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Wednesday's Serie A preview: Napoli face tricky San Siro trip

Italian top-flight action returns on Wednesday with a full midweek round of fixtures getting Serie A back into the swing of things after the World Cup hiatus.

All 20 teams take to the field on January 4th, with kick-off times staggered all through the day, as Napoli look to continue their unbeaten start and increase their lead at the summit over chasers AC Milan and Juventus.

The battle for the Champions League places is also set to continue, with Inter hunting down Lazio and Juve from back in fifth, while Jose Mourinho’s Roma must recover from seventh if they are to challenge the hierarchy.

There’s set to be turbulence down the bottom end of the standings too, as the bottom three of Verona, Sampdoria and Cremonese bid to chip away at the six-point gap to safety.

Napoli return with tough test

WhatInter Milan v Napoli
WhereSan Siro, Milan
When19:45 Wednesday 4th January 2023
How to watchBT Sport 1
OddsInter Milan 13/10, Draw 12/5, Napoli 21/10

Runaway leaders and every inch the team to beat, Napoli have excelled so far in this Serie A campaign.

Under the management of Luciano Spalletti, the Neapolitans have won 13 and drawn two of their opening 15 league games and at 4/9 they are on course for a first Italian title since 1990, when Diego Maradona lifted Lo Scudetto.

But almost two months after their last competitive outing - a 3-2 win over Udinese at home, in which they held out for a nervy final eight minutes, almost squandering a 3-0 lead - the question is whether Napoli can jump straight back into the rich vein of form that served them so well in the first part of the season?

Up against them are an Inter side with a point to prove. The Milanese outfit faltered at the start of the campaign but sprang into life towards Christmas, winning six out of their last seven league matches and rising to fifth.

What’s more, their last five games at home in all competitions have brought them wins, including against Barcelona and Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League.

That run has seen Inter concede just once, too, in the 6-1 win over Bologna on November 9th that closed out the opening tranche of the season in style - and a punt backing Inter to win to nil is available at 7/2.

They will remain eight points behind the leaders even if they do become the first side to beat Napoli, but crucially, a victory could take them level on points with rivals AC should they slip up against Salernitana.

History remains on the side of the hosts, who have won the last three encounters between these two sides.

Milan minding the gap

WhatSalernitana v AC Milan
WhereStadio Arechi, Salerno
When11:30 Wednesday 4th January 2023
How to watchBT Sport 1
OddsSalernitana 11/2, Draw 10/1, AC Milan 1/2

Sitting eight points adrift of Napoli, AC Milan re-enter the fray as one of the earlier 11:30 kick-offs on Wednesday, travelling to Salerno to face Davide Nicola’s mid-table side.

Milan picked up seven points from their final four games before the break, thereby losing further ground on the top dogs Napoli who haven’t dropped points since August.

Against Salernitana, Stefano Pioli’s men have a golden chance to get back into their rhythm; Wednesday’s hosts have managed just a point from their last three games, though changes in their ranks make them more of an unknown quantity in the New Year.

Franck Ribery called time on his role as a player at the club late last year, opting to work behind the scenes on a technical level, which has meant the arrival of celebrated Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.

Meanwhile, Milan will have to distract themselves from the noise surrounding young attacking star Rafael Leao. Rumours continue to swirl regarding big-money contract bids from major European clubs as the Portuguese forward's time with the Rossoneri looks to be winding down.

They will be wary of the Salerno outfit too, having fallen to a defeat last time out at Stadio Arechi in February 2022, although Italy’s extended break from domestic action should have allowed sufficient time for World Cup finalists Theo Hernandez and Olivier Giroud to recuperate.

Pioli remains without Divock Origi, Fode Ballo-Toure, Ante Rebic, Alessandro Florenzi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, however, while questions remain over the inclusion of Junior Messias and Mike Maignan.

Breaking down Salernitana - who have lost just once in six Serie A home games - could be a difficult task and an AC Milan win with both teams to find the net is available at 11/5.

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Atalanta aiming to get back on track

WhatSpezia v Atalanta
WhereStadio Alberto Picco, La Spezia
When16:00 Wednesday 4th January 2023
How to watchBT Sport 1
OddsSpezia 4/1, Draw 3/1, Atalanta 4/6

Having upset the established order over the past few seasons, Atalanta have made a name for themselves as a side to be reckoned with under Gian Piero Gasperini, but the end of the first part of the season saw them fall away dramatically from the leading pack.

Three straight defeats - one albeit against leaders Napoli, but one against a struggling Lecce side and a 3-2 defeat against fellow European contenders Inter last time out - have left them sixth coming into 2023, level on points with Roma in seventh.

While it’s not quite panic stations in Bergamo, a return to form is vital if they are to keep themselves anchored in the race for continental qualification and they get back to work against a side who will have been cursing the World Cup break for its unfortunate timing.

Spezia were mired in the midst of a battle against relegation coming into November, but four points picked up against Udinese and basement club Verona did wonders for their outlook, hauling them clear of the drop zone by six points.

Whether Spezia can harness that momentum in 2023 remains to be seen, but both teams will recognise the potential for an important win in this encounter.

Only beaten once at home, Spezia are capable of carving out results, but have failed to keep a clean sheet since the 1-0 win over Empoli on the opening day of Serie A.

They are likely to be tested by an Atalanta side who have lost just once on the road all season and over 2.5 goals can be backed at 4/6 - a bet that has come in in each of Atalanta’s last three Serie A matches.

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