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Preview: Napoli vs. Cagliari - prediction, team news, lineups
26/09/2021 14:22:02

Seeking to prolong their perfect start to the Serie A season, leaders Napoli welcome struggling Cagliari to Stadio Maradona on Sunday (7:45PM, 26 Sept).

While the visitors are still searching for a first league win of the 2021-22 campaign, the Azzurri have been brushing off all-comers with a series of impressive performances and results.

We say: Napoli 2-0 Cagliari

Only a touch of understandable fatigue may slow down the relentless progress of Napoli this weekend, as their incessant fixture list will perhaps take its toll during the second half.

By then, though, the Azzurri should already have secured a lead over hapless Cagliari, who are in for another season of struggle and strife, while their opponents dream of the Scudetto.

Match preview

Following a scintillating start to life under Luciano Spalletti, this weekend, Napoli could win each of their first six games of a Serie A season for just the second time in their illustrious history - a feat only surpassed during the 2017-18 campaign, when they won the first eight.

Still unbeaten in all competitions, having also drawn with Leicester City in the Europa League, the Partenopei enjoyed their latest success at the expense of Sampdoria earlier this week - recording a second consecutive 4-0 win in the process.

Once more scoring twice in either half, as they did versus Udinese just three days earlier, Napoli surged back to the top of the table in the early throes of a potential season-long scrap for the Scudetto with the Milan clubs, Roma and even old rivals Juventus, who they beat 2-1 earlier this month.

Netting 14 times in five league games - while conceding only two - demonstrates how successful Spalletti has been at ensuring a smooth transition from predecessor Gennaro Gattuso's turbulent reign, and centre-forward Victor Osimhen has finally established himself as a striker to be feared across the peninsula, following a troubled first year at the club.

The Nigeria international has scored five times in his last three outings, so will be keen to feast upon Cagliari's porous rearguard this Sunday as he seeks to push out in front of the many Capocannoniere contenders this term.

His club have remained unbeaten at the Maradona since January and lost only one of their last 22 Serie A matches against the Sardinian side, so will be firm favourites to extend their winning run before welcoming Spartak Moscow to Naples next week.

Cagliari are, in fact, unbeaten in their last two away games against Napoli, but have lost 15 of their last 20 encounters in Serie A - a more accurate reflection of the gulf in their relative stature during recent years.

That gap looks like a yawning chasm when viewed through the prism of the current league table, as the Isolani are yet to record their first win and already trail their Neapolitan counterparts by 13 points after just five rounds of the campaign.

Having already switched managers and, on Wednesday, lost to promoted Empoli, they are in a sorry state ahead of the trip to Campania; leaving new boss Walter Mazzarri - a former Napoli coach - with much to ponder.

Following the predictable sacking of last season's saviour Leonardo Semplici, the experienced Mazzarri has now taken the helm but could do nothing to stop his side falling to a third defeat of the season versus the Serie B champions. His home debut in the Cagliari dugout saw Federico Di Francesco and Leo Stulac score for their Tuscan visitors, as they ran out 2-0 winners at the Sardegna Arena.

They previously threw away leads against both Lazio and Genoa - illustrating their brittle confidence at the moment - and have failed to win anywhere since a Coppa Italia success against Pisa back in mid-August.

Therefore, upcoming fixtures with Venezia and Sampdoria perhaps represent more realistic opportunities to snare their first three-point haul, rather than a forbidding trip to the in-form Partenopei.

Team News

After a lengthy layoff, Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti hopes to have Diego Demme back in the fold on Sunday, while Amir Rrahmani has recovered from a head injury which saw him withdrawn early in the second half on Thursday and could still feature. In any case, Kostas Manolas is a probable replacement for the Kosovar centre-back, alongside Kalidou Koulibaly at the heart of the hosts' defence.

Stanislav Lobotka is currently training individually as he steps up his recovery from a thigh injury, while neither Dries Mertens and Faouzi Ghoulam are expected to be ready in time either.

In attack, Matteo Politano may come back into the lineup for Hirving Lozano, while Eljif Elmas will hope to regain his place, having been usurped by the return of Piotr Zielinski at Sampdoria.

Meanwhile, Cagliari midfielder Marko Rog underwent reconstruction surgery on his right ACL this week, and will be missing for up to six months. In his continued absence, two from Alessandro Deiola, Razvan Marin and Kevin Strootman will run the visitors' engine room, with support from the energetic Nahitan Nandez.

Right-back Paolo Farago is still sidelined, but Gabriele Zappa returns from suspension, which would enable Walter Mazzarri to opt for a more defensive option on the right of a likely 3-5-2 lead by captain Joao Pedro and Keita Balde up front.

Napoli possible starting lineup:

Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Koulibaly, Rui; Ruiz, Anguissa, Zielinski; Politano, Osimhen, Insigne

Cagliari possible starting lineup:

Cragno; Caceres, Godin, Carboni; Zappa, Nandez, Marin, Strootman, Lykogiannis; Pedro, Balde

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