Roma 2.65, the draw 3.25, Napoli 2.55
Seven days ago Napoli were distant outsiders to claim Italy’s last Champions League berth, lagging six points and three places behind third-placed Lazio, having failed to win any of their previous five games. Today they are the consensus favourites to snatch the last spot in what Italian journalists commonly refer to as “the Europe that matters”. Successive wins, allied to poor results for their rivals, have seen Walter Mazzarri’s side rise to fourth, cutting Lazio’s advantage to a solitary point.
A week, as Harold Wilson would surely have agreed, is a long time in Italian football. In Rome, so is 90 minutes. The mood had been upbeat as Roma prepared to take on Fiorentina at the Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday, home supporters unfurling a huge banner declaring their manager Luis Enrique to be “a true man in a world of phoneys”. By full-time they were calling for his head, one group even attempting to barricade the stadium’s exits to prevent the team bus from leaving.
A 2-1 defeat – their first at home to Fiorentina in 20 years – had left Roma’s own hopes of qualifying for the Champions League hanging by a thread. A week earlier they had sat a point ahead of Napoli in the standings, but now they trailed them by four. Their fixture against the Partenopei this Saturday ought to have been a season-defining one, but instead they approach it knowing that even victory would still leave them trailing.
Enrique has insisted from day one that he will not outstay his welcome at Roma – stating consistently that he will walk away if he is not wanted. He reiterated that stance in the wake of the game, stating he was “one day closer to my departure date”. He has since insisted that he has no regrets over his decision to come to Rome, telling reporters it is a “great pleasure” to coach such a side, but refusing to be drawn on his future past the end of this season.
Much may depend on these final four games. Even if the Champions League looks a distant goal, the recent form of the other sides in contention does at least suggest it is only improbable – rather than impossible. In the meantime Enrique has stated that he still considers the Europa League an important target.
Even that, though, may be tricky given a significant list of absentees. Each of Daniele De Rossi, Daniel Pablo Osvaldo, and Erik Lamela will miss Saturday’s game against Napoli through suspension, while the centre-back Juan is injured – a situation exacerbated by the long-term absence of his would-be partner at that position, Nicolás Burdisso. The goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg is also questionable with a shoulder complaint.
Napoli’s Mazzarri has a rather more welcome selection dilemma following the return to fitness of Ezequiel Lavezzi. In the player’s absence the manager had altered his formation from his usual 3-4-1-2 to a 3-5-1-1 – a decision which coincided with his team’s return to winning games. That had to do as well with the return of Christian Maggio, but Mazzarri may choose to stick with what has worked rather than throwing the Argentinian straight back into his starting line-up.
Either way this should be another high-scoring affair – with Roma’s makeshift defence having shipped 11 goals in their last four games. Over 2.5 goals is the obvious bet at 1.75 – though if you wanted a better return you could try over 1.5 by half-time at 2.55, a punt which would have paid out in four of their past five games. Take Edinson Cavani to be on the scoresheet at 2.25 as well – he has returned to scoring in the last two games and should have success against that flimsy backline.