Sunday’s game is about as loaded a game as we are going to see next to the Derby. This fixture last season, a 3-1 loss, proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back as we dropped out of contention for a Champions League place. Revenge is always a great motivator, but as if that wasn’t enough Milan are going to San Paolo to visit an old friend. Roberto Donadoni has taken over the reins of Napoli squad that expected not only to contend for a top four spot, but also for the scudetto, this was in fact the case early on, but the last ten games have proved difficult for Napoli, Coach Reja was replaced and the Don has taken over.
As a native Napolitano, I have always held Napoli in high regard. It was a lot easier when they were in Serie B, but as they climbed the ladder I was glad to see them back where they belong. The Stadio San Paolo has always been a fortress and taking points back is never easy task, but now with a former Milan man and teammate of Carletto in charge one would have to think that this game has taken on a whole new meaning as well as a whole new tactical angle. The Don knows Milan, hell for ten years the man epitomized Milan, and there is not a doubt in my mind who would love to sit where his old friend Carletto is sitting right now. A win for the Don would be his first at Napoli, and made sweeter against his old club. His debut against Reggina was bit sloppy and though Napoli earned a point with a late Lavezzi goal the learning curve is still there and Milan needs to take advantage.
As much as Napoli needs the three points, Carletto and Co. need just a little bit more. Breathing room at the top of the table is always nice, and after scoring eight goals in two goals one would have take into consideration some momentum that has been built up despite ugly performances all around. Pippo has led the resurgence with five goals, and he is expected to partner with Pato yet again considering the contusion sustained by Kaka in his brief time against Siena. Kaka may be available, but Carletto will use fitness as his guide for that decision. The hot topic this week has been the man slated to play behind the strikers.
In one corner we have Clarence Seedorf, the tried and true veteran whose form has dipped considerably lately. In the other corner we have Ronaldinho whose form hasn’t even peeked to begin a decline, and whose inclusions have been few and far between since the New Year. Despite my indifference to the Brazilian, I believe he should be given his chance on Sunday, but the leash should be short considering the tension and importance of the match. We have discussed at length his positives and negatives this week both offensively and defensively, and the possibility of bringing on Seedorf with a lead, but the bottom line is the game isn’t one won with fancy stopovers and great through balls that lead to nothing. The game is one with goals, and whoever can help make that happen is the man that should in that position.
Pirlo who has also struggled with form since Rino has gone injured should figure into the middle of the pitch with Flamini and Beckham to his flanks. Becks has not played well in his improvised CAM role, considering his lack of left foot it is no real surprise, and he should play better in his natural position. He should focus though on creating width, and keeping crosses low and driven in an effort to make space for Zambro, but also to keep Cannavaro and Santacroce's rather large frames out of the picture. Flamini’s running and running the pass two weeks remind me of a young Rino, and if he can channel that madness into positive movements, then he may finally cement himself into the winning eleven for the rest of the season, the ability is there, now let’s make it work! He will have his hands full with Hamsik, but if the midfield can stay compact than space for Hamsik will be very limited, and favor the Rossoneri.
Defensively, Zambro and Janks will be back to work, and have been fairly consistent throughout the season. The CB’s will most definitely include Maldini, but his partner is up for debate. Senderos may be outmatched by guys like Lavezzi and Zalayeta so if Bonera is healthy one would think he be favored. Favalli may also be a consideration, but again his pace may not be the answer. Whoever plays in that role will have to on their best form because the steady hands of Abbiati are no longer standing between the pipes.
It is sad that a quick you tube search of what was once one of the World’s Best Goalies leaves with you a cornucopia of errors and spoofs of a success that many people have forgotten. As hard as it may seem, we have to get behind Dida once again. Goalkeepers thrive on confidence and if Carletto, the club, and the curva get behind Dida, there is a chance that a bit of that World Class comes trickling back. I am not asking for vintage 2003 Dida, that may be lost forever, but even a half of that form, say vintage 2007?, should allow Milan to keep the points coming and contend for a spot in the top three. We need Dida and he needs us, this video should serve as a quick reminder of what he can do.