Napoli enjoying revival of the Maradona good times + Serie A UAE times

Not since 1990, when DIego Maradona led Napoli to their second - and last- Serie A title, have the team been at the top of the table, until now.

Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain celebrates victory against Inter Milan on Monday night in Serie A. Ciro Fusco / EPA / November 30, 2015
Powered by automated translation

Fond memories of Diego Maradona's enduring spell in Italy's top flight have resurfaced as Napoli savour their place at the top of Serie A after 25 years ahead of Sunday's trip to Bologna.

The year was 1990 and Maradona, who had helped Napoli to their first league title three years earlier, was in his pomp as Napoli strode towards their second and last scudetto.

Unbeknown to fans, it would be the last time Napoli sat top of the Italian league table for 25 years – a wait that ended Monday when Gonzalo Higuain struck twice in a 2-1 win over 10-man title rivals Inter Milan.

Napoli sit top with a lead of one point on Inter, two on Fiorentina, four on AS Roma and seven on resurgent champions Juventus. As most of their rivals may have noticed already, Napoli's return has not been by chance.

After some early wobbles, Maurizio Sarri’s men arguably boast the most potent attacking game in the league and, along with Inter (nine goals) have Serie A’s stingiest defence.

The club sit firmly among the favourites to end Juventus’ four-year reign, but 25 years after Maradona’s Napoli reign was ended by a positive test for cocaine in the wake of the 1990 World Cup, Higuain remains modest.

“We deserve to be where we are but now we have to make the most of it,” said Higuain after Monday’s game, where he milked the applause of near hysterical fans at the San Paolo.

“But we have to get used to suffering: I don’t know any teams that are successful and don’t know how to suffer.”

Asked about Napoli’s title hopes, Higuain said: “Dreaming isn’t forbidden. But we will continue to take it game by game.”

Napoli’s return has added spice to an already intriguing battle for Serie A supremacy.

Inter will go top on Saturday with a home win against Genoa, although Roberto Mancini’s men will have taken note of the visitors’ renaissance following the recent appointment of former Parma handler Roberto Donadoni.

Yet Mancini, who won seven titles including three consecutive league crowns in his former spell in charge (2004-2008), gave a firm indication of Inter’s ambitions this season earlier this week.

Asked if his side, last crowned champions in 2010, would settle for second place, he told Corriere dello Sport: "No. It's difficult for any athlete to settle for second.

“We can target the title because believing in yourself costs nothing and dreaming is the most beautiful thing you can do. Inter has a great history and tradition that enables us to be competitive right until the end.”

Fiorentina’s title charge has slipped in the past fortnight with the team drawing their past two outings, at home to Empoli and away to Sassuolo, but Paulo Sousa’s men are only two points adrift ahead of the visit of Udinese.

Sousa blamed his side’s last draw on fatigue following Fiorentina’s Europa League commitments and he would be forgiven for hoping Udinese, 3-1 winners over Atalanta in the Coppa Italia (Italian Cup) fourth round on Wednesday, suffer the same fate on Sunday.

Elsewhere, AC Milan will look to follow their 4-1 drubbing of Sampdoria with an similarly impressive score away to Carpi in Sunday's late game.

On-form striker M’Baye Niang hit a double for Milan and was on target again for Sinisa Mihajlovic’s side when they beat Serie B side Crotone 3-1 in extra-time in the Italian Cup.

Winless Verona, meanwhile, welcome Empoli a week after dropping to rock bottom and days after appointing Luigi Del Neri as the replacement to sacked Andrea Mandorlini.

Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Frosinone left Verona with a mere six points out of a possible total of 42.

Champions Juventus travel to Lazio on Friday looking for a fifth consecutive win that could cost under-fire home coach Stefano Pioli his job.

Fixtures (UAE times)

Friday

Lazio v Juventus (10.45pm)

Saturday

Torino v AS Roma (7pm), Inter Milan v Genoa (10.45pm)

Sunday

Bologna v Napoli (2.30pm), Atalanta v Palermo (5pm), Fiorentina v Udinese (5pm), Frosinone v Chievo (5pm), Verona v Empoli (5pm), Sampdoria v Sassuolo (8pm), Carpi v AC Milan (10.45pm)

Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE