What to Watch For: Torino vs Napoli

Round 7 of the still young 2019/20 Serie A season is highlighted by the Derby d’Italia between first place Inter and reigning 8-time champions Juventus for what has already been confirmed to be a record-setting gate attraction for the affair, generating €6,5 million.

However, there are plenty of intriguing matches taking place elsewhere across the continent, including Turin where Walter Mazzarri’s Torino will host Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli.

Here are five things to watch for on Sunday.

How will Napoli cope in the back without Kalidou Koulibaly?

After picking up a very late red card versus Cagliari in defeat, Kalidou Koulibaly served the first of a two-match suspension last week against Brescia. Luckily for him and Napoli, all three points were obtained as a result of a 2-1 win, but Torino could pose more of a problem for Ancelotti this time around without Koulibaly who remains irreplaceable – especially in the back where goals have been leaking in a bit too much for the supporters’ liking. The projected pairing of Kostas Manolas and Nikola Maksimovic are perfectly capable of holding it down, but with Andrea Belotti in fine form and a tough striker to contain, the defensive four’s tidiness and organization could be the key here.

Andrea Belotti vs Dries Mertens

We have been touching upon Belotti’s return to magnificent form ad nauseam this season, and rightfully so, with the Italian having scored five times in six matches and looking more and more the top talisman we saw bury 26 goals in 2016/17. Bearing in mind the 25-year old’s performance this season as we approach this fixture, it’s also worth highlighting the attacker opposite him who has been less than sharp in front of net on numerous occasions. Mertens has tallied four goals thus far, but by the looks of his average of 4.4 shots per game and the  amount of those he has wasted, Sunday’s tie could really come down to which one of these two makes the most of their chances. All eyes will be fixated on the star men up front.

Napoli’s search to regain attacking form

On paper, Napoli’s 15 total goals scored are joint first with Atalanta in the league, so you may be wondering why they would need to improve in this area. However, a simple look at their 21.33 shots per game stat (via WhoScored) will tell you that they are leaving goals out on the pitch and points, with the 1-0 defeat to Cagliari being a prime example of this. Call it unlucky or whatever you like, Carlo Ancelotti knows his squad needs to be more clinical and ruthless in the final third if they are to keep pace with Inter and Juventus, as well as get out of their UEFA Champions League group. Torino are one of the league’s more structured sides defensively and can be tough to break down at times, so the Naples outfit must sharpen their teeth and ensure they finish their chances.

Simone Verdi‘s motivation against former employer

When Simone Verdi arrived to Naples last summer from Bologna, there was this expectation that he would play a bit more of an important role than what we actually saw. Stretching over 24 appearances across all competitions, the Milan youth product featured in only 811 minutes, this despite respectable outputs of four goals and three assists. After moving on loan back to Torino, the 27-year old Verdi is hoping to enjoy more regular minutes under Mazzarri and show Ancelotti what he is missing. There is always a bit of extra motivation in confronting your former employer, and if Verdi is given the starting nod behind Belotti and Zaza, look for him to assert himself in the final third.

Salvatore Sirigu vs Alex Meret

The elder statesman Sirigu and youngster Meret each were selected by Roberto Mancini for Italy’s upcoming international break, to little surprise. The former has been a leader as Toro’s last line of defence, as well as a darn good shotstopper which has helped Mazzarri’s side secure some additional points this season. As for the Napoli keeper, he is finally healthy and delivering on the promise he came to Naples with two summers ago. All the talk and attention typically flows onto the attacking players mentioned above, but these two keepers are fully capable of standing on their head and deciding the game on their own. Napoli generate a ton of goalscoring chances, so Sirigu will be called into action quite a bit. But, with Belotti firing on all cylinders, Meret may face his own share of trouble.

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