Gattuso’s Napoli test title ambitions against Ibrahimovic’s AC Milan
Gennaro Gattuso’s Napoli face an early test of their title ambitions against Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s league leaders AC Milan on Sunday in a clash between two former teammates chasing the Scudetto.
Both Ibrahimovic, 39, and 42-year-old Gattuso played together at AC Milan when the club won the last of their 18 Serie A titles back in 2011.
Since then Juventus have dominated in Italy and are pushing for a 10th consecutive league title.
Milan are top of Serie A after seven rounds with a two-point advantage on second-placed Sassuolo, with Napoli a further point back in third.
Juventus are fifth, four points behind the leaders, after a stuttering start under new coach Andrea Pirlo.
“I don’t like hearing talk about the Scudetto,” said Napoli coach Gattuso, urging his players to “calm down” as they target a first league title since 1990.
Former World Cup winner Gattuso spent 13 years as a player with AC Milan, also coaching the club between 2017 and 2019.
AC Milan are travelling without head coach Stefano Pioli and his assistant Giacomo Murelli, both out with coronavirus.
“We all know the great importance of this match, we are ready,” said Milan midfielder Alexis Saelemaekers.
“The coach did a great job in the previous months and on Sunday we want to play and win for him too.”
Statistics favour Napoli who are unbeaten in their last 11 clashes against AC Milan.
Milan’s last league win in Naples was back in October 2010, the season of their last Scudetto, with Ibrahimovic on the scoresheet.
But Napoli have lost their last two home games, and will be without forward Victor Osimhen, injured on international duty with Nigeria. Albanian defender Elseid Hysaj also tested positive for Covid-19 during the international break.
Juventus host Cagliari, who they lost to back in July, needing all three points to keep among the leading group, with a run of 10 matches in all competitions in the next four weeks.
Defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini are still sidelined but Matthijs de Ligt should get his first game since undergoing shoulder surgery in August.
Second-placed Sassuolo look to keep the momentum going at eighth-placed Hellas Verona.
Atalanta and Inter Milan settled for a 1-1 draw against each other last time out and need a positive result before next week’s Champions League blockbusters against Liverpool and Real Madrid respectively.
Sixth-placed Atalanta play away against Spezia with Inter Milan, a point behind in seventh, at home against Torino.
Antonio Conte’s Inter have taken just six points for their last five games, with several players out with the virus including Marcelo Brozovic and Aleksandar Kolarov.
Atalanta have also lost momentum in recent games after scoring 13 goals in their first three games, with just one win in their last four games.
Lazio, meanwhile, head for Crotone with star striker Ciro Immobile expected to return from isolation but Serbian midfielder Sergej Milinkovic Savic was infected during international duty.
AS Roma, in fourth, host Parma without forward Edin Dzeko one of several players out with Covid, as they target a return to Champions League football next season.
One to watch:Former Italy coach Cesare Prandelli returns to the Fiorentina bench after a decade with his first game against promoted Benevento.
Fiorentina are 12th after winning two of their opening seven matches.
While Prandelli was in charge between 2005-2010 the club qualified twice for the Champions League and reached the UEFA Cup semi-finals.
Key stats:14: AC Milan’s unbeaten away run
11: Napoli’s streak without a loss against AC Milan
8: Ibrahimovic’s league goals this season
0 – AC Milan, Sassuolo and Juve’s defeats
Fixtures (all times GMT)Saturday
Crotone v Lazio (1400GMT), Spezia v Atalanta (1700GMT), Juventus v Cagliari (1945GMT)
Fiorentina V Benevento (1130GMT), Hellas Verona v Sassuolo, Inter Milan v Torino, AS Roma v Parma, Sampdoria v Bologna (all 1400GMT), Udinese v Genoa (1700GMT), Napoli v AC Milan (1945GMT)