Milan - The importance of record-setting striker Gonzalo
Higuain has been brought home to Serie A leaders Napoli but most eyes on Sunday
will be on Inter Milan's bid for a crucial derby win at AC Milan.
Napoli tightened their lead at the top of Italy's top flight
last week to remain two points ahead of champions Juventus before welcoming
Empoli to the San Paolo on Sunday.
But the Azzurri, who won the last of their two league titles
in 1990 when Diego Maradona was still in his heyday, suffered a scare when
Higuain narrowly avoided a serious injury knock on Thursday.
Higuain, who has hit 21 league goals in as many games this
season, hobbled off the pitch with a sore ankle during a friendly match with
San Vito Positano.
Although he is expected to be fit, all eyes were on coach
Maurizio Sarri at Napoli's Castel Volturno training ground on Thursday.
Sarri was slapped with a two-game Cup ban for a recent
homophobic rant at Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini but, to show he meant no
ill feeling towards homosexuals, he accepted to play a friendly game against
the local, fifth division side, whose president Alessandro Cecchi Paone is
The gesture almost backfired, but served to underline
Napoli's reliance on their main source of goals this season.
Also read: Higuain firing Napoli’s title charge
Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis, one of 64 people
targeted by Naples prosecutors for alleged false accounting and tax evasion in
midweek, said: "I always wanted us to play a midweek match against a lower
league team, now we have this friendly thanks to Cecchi Paone and Sarri.
"The unknown factor is what has happened to
As Higuain looks to maintain his impressive goals quest,
compatriot Mauro Icardi is among several Inter Milan strikers under pressure to
perform as the club's title ambitions hang increasingly in the balance.
Inter have scored only four times in their past five league
outings, losing two, drawing two and winning only once to slip to fourth in the
table at six points behind Napoli.
"I'm 50 years old, and even I would have scored from
some of the chances we had," Mancini lashed out last week after 10-man
Carpi hit a late leveller to snatch a 1-1 draw at the San Siro.
If Mancini was hoping to embarrass his men into action, he
may now be looking for a different approach after another setback in midweek.
A 3-0 defeat to Juventus blew a hole in Inter's Italian Cup
hopes in the first leg of their semi-final, when Icardi was left on the bench
in favour of Stevan Jovetic.
Inter will look to appease fans with a second consecutive
derby win on Sunday against a Milan side that, going on their own Cup
semi-final display, has little to shout about.
A first-half penalty from Mario Balotelli, the striker's
first Milan goal in over four months, earned Sinisa Mihajlovic's men a patchy
1-0 first leg win over third division Alessandria.
But Mihajlovic was less than impressed, berating his players
for their "failure to put several early chances away". He declared
there will be no place for Balotelli in his starting XI on Sunday.
"Mario won't be playing the derby because he's not
match fit. We've got four days to prepare for this game and the best team
possible will be on the team sheet," said the Serbian, a former midfielder
Defeat for Inter would be a significant blow to their title
hopes, and leave Napoli and Juventus with one less rival to worry about.
Juventus travel to Chievo with a four-point lead on
Fiorentina and Inter, and are looking for their 12th consecutive league win a
week after Paulo Dybala's late winner secured a 1-0 home win over Roma.For
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