It's second against fifth in the Derby of the Sun early on Saturday as both Roma and Napoli chase Champions League qualification for next season. Matthew Amalfitano provides a tactical preview of this key encounter...
"Looking ahead to the match, Roma have drawn their last five home matches and Napoli have lost three consecutive away games, while winning the other two."
Roma v Napoli
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The Derby del Sole kicks off this Saturday in Serie A's first match back from the international break as Roma host Napoli. Despite the already existing tensions from the nature of the contest, it's a direct battle between two sides vying for Champions League football next season; Roma in second with 53 points and Napoli trailing in fifth with 47.
It's a match-up of two teams that enjoy sitting back and countering so it'll be interesting to see which side looks to dominate possession and which opts to soak up the pressure; it's important to keep in mind that both have equally struggled against sides who sit back. The previous clash saw Napoli take the match to the away side and it paid off. The key to the tactical battle will be which side is most effective on the counter.
Coming into this contest, Roma have drawn eight of their 12 Serie A matches of 2015; Rudi Garcia has been unwilling to depart from his preferred counterattacking 4-3-3 system that has been found out this campaign.
Francesco Totti habitually oversees the creative responsibility but he's doubtful to feature in this contest, so these duties should fall on the inconsistent Miralem Pjanic. Expecting to take Totti's place will be Victor Ibarbo, but the 24-year-old won't provide the same type of role the captain does.
Roma have not played with a recognised central striker a part from the current Milan hitman Mattia Destro - who left Roma in search of more playing time - so including Ibarbo in the lineup changes their approach.
Part of the problems Roma have faced this season have been their lack of a Plan B, for example, not readily deploying a No. 9. Ibarbo is also blessed with pace so Roma could utilise the Colombian's speed against Napoli's high defensive, mistake-ridden line.
Additionally, former Arsenal man Gervinho is expected to miss out with Roman born Alessandro Florenzi taking his place. Pace wise, Florenzi is nothing to scoff at. He'll look to made bursting runs forward down the right flank, cutting in shoot or hoping his crosses find his target man in Ibarbo.
Roma's lack of a central forward means their aerial presence this season has also been dwarfed, with Totti, Gervinho and Adem Ljajic not the most comfortable in the air. Ibarbo could be the answer to more goals.
Napoli meanwhile enter the match with midfield veteran Gokhan Inler suspended. In Rafael Benitez's double-pivot setup, Inler had been instrumental in helping maintain possession and feeding service to the wings. That responsibility will now fall to David Lopez.
The Spaniard is a decent passer, but often is incapable of delivering the key pass and his pedestrian style possession has been detrimental to his speedy team-mates who crave opening up defences on the break. Lopez also fails to track back and Roma should look to find space in behind him.
Benitez does enjoy the luxury of offensive options however. With the Spaniard characteristically favouring cup competitions, Marek Hamsik will start on the bench in place of Manolo Gabbiadini. The young Italian attacker offers more pace than the captain while equally contributing incisive passes and firing freely from outside the box.
Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon will provide necessary the width for the away side. Mertens can be a bit greedy at times, but his service is usually good. The latter scored on the reverse fixture and his pace will prove to be a test for Roma to contain. Callejon is reliable regarding the defensive aspect, but a combination of fatigue and bad luck have seen his goals dry up, recorded his last on January 6.
Looking ahead to the match, Roma have drawn their last five home matches and Napoli have lost three consecutive away games, while winning the other two. Keeping the variables constant, they've both scored only four times under these circumstances.
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