Soccer-Napoli look to get title defence back on track against leaders Inter


Soccer Football - Champions League - Group C - Real Madrid v Napoli - Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain - November 29, 2023 Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri REUTERS/Juan Medina/File photo

(Reuters) - Serie A champions Napoli host league leaders Inter Milan on Sunday, with the title defenders looking to show the title pretenders that they are not out of the Scudetto race just yet.

After an inconsistent start to the season cost Rudi Garcia his job as Napoli coach, his replacement Walter Mazzarri made a winning start on his return to the club with a 2-1 victory at Atalanta last weekend.

Napoli are still fourth in the table, but Inter's draw at Juventus on Sunday saw Mazzarri's side gain two points on the top two and though there is still an eight point gap to Inter, a win against the leaders would put them right back in contention.

Simone Inzaghi's Inter have already proven their title credentials this season. They have the best defence and attack in the league, have lost just once, and since that defeat by Sassuolo have gone seven games unbeaten.

Mazzarri knows what it's like to battle for the league title at both clubs. He previously spent four seasons at Napoli, taking them to a runners-up spot in 2013, before he joined Inter but was sacked early in his second season at the club.

His only trophy win came at Napoli, lifting the Coppa Italia in 2012, and for the 62-year-old, winning a Scudetto would be the crowning glory to a career which has seen him manage in Serie A since 2004 without the ultimate success.

Napoli's triumph last season has been captured in a film by their president Aurelio De Laurentiis, and Mazzarri feels like a part of that Scudetto win is thanks to his work at the club.

"The other day the president came to the dressing room, he showed me a clip that will come out and I got chills, the same feeling I had with the Coppa Italia on my way back from the final in Rome," Mazzarri said recently.

"When I left we had done a lot, finishing second with the squad where it had been when I arrived, I'll take credit because the club's climb started with me."

Now, Mazzarri has the chance to really make history at Napoli, but defeat by Inter on Sunday would make that dream almost impossible, at least for this season.

Juventus have the chance to go top of the table, at least until Sunday, when they travel to face ninth-place Monza on Friday. Juve are two points behind Inter but meet a Monza side unbeaten at home this season.

Like Inter, Juve's only loss this season came against Sassuolo, and since then they have gone on an eight game unbeaten run.

AC Milan returned to winning ways in the league with a 1-0 victory over Fiorentina last weekend, after four games without success saw them slip away from the top two, and they are in third place, six points behind rivals Inter.

They need to bounce back from their 3-1 home defeat by Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League on Tuesday when they host Frosinone on Saturday, a side who have 18 points but just two of those have come away from home.

Fifth-place AS Roma travel to face Sassuolo on Sunday, who despite their victories over Inter and Juventus are down in 14th with just two home wins from seven.

A slip up by Jose Mourinho's Roma could see Bologna move even higher in the table. Bologna are level on points with Roma and have lost just twice this season and are away to Lecce on Sunday.

(Reporting by Trevor Stynes; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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