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Fiorentina vs Napoli: Match Preview

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Fiorentina's defensive resolve will no doubt be given a firm test by Maurizio Sarri's free flowing Napoli side. With Roma's victory away in Empoli moving them up to third in the table, Paolo Sousa's men will be desperate to take the points from this hotly anticipated fixture.

Will Berna shine on the big stage?
Will Berna shine on the big stage?
Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

The importance of this fixture to both teams cannot be overstated. With Roma winning against Empoli to leapfrog Fiorentina into third spot, and with Juventus increasing their lead at the top to four points with their win against Inter, the outcome of this match will prove pivotal to both Fiorentina and Napoli's respective seasons. It is a game in which both sets of fans' expectations could go up in smoke. Fiorentina may well be the luckier of the two sides considering their champions league qualifying fate will still be in their own hands when they visit rivals Roma on Friday March the 4th. Napoli on the other hand, having played their direct title rivals (Juventus) twice already, will if they lose, have to rely on the bianconeri slipping up on at least two separate occasions in order for them to have any hope of gaining the scudetto.

Napoli will travel to Florence in pretty confident mood having won their last four games across all competitions against Fiorentina. In fact the Viola have only won one of their last eleven matches against Napoli. That game was at the San Paolo in March 2014 and was decided in the 87th minute by a Joaquin effort that helped seal a 0-1 victory for Fiorentina. When looking for a home victory one has to go all the way back to January 2009 to find the last time Fiorentina defeated Napoli at the Franchi, that day the Viola emerged as 2-1 victors with Mario Santana and Riccardo Montolivo on the score sheet. However since the 2008/9 season the Viola have had an awful record at home against the Neapolitans, in 09/10 they lost 0-1, in 10/11 they drew 1-1, in 11/12 they lost 0-3, in 12/13 there was another 1-1 draw, in 13/14 they lost 1-2 and in 14/15 they lost 0-1. Meanwhile Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri has in his storied career faced off only three times against Fiorentina, winning one, drawing one and losing one.

Fiorentina and Napoli sit first and second in the Serie A possession averages with Fiorentina averaging 59.5% possession this season, whereas Napoli average an equally impressive 58.9%. These two teams tend not to give up the ball. Interestingly in the reverse fixture in Naples it was the only time this season that Napoli have had less possession than their opposite number. Another area in which both these teams lead the league is in the amount of minutes they have been leading matches in Serie A with the Viola having led games for a total of 1009 minutes, Napoli have led for just one less minute that Fiorentina having been in the lead in Serie A games this season for a total of 1008 minutes. In terms of statistics, on paper these two are pretty evenly matched, for example Fiorentina enjoy an overall pass accuracy of 86% to Napoli's 85.4%, added to which Fiorentina average 14.4 shots a game to Napoli's league high 17.3 shots a game, there really is not much in it. However as we all know the game is played on grass not paper. Maybe Napoli will have the difference maker in Gonzalo Higuain who in the goalscoring stakes is streaks above everybody this year having netted 24 goals for Sarri's team.

Fiorentina:

The Viola are unbeaten in their last six league games, they have also won five of their last six in the league at home Paolo Sousa's charges have managed to score two goals in seven of their last eight home games in Serie A. From a Viola perspective hopefully these facts are indications that the squad contains the necessary ingredients to get a result in this match. Fiorentina will once again be without the services of newly acquired centre back Yohan Benalouane due to injury. Mauro Zarate will also miss the game due to the suspension picked up from the red card he received against Inter. Borja Valero, Nikola Kalinic and Manuel Pasqual all go in to this fixture on four yellow cards, one away from an automatic one game suspension. In all likelihood Paolo Sousa will opt for Nikola Kalinic to lead the line in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with what should be a full strength side behind him.

Napoli:

Napoli are undefeated in an impressive 23 of their last 25 Serie A matches. That said Napoli have not won a game since they beat Carpi on the 7th February. Since that game Napoli have lost to Juventus, lost and drawn to Villarreal and drawn to AC Milan. Does this mini stutter represent a wider truth? Are the Neapolitans in a downward spiral? This game is crunch time for Sarri's men if they falter in Florence they could well be kissing goodbye to any chance of silverware this season. Napoli will be without Alberto Grassi and Ivan Strinic both ruled out due to injury. Kalidou Koulibaly, Jorginho, Raul Albiol and Jose Callejon all go into this game on four yellow cards. Maurizio Sarri should go with his full strength team, lined up in a  4-3-3 formation with Callejon, Higuain and Insigne looking to make inroads into Fiorentina's back line.

Projected Line-ups:

Fiorentina: (4-2-3-1) Tatarusanu, Roncaglia; Rodriguez, Astori; Alonso, Badelj; Vecino, Tello; Valero, Bernardeschi; Kalinic

Napoli: (4-3-3) Reina, Hysaj; Albiol, Koulibaly; Ghoulam, Allan; Jorginho, Hamsik; Callejon, Insigne; Higuain

How To Watch:

Rai International, Bein Sports and BT Sports for this one, for full options you can check listings here.

As always there will be a live match thread for discussion of the game, or if twitter is your thing you can follow coverage @Viola_Nation and true to form we will have updates of the most important events on our Facebook page.