Serie A: Rafael Benitez wants focus as Napoli sight second
Napoli coach Rafael Benitez has called for focus ahead of a trip to on-form Palermo that could prove decisive as his side continue their quest to secure Champions League football next season.
Napoli have won their last four games on the trot in Italy`s Serie A to tighten their hold on third place, while their promising run of late has also fired a warning shot to title challengers Roma.
Roma finally ended a run of four consecutive draws last week but while Rudi Garcia`s men are seven points behind leaders and champions Juventus, they are only four ahead of Napoli.
Napoli`s players can scent the lure of the Champions League and are desperate to return, having failed to get past the group stages two years ago and failed to qualify for the group stages last summer.
Attacking midfielder Marek Hamsik believes facing Palermo away on Saturday will be tough but the Slovakian said: "We`re fighting for second place and we want to close the gap on Roma as much as possible.
"It won`t be easy away to Palermo, if you consider they held us to a 3-3 draw at home.... but we want to keep on trying to get closer to Roma."
Benitez has attributed his side`s purple patch to taking things one game at a time and repeated: "We have to keep our focus, we`ve won four games consecutively but we should be looking only towards our next game and not at our standing in the league table."
The chances of Napoli clawing back an 11-point deficit to challenge Juve for what would be the Turin giants` fourth consecutive title look slim.
But Napoli have the momentum compared to a Roma side which has suffered on the park and, in terms of absences, off it as well.
Roma have sorely missed the pace and creativity of Gervinho but the striker, fresh from helping Ivory Coast to Africa Cup of Nations triumph, may not make it back in time for the visit of basement side Parma on Sunday.
Gervinho, who in November 2014 was reportedly foiled in his bid to smuggle a woman on his flight back to Italy following international duty, has been delayed by a bereavment in the family, said a report in La Corriere dello Sport.
Fellow Ivorian Seydou Doumbia, who joined the club from CSKA Moscow last month, could also be delayed due to visa issues while Roma are still without Kevin Strootman, Juan Iturbe and recent loan signing Victor Ibarbo.
Captain Francesco Totti is also struggling to recover from flu and there are doubts on Adem Ljajic (foot), who opened the scoring in a 2-1 win away to Cagliari last week in which Leandro Paredes hit his maiden Serie A goal for the club.
Whether Parma can capitalise on Roma`s absences remains to be seen, but Roberto Donadoni`s side remain in the league doldrums and uncertainties over the club`s ownership have left a dark cloud hanging over the Ennio Tardini stadium.
Their chances of surviving a relegation dogfight look slim, especially after a 1-0 defeat to Chievo on Wednesday left Parma six points adrift of second-from-bottom Cesena.
Cesena will be looking for inspiration from their recent 2-1 home win over Lazio when they host Juventus in Sunday`s late game.
Domenico Di Carlo`s side have put some shine on their disastrous season recently by claiming two wins from their past three games. Their only other win came on the opening day of the season at home to Parma.
Juve striker Carlos Tevez is suspended for Sunday`s trip to the Dino Manuzzi stadiumn, leaving an all-Spanish attack in Alvaro Morata and Fernando Llorente.
But even his absence is unlikely to give the `Seahorses` the kind of boost they would need to cause a major upset against a Juventus side that has been beaten only once, at high-flying Genoa, this season.
Elsewhere AC Milan host Empoli while Inter Milan face a potentially tricky trip to Atalanta.
Fixtures (times GMT)
Sassuolo v Fiorentina (1700), Palermo v Napoli
Milan v Empoli (1130), Atalanta v Inter, Genoa v Verona, Roma v Parma, Torino v Cagliari, Udinese v Lazio (1400), Chievo v Sampdoria (1700), Cesena v Juventus (1945)