Since this is a soccer blog and soccer is a sport and sports mean blindly despising one’s opponents, we’ll open this up by saying that we really can’t stand Conor Dowley. For one thing, he’s the head honcho at our sister site the Siren’s Song (like anyone wants to read about Napoli) and also heads up Serie A coverage for the network. Moreover, he’s my spirit guide in this whole blogging thing, and Viola Nation wouldn’t exist without him. So I guess he’s actually pretty rad. And sometimes he answers the questions I ask him.
Viola Nation: How much does Napoli actually care about this competition? Enough to roll over and pooch it?
Conor Dowley: Enough to put in a good amount of effort to try and win, but not so much as to sabotage their chances of succeeding in Serie A or the Champions League. It's definitely a distant third in their priority list right now.
VN: What's Sarri's probable formation and starting eleven? What would your ideal formation and starting eleven be, given the players in the squad?
CD: He'll stick with his 4-3-3, but who all starts is another matter entirely. Between a handful of niggling injuries and two key defenders being at the Africa Cup of Nations in Kalidou Koulibaly and Faouzi Ghoulam, it's going to be tough to assemble a good lineup while trying to not over-exert key players.
So with that in mind, here's roughly what I would like to see Napoli play on Tuesday:
Maggio Tonelli Maksimovic Strinic
Zielinski Diawara Hamsik
Callejon Pavoletti Insigne
VN: Who's really killing it for y'all right now? Heck, let's get sort of granular: who's the best defender, midfielder, and forward on form?
CD: I don't think Napoli really have an in-form defender right now. Lorenzo Tonelli scored a couple of goals and has had some good defensive moments lately, but he's also made some ghastly mistakes. Marek Hamsik is easily Napoli's top midfielder in form right now, constantly creating chances and keeping Napoli in matches during times when the rest of the team is struggling.
As for the most in-form forward — well, that's a tough question. It's nearly impossible to pick between Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, and Jose Callejon for the sheer jaw-dropping quality they've been showing of late. You could pick any of the three and hardly be wrong, though some might debate you on the matter.
VN: Which Viola player are you most worried to face? Who do you think is going to be the biggest goal threat?
CD: Federico Chiesa seems like a very annoying player to face, but I have a niggling feeling that if Khouma Babacar starts, he's going to find himself in some very favorable matchups in the final third, and that could spell major trouble for Napoli.
VN: What are the matchups to watch, both in terms of personnel and in tactics?
CD: How Leonardo Pavoletti functions in the Napoli side will bear close scrutiny, as he's had very little time on the pitch since signing earlier this month. He does have a couple of potentially favorable matchups, though, as neither Gonzalo Rodriguez nor Nenad Tomovic are good pairings to keep him in check, and Davide Astori is going to be busy making sure Jose Callejon isn't cutting in at will.
For Fiorentina, the idea of Federico Bernardeschi cutting in from the left against Christian Maggio is... terrifying. To say the least.
VN: Is Maurizio Sarri going to join Fiorentina next season? (Please?)
CD: No, and stop sending flowers to try to convince me. You have bad taste in flowers. [Ed. note: Corpse flowers are beautiful and rare and should be better appreciated.]
VN: Prediction time: final score, and who scores?
CD: 3-2 to Napoli. Insigne, Hamsik, and Piotr Zielinski for the good guys, Bernardeschi and Borja Valero for the bad guys.
So there you have it. I answered some similar questions for the Siren’s Song, which you can find here. And with that, let the games begin. I want a good clean comments match. Nothing below the belt, and nothing in the face. Please, not in the face.