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Napoli relaunch charge towards history with tough Inter test

Napoli face Inter as the Serie A returns. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Napoli recommence their bid for a first Italian title in over three decades when they face rivals Inter on Wednesday as Serie A gets back underway with one of the league’s most hotly-anticipated fixtures.

Luciano Spalletti’s side have already won once this season at the San Siro, claiming the points in a tight contest with reigning champions AC Milan, over whom they defend an eight-point lead at the top of the division.

Napoli are hoping to extend an 11-match winning streak and maintain their unbeaten record in Italy’s top flight after having dropped just four points in their 15 matches.

They also have the league’s best attack after scoring 37 times before the World Cup, nine of those coming from Victor Osimhen who tops the scoring charts and is one of a host of well-rested players who didn’t travel to Qatar.

Another of those is wing wizard Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, the Georgian heir to icon Diego Maradona, ready to start after not featuring since Napoli’s Champions League defeat at Liverpool at the start of November which is their only defeat of the season so far.

Champions in 2021 and challengers until the final day of last season, fifth-placed Inter will provide a stern test of Napoli’s Scudetto credentials after Milan open 2023’s fixtures at Salernitana.

Simone Inzaghi’s side are 11 points off the pace in fifth but have won six of their last seven and will have star striker Romelu Lukaku back after injury troubles and humiliation at the World Cup.

On Monday Inter revealed midfield lynchpin Marcelo Brozovic would be out with a calf injury.

“Until the moment in which a team lifts the trophy anything is possible. That’s why we play football, you have to believe in the impossible,” said Lukaku in an interview with Sky at the weekend.

Ready to take advantage of a Napoli slip-up are Juventus, who are at struggling Cremonese and embroiled in one of Italian football’s biggest scandals in years.

Juve are set to name an entire new board later this month after the previous one collectively stepped down as prosecutors in Turin accuse the club of a variety of financial crimes.

Those include lying to the stock market when announcing at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic that players would help the club save 90 million euros by giving up four month’s pay, instead allegedly making a private agreement for the team to forgo just one payment.

However they are sitting third after recovering from a dismal start to the season with six straight league wins leading up to the World Cup break.

Juve will be missing Dusan Vlahovic as coach Massimiliano Allegri deals with a series of injuries which still includes Paul Pogba, who missed the World Cup for finalists France and is yet to play a single game for the club since returning last summer.

Player to watch: Romelu Lukaku

Made into a figure of fun after his display of poor finishing in Belgium’s World Cup group-stage elimination, Lukaku is now fit and ready to rebuild his reputation as one of Europe’s most feared strikers.

The 29-year-old missed a hatful of chances in a goalless draw with Croatia which ended the Red Devils’ chances in Qatar but hadn’t even played a half of football since August before coming on as a second-half substitute. 

“Croatia was a huge disappointment but I told myself: ‘Romelu, you weren’t 100 percent, you’d only had two training sessions,” said Lukaku.

“I was rightly massacred but now I really want to get back out on the pitch.”

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