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Serie A Preview: Rafa In Battle To Get Napoli Season Back On Track

Rafael-Benitez-NapoliPressure is mounting on Napoli coach Rafael Benitez ahead of Palermo’s visit to the San Paolo on Wednesday as the Serie A club continue to reel from early season setbacks.

Napoli’s hopes of competing in this season’s UEFA Champions League ended with elimination in the third qualifying round at the hands of Athletic Bilbao. After three Serie A games Napoli are six points behind Roma and Juventus and, with Inter Milan and AC Milan looking stronger this season, seemingly set for an uphill struggle to qualify for Europe’s premier club competition.

Two defeats in three games – a 1-0 home defeat to Chievo followed by a 1-0 reverse away to Udinese – equates to Napoli’s worse start to a season in five years.

Benitez reportedly prompted the ire of club president Aurelio De Laurentiis when he travelled to Liverpool to pay a planned visit to family at the start of the month. After defeat to Udinese on Sunday, planned talks over a contract extension – Benitez’s current deal runs out at the end of the season – have been put on hold, according to a report in Il Mattino newspaper Monday.

Napoli will be expected to account for Serie B champions Palermo, where anything less than a victory would likely plunge the club into a mini-crisis even ahead of meeting Juventus, Roma, Inter and Milan.

Roma sit top thanks to superior goal difference on Juventus but face a potentially tricky trip to Parma while Juve host promoted Cesena in Turin with a chance to regain the league lead.

Unbeaten Roma have yet to concede a goal although Rudi Garcia’s injury list is growing with midfielder Daniele De Rossi set to miss the trip to Parma with a suspected calf strain. Depending on the results of a scan, De Rossi could also miss upcoming games against Manchester City in the Champions League and Juventus.

Garcia, meanwhile, has called for Roma to maintain focus no matter the calibre of their opponents.

“Having a big squad isn’t enough. We need to have a team mentality and to give everything in every game,” said the Frenchman.

Parma welcome the Giallorossi having claimed their first win of the season, a 3-2 away defeat of Chievo thanks notably to a brace by striker Antonio Cassano. After the game Italy international Cassano gave his side the good news that he will now focus fully on club football, adding that the methods of new Italy coach Antonio Conte are too brutal to bare.

“With Conte the Italy squad risks becoming too much like Juventus, when you leave the pitch you’re physically destroyed,” said Cassano. “I play football to enjoy myself, if it has to become a job …”

Juventus, now coached by former Milan handler Massimiliano Allegri, host Cesena on the back of a morale-boosting 1-0 win away to Milan thanks to a second-half strike from Carlos Tevez, who is expected to be recalled from the international wilderness by Argentina.

Allegri could be without defender Martin Caceres after the Uruguayan suffered a left thigh strain, but facing Cesena, who have lost 12 of their 14 previous encounters against the Turin giants, at home is unlikely to trouble the Bianconeri.

With Milan in action away to promoted Empoli on Tuesday, Inter host Atalanta at the San Siro looking to get back to winning ways after being held 1-1 by Palermo.

Inter had put seven unanswered goals past Sassuolo previously but a stuttering performance in Sicily has left Walter Mazzarri’s men in sixth place, four points off the pace.

Elsewhere, Fiorentina host Sassuolo looking to grab only their second win of the campaign while Torino travel to Cagliari looking for the win that could move them off rock bottom.

Italian Serie A fixtures
Tuesday
Empoli v AC Milan

Wednesday
Cagliari v Torino
Fiorentina v Sassuolo
Verona v Genoa
Inter Milan v Atalanta
Juventus v Cesena
Napoli v Palermo
Parma v Roma
Sampdoria v Chievo
Lazio v Udinese

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