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Napoli, Milan, Inter stall ahead of Champions League deciders

  • April 17, 2023

MILAN: Napoli and AC Milan both dropped points ahead of the Serie A sides´ Champions League showdown following respective draws with Verona and Bologna on Saturday, while Inter Milan were beaten 1-0 by Monza with Benfica looming.

Italy’s champions-elect Napoli have had their imposing league lead cut to 14 points after a second-string XI could only manage a goalless stalemate with Verona and second-placed Lazio won at Spezia on Friday.

As it stands Luciano Spalletti’s side still need 11 points from their final eight matches to seal their first league title since 1990, but all eyes are now on Tuesday’s second leg of their quarter-final clash with Milan in Naples in which they have to overturn a 1-0 deficit.

Not even the second-half introduction of returning star striker Victor Osimhen – who smashed a volley off the bar in the 82nd minute – and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia could force a breakthrough at a loud Stadio Maradona.

Spalletti said that Serie A’s top scorer Osimhen will start on Tuesday, adding: “He is a hero for these fans, there is always so much enthusiasm around him”. Hardcore supporters got behind the team after a truce in their feud with owner Aurelio De Laurentiis, which had made the atmosphere at Napoli’s recent home matches toxic and threatened to take the shine off the colourful title festivities already getting into gear in Naples.

On Saturday film mogul De Laurentiis posted on Twitter a photo with a number of the club’s “ultras” with the message “We are Napoli. Fans and president together for victory!”. The ultras had ostensibly been protesting about being prevented from bringing drums, flags and banners to the stadium to create an atmosphere worthy of a remarkable season, which should now come against Milan.

“They are absolutely crucial to us, I´ve said it more than once… they give us more energy than what you get solely from the quality of the team,” added Spalletti of the fans. “If the team feels like it’s supported it can reach the heights more easily.”

The draw was a fine result for struggling Verona which puts them three points behind Spezia, who sit just outside the drop zone.

Milan coach Stefano Pioli dropped every single outfield player from Wednesday’s win over Napoli and it backfired at Bologna, the champions only managing a 1-1 draw in which Nicola Sansone slammed the hosts ahead after just 33 seconds.

Milan recovered from the early shock, quickly took control of the match and, after Ante Rebic and Alessandro Florenzi both forced decent saves from Lukasz Skorupski, Tommaso Pobega crashed the leveller in off the post four minutes before the break.

Pioli began to bring on his more trusted players midway through the second half but form forwards Brahim Diaz and Rafael Leao failed to find the winner, meaning Milan sit fourth and level on 53 points with Roma who host Udinese on Sunday night.

“We shouldn´t have conceded a goal like that so early, we controlled the match, we didn´t let Bologna play their usual way and we created a lot,” said Pioli to DAZN. Bologna, who survived a penalty shout for handball by Jhon Lucumi to the bafflement of Milan, stay eighth and four points from the Europa Conference League spot held by Atalanta, who are at Fiorentina on Monday.

Inter would have moved above both Milan and Roma had they beaten Monza but Luca Caldirola’s 78th minute header condemned Simone Inzaghi’s side to their 11 defeat of an immensely disppointing league season.

They are two points away from Italy’s Champions League places, and risk not qualifying for the competition in which they should reach the last four on Wednesday. Inter host Benfica hot favourites to be in an all-Italian semi-final thanks to their impressive 2-0 win in Lisbon last week, but have lost their last three home matches without scoring a single goal.

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