5 Key Battles Which Will Decide Napoli vs AC Milan

5 Key Battles Which Will Decide Napoli vs AC Milan
Aaron Rogan
Aaron Rogan
August 23, 2018
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Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.

Serie A certainly isn’t holding back in the opening stages. Last weekend brought us Lazio against Napoli, and this weekend has a huge Saturday double header. While Lazio head to Juventus, the late game seems like the most interesting of the two. AC Milan start their season away to Napoli, a reunion with their former boss Carlo Ancelotti.

Ancelotti has a horrible start at the San Paolo. They play six of last season’s top 10 before the end of September. However, their 2-1 win over Lazio last weekend marked a great start for the former Milan boss. Can he inspire Napoli to another victory this weekend against one of their rivals for a top four place? Here we’re looking at the key areas to consider before siding with anyone in this huge encounter.

Read More: Napoli vs AC Milan Betting Tips and Predictions

Master vs Apprentice

There are so many elements which make this the biggest game of the weekend in Serie A. Not only is Ancelotti going up against his former side, but he’s meeting one of his old trusted lieutenants. He was boss for the majority of Gattuso’s spell as a Milan player, and now the pair duel on the touchline this weekend.

Gattuso was parachuted in as a stopgap for Milan, impressive displays gave him the job full-time. There are still question marks around how strong he is as a manager, and this will be a huge test. Ancelotti doesn’t just arrive with a big reputation, the Napoli boss is comfortably one of the top managers in the league.

Ancelotti isn’t as obsessive as Guardiola, he’s not going in to the San Paolo to revolutionise Napoli. He’ll keep the unit which finished second last season stable, not looking to meddle with something which isn’t broken. He’s kept them at the top, and that’s how they’ve started the new campaign. With Gattuso’s side winning just one of their trips to the top 10 last season, this is a really tough examination of Gattuso’s abilities.

Also See: Serie A Outright Tips and Predictions

The Higuain Factor

One thing you can expect here is a big moment for Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentine doesn’t have the greatest reputation, but he is a different beast when he’s fired up. The new AC Milan signing has a chip on his shoulder from his Napoli departure, and he’s gleefully returned to haunt them since. Napoli President Aurelio De Laurentiis made plenty of parting comments about Higuain, and since the forward has enjoyed hurting the Partenopei.The forward has five goals in six since leaving the San Paolo. However, this time he’s likely to be even more inspired. Ronaldo’s arrival in Italy saw Higuain dropped in an instant. He’s bound to be out to impress after that, and he’ll want to hit the ground running to show his former side what they are missing.

The hosts have struggled to keep Higuain quiet in the past, and we can’t see much of a plan being put in place to stop him. Expect Milan’s latest arrival to make a big impact on Saturday.

Read More: Who Have the Serie A Giants Signed This Summer?

Milik Adds Another Dimension


While Higuain is one the move again, Napoli are hoping to get a first full season out of his replacement. Arkadiusz Milik joined in 2016, but he has suffered serious injuries in each of the last two campaigns. He seemed like a great bit of business for the club, but he’s yet to feature throughout the campaign. The Partenopei are hoping that’s all about to change.

Milik may just be one game in, but he already gives Napoli something extra going forward. Dries Mertens was a fantastic replacement, until his goals dried up earlier this year. The Polish striker isn’t getting involved in the play, as his 33 passes were by far the lowest of any outfield starter. He didn’t contribute with dribbles or tackles, but he was an aerial presence.

Napoli also got a goal out of their front man, and he should offer a threat in this clash. While Ancelotti’s Napoli isn’t too far different to Sarri, he’s the first to have a presence up top who is capable of truly replacing Higuain.

Both Sides Doubling Down in Midfield

While Ancelotti’s Napoli is strikingly similar to Sarri’s, there was one major change. Instead of signing a player to replace Jorginho, the new boss simply used Marek Hamsik there. He took their goalscoring, box to box man and made him a playmaker. This isn’t the first time Ancelotti tried that move, he did it with a certain Andrea Pirlo while at Milan.

That’s allowed Milan to keep their build up play in midfield, and they maintain plenty of great talent on the ball. Meanwhile, the current midfield is unsurprisingly becoming less Pirlo and more Gattuso, with their boss adding more strength in the middle of the park. Tiemoue Bakayoko joins Franck Kessie and Lucas Biglia in the middle after moving on loan from Chelsea.

There’s a clear, fascinating battle on the way here; skill versus power. Gattuso’s Milan surrendered possession in their April meeting, as they took a structured approach. However, enough time on the ball here should help Napoli to a win. The Rossoneri need to work on breaking up that possession, and that’s going to be hugely decisive in this clash.

Can Milan Stop the Wicked Wingers?


While the game will be won or lost in possession, the goals aren’t coming from the middle of the park. Napoli are holding back Hamsik, but they can afford to given their wide talent. The wingers have been a key feature of Sarri’s sides, and they’ve terrorised Milan in recent meetings. Lorenzo Insigne has five goals in five meetings with the Rossoneri, while Jose Callejon has three in four.

This is one area where Ancelotti won’t make changes. However, can Gattuso make tweaks to block off those runs? Napoli have full-backs bombing on, so the wingers will cut inside and flood the defence. They’ll probe for openings, and finding a way to block them off will be a big test for Gattuso. Man-marking them leaves openings elsewhere, while they can’t hold back too many players in defence. The pair played a key role on Saturday, and we see them doing the same this week.

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