Italian Football Tips: Potential Mertens absence could hit Napoli hard

napoli mertens

WE’VE sealed another stellar signing for the season with Serie A don Paolo Bandini bringing his expertise to the site thanks to our partner Unibet.

Paolo is an Anglo-Italian sportswriter who pens a superb weekly Serie A column for the Guardian and his other credits include ESPN, the BBC and TalkSport as well as making regular appearances on the Football Weekly podcast.

He’s a Trevi Fountain of knowledge and we’re delighted to have him on board. Here he previews Saturday’s two games.

SPAL v Milan (Sat 2pm)

An already frustrating season for Nikola Kalinic took a further disappointing turn as Milan’s medical staff confirmed that he is struggling with a sports hernia. Recovery times for such injuries can be hard to predict, and his timing could not be much worse, as the Rossoneri face up to a potential run of 11 games (should they reach the Europa League last 16) in the next 37 days.

In the short term, however, supporters might even feel encouraged. No Kalinic means a greater likelihood of Patrick Cutrone starting against SPAL. The 20-year-old leads Milan with 10 goals across all competitions, yet has been denied a steady run of starts to this point, due to competition with Kalinic and André Silva for a single spot up front.

Until the Croatian returns, the expectation is that Cutrone should start in Serie A, and Silva perhaps in the Europa League: where he has found the net six times in as many games. As perplexing as it is that such a talented player has not yet been unable to transfer such form to Serie A, the pragmatic response for a team playing catch-up in the league should always be to stick with what works.

Paolo’s Tips

  • SPAL 0, Milan 2 (15-2, Unibet)
  • Suso to score first (27-5, Unibet)
  • Milan win (39-50, Unibet)


Napoli v Lazio (Sat 7.45pm)

Just when Dries Mertens seemed to be back on track – scoring five goals in as many games to start the new year, after an eight-match dry run to end 2017 – injury threatens to derail him. The Belgian exited last week’s game against Benevento following a heavy challenge from Berat Djimsiti, and is yet to return to training with Napoli’s first team.

His absence would be damaging at any time, but in the week that the Partenopei host Lazio it has the potential to be especially so. The visitors have been overtaken by Juventus as Serie A’s most prolific team, but can still boast 58 goals in 23 games. Their own leading scorer, Ciro Immobile, is back from the thigh injury he suffered last month.

Napoli have no real alternative to Mertens, but if he cannot play the Maurizio Sarri would most likely move José Callejón in to centre-forward. The Spaniard has filled in at the position before, and is Napoli’s second-leading scorer this season, but the gulf is wide from his six Serie A goals to Mertens’s 14. Either Adam Ounas or Piotr Zielinski would also need to step in on the right of attack to replace him.

Plainly, it is trickier to predict this game without knowing whether Mertens will make it onto the pitch. Napoli are a team in form, winners of seven straight in Serie A. But the great question hanging over them has always been whether they have the squad depth to withstand the loss of key players at key moments.

Paolo’s Tips

  • Napoli 2, Lazio 2 (12-1, Unibet)
  • Callejon to score first (21-4, Unibet)
  • Draw and both teams to score (19-5 Unibet)


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Anglo-Italian Paolo Bandini writes about Italian football for the Guardian and his tips appear here thanks to our football partner at MrFixitsTips, Unibet. They’re making a big splash in the UK betting scene and if you join them today you can claim up to £30 in Welcome Bonuses when you deposit and place your first bet.

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