLLD

Team News

Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly pictured in October 2020© Reuters

Napoli defensive lynchpin Kalidou Koulibaly is unlikely to return from a thigh strain in time for Sunday’s trip to Sardinia and star forward Dries Mertens (ankle) is also out of action until at least next week.

Striker Victor Osimhen‘s shoulder injury persists after recent surgery so he is unlikely to be recalled to the squad just yet, while full-back Kevin Malcuit is nursing a calf issue.

Midfielder Diego Demme will be fit in time, but Fabian Ruiz and Tiemoue Bakayoko are favoured to be the central pairing in Gennaro Gattuso’s 4-2-3-1 setup.

Cagliari duo Ragnar Klavan and Simone Aresti have returned negative COVID-19 tests and should be set to return to Eusebio Di Francesco’s squad. However, influential defender Diego Godin has suffered a minor calf problem in training and is now a doubt for this week’s game.

Former Napoli man Marko Rog recently ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament, so the Rossoblu must cope without their influential midfielder for the rest of the 2020-21 campaign.

With both Rog missing and old boy Radja Nainggolan yet to re-sign from Inter, Uruguayan midfielder Christian Oliva will operate at the heart of the Cagliari engine room.

Cagliari possible starting lineup:
Cragno; Zappa, Walukiewicz, Godin, Lykogiannis; Marin, Oliva; Nandez, Pedro, Sottil; Simeone

Napoli possible starting lineup:
Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Maksimovic, Rui; Bakayoko, Ruiz; Lozano, Zielinski, Insigne; Petagna

SM words green background

We say: Cagliari 1-2 Napoli

To have any chance of being in the mix for Scudetto glory – and at the very least, to keep pace with their fellow top-four contenders – Napoli must win fixtures such as this.

While a trip to Sardinian soil is rarely straightforward for opponents, Cagliari’s defence has been absent without leave this term and could get them in deep trouble again this Sunday.

Top betting tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting an away win in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Away Win:data

ID:428491:cQxSource: | This article originally belongs to Sportsmole.co.uk

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