Napoli v Leicester City
Thursday 09 December, 17:45
Live on BT Sport
Spalletti hits first bump in the road
It has been a magnificent start to the campaign by Napoli and their new coach Luciano Spalletti, but the last couple of weeks have brought the first big challenge for the southern giants. First, the Partenopei lost 3-2 at title rivals Inter Milan. Then, they blew a 2-0 lead in a 2-2 draw with Sassuolo, and nearly lost. They led 2-1 at home against Atalanta, but went on to lose the game 3-2. These stumbles have seen Napoli drop from first to third, with Milan and Inter moving ahead.
Injuries have bitten hard. Kalidou Koulibaly, Fabian Ruiz, Lorenzo Insigne and Victor Osimhen all missed the Atalanta game, and although Spalletti was keen to stress that he still fielded a credible starting XI, injuries to key players in defence, midfield and attack are always going to hamper a side. Maintaining a title challenge will be a tall order, with the Milan juggernauts and Atalanta all playing so well.
Napoli's Europa League campaign has been mixed. They bizarrely lost home and away against Spartak Moscow, beat Legia Warsaw twice and fought back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at Leicester on Matchday One. Napoli need to win, so their motivation is clear.
Spalletti must make decisions about the involvement of Insigne, Ruiz and former Fulham midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, none of whom are fully fit.
Fragile Foxes can't kick bad habits
It appears Leicester City's inability to defend set plays has become a chronic condition, and the patient requires immediate attention. The Foxes conceded two goals from dead-ball situations as they lost 2-1 at Aston Villa in the Premier League, and Brendan Rodgers' strugglers have now conceded ten goals from free-kicks and corners this season in the English top flight in just 14 matches.
It's not just set pieces that are causing the Foxes' rearguard problems. They have conceded at least twice in ten of their last fifteen games in all competitions, and their tally of 27 goals conceded in 15 Premier League games is bang in line with Infogol's Expected Goals figures, so there's no sense of injustice.
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel looks a shadow of his former self, and cut a nervous figure at Villa Park. The Danish veteran has one of the worst post-shot xG figures in the entire Premier League, and he is transmitting little confidence to the defenders in front of him.
Leicester went top of their group with a 3-1 win over Legia Warsaw last time out, and another victory here will take them straight into the last 16. A point is enough for qualification (but Leicester might then face a playoff against a Champions League dropout), but a defeat puts them in danger of dropping into the Conference League.
Jamie Vardy was rested at Villa Park, and was only used as a late substitute, so he could well start here. James Maddison has been in terrific form, so it would be a surprise if he was benched here.
Injury-plagued hosts are a bit short
Napoli are trading at 2.26/5 to take the win, and if they were at full strength I'd be all over that price. However, they are missing key players in all areas, and they have looked defensively fragile recently, conceding ten goals in their last five games.
However, that doesn't mean I'm racing to back Leicester. It's so difficult to be confident about the chances of a side that is so poor defensively, and absence of Youri Tielemans has made it harder for the Foxes to keep the ball and therefore take pressure off the back line.
I'll look elsewhere for my main bets.
Goals bet makes a lot of sense
I normally wouldn't be overly excited about backing Over 2.5 Goals at 1.768/11, but given the match situation and the defensive deficiencies of the two sides, I think it's actually a touch overpriced. Napoli have to go for it, and Leicester simply aren't capable of digging in for the entire 90 minutes. That bet has paid out in Napoli's last five games, and 14 of their last 19. If you look at Leicester's games, this bet has landed in 14 of the last 21, including the last five.
Alternatively, there's an argument to look at the Sportsbook and back Napoli Over 1.5 Team Goals at evens. Napoli have scored at least twice in seven of their last nine home matches.