Is Naples going to win its third Scudetto?
Naples woke up on Monday still digesting the disappointment of Napoli not sealing their first Serie A title in over three decades, but knowing glory is just a few more days away.
By Terry DALEY
Everything was set up for Napoli to win their third Scudetto a record-breaking six matches before the end of the season on Sunday when their closest challengers Lazio collapsed late on at Inter Milan, leaving Luciano Spalletti's side needing a win over Salernitana to seal the deal.
And when Mathias Olivera headed Napoli into the lead the city exploded in celebration, with blue smoke ingulfing the Stadio Maradona and fireworks being let off outside with the rapidity of machine gun fire.
However all that joy had has to be bottled back up, ready to be unleashed at Udinese on Thursday, after Boulaye Dia's superb equaliser six minutes from the end spoiled the party and pushed Salernitana further towards safety.
Fans were not too downhearted however, hardcore supporters marching back from the Stadio Maradona into central Napoli with flares lit and in fine voice, the festivities in the city only dampened by a Spring downpour later in the evening.
"From my point of view we've just postponed the party, I'm very comfortable with where we are in the league," Spalletti told DAZN with a wry smile.
"All it's doing is lengthening the party."
To say that Napoli are close to their goal of emulating he 1987 and 1990 triumphs led by Diego Maradona would be an understatement.
Spalletti's team, who are at Udinese on Thursday, need just one more point from their final matches to be crowned champions.
And even though results have dipped, and the ferocious attacking play which bewitched Europe has become more stilted, since the March international break it is borderline impossible that Naples does not get its long-awaited party.
- Title glory close -
A 17-point lead on Lazio means Napoli could even win the league without kicking another ball, as the capital city club must beat Sassuolo on Wednesday in order to mathematically stay in the fight.
But in reality the Scudetto has been a near-certainty for months, as Italy's traditional big three have failed to keep up with the runaway leaders' blistering form in the run up to and aftermath of the World Cup.
Between the start of September and end of February Napoli won 19 of 20 league matches, a run which left soon-to-be-dethroned champions AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus trailing way off in the distance.
That trio are now involved in a six-team battle for the three remaining available Champions League positions, with six points separating Lazio from seventh-placed Atalanta.
Inter currently hold the final spot in fourth ahead of their trip to survival-seeking Verona on Wednesday, but only lead Milan and Roma on goal difference with potentially season-defining fixtures coming up over the next fortnight.
Saturday is a repeat of this weekend's clash between the cities of Rome and Milan as Roma host Inter and Lazio travel to the San Siro for the second time in seven days, while Atalanta host third-placed Juve who have collected just one point from their last four league fixtures.
The two Milan clubs then have to prepare for the biggest derby for a generation in the first leg of their blockbuster Champions League semi-final.
Roma, who drew 1-1 with Milan on Saturday despite Tammy Abraham opening the scoring in the 94th minute, also have their Europa League last four clash with Bayer Leverkusen next week with a raft of injuries complicating their run-in.
Jose Mourinho's Roma travel to Monza on Wednesday without defenders Rick Karsdorp, Chris Smalling, Diego Llorente and Marash Kumbulla, while Netherlands midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and Andrea Belotti are also sidelined and Nemanja Matic is suspended.
Fixtures (times GMT)
Atalanta v Spezia, Juventus v Lecce, Salernitana v Fiorentina, Sampdoria v Torino (all 1600), AC Milan v Cremonese, Monza v Roma, Verona v Inter Milan, Lazio v Sassuolo (all 1900)
Empoli v Bologna, Udinese v Napoli (both 1845)
© AFP/Wanted in Rome
TOPSHOT - A fan of Napoli holds a flare bomb in his mouth as fans start to celebrate on the seafront of Naples on April 30, 2023 during the Italian Serie A football match between Napoli and Salernitana, after Napoli opened the scoring. Naples braces for its potential first championship win in 33 years, anticipating its victory in the Scudetto for the first time since 1990. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)
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