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Napoli eye Christmas lead as bumper weekend offers derby delights

Napoli have the chance to further extend their lead at the top of Serie A on Saturday when they travel to Bergamo for a top-of-the-table clash with Atalanta in a bumper weekend in Italy’s top flight.

An all-competitions winning streak for Luciano Spalletti’s side ended at 13 matches with Tuesday’s defeat at Liverpool which didn’t change their position as Champions League Group A winners.

But Napoli remain unbeaten after 12 fixtures in Italy and have a five-point lead on Atalanta as Serie A enters its final rush before the World Cup, with a weekend full of top-tier fixtures including the Rome derby and Juventus hosting arch-rivals Inter Milan.

Searching a first league title since the days of Diego Maradona, a win at the Gewiss Stadium would set Napoli well on the way to ensuring they stay in top spot after the final fixtures of 2022 the following weekend.

Napoli also have home matches with Empoli and Udinese before the Qatar World Cup, and a ninth league win on the bounce on Saturday would guarantee at least a six-point lead on Milan, who would overtake Atalanta into second place with a win over struggling Spezia.

Napoli would then have to lose both their following games at the Stadio Maradona with a nine-goal swing in Milan’s favour to concede first place.

Atalanta have been Italy’s entertainers in recent seasons but have morphed into a rugged, tough nut to crack while Napoli have wowed Europe with a thrilling brand of football.

Napoli also have Victor Osimhen in red-hot form, with six goals in his first five matches in Serie A and Europe since returning from a thigh injury.

Osimhen jointly leads the Serie A scoring charts with seven goals and will face off against fellow Nigeria forward Ademola Lookman who has netted four in his last five.

Also ready to pounce on any slip-ups are Roma, who are seven points behind Napoli and took advantage of Lazio losing to Salernitana last weekend to leapfrog their local rivals into the top four ahead of Sunday’s Rome derby.

Jose Mourinho’s side host the first capital city derby of the season with Lazio likely missing both suspended star Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Italy striker Ciro Immobile, who is hoping to be on the bench at the Stadio Olimpico as he recovers from a thigh injury.

Player to watch: Federico Chiesa

It’s not often the ‘Derby d’Italia’ clash between Juventus and Inter isn’t the headline fixture in Italy but the plight of Massimiliano Allegri’s injury-ravaged side has left Sunday’s late match more a matter of pride than important for the title race.

The one piece of good news for Allegri is the return to action of Chiesa after 10 months out with a knee injury, the Italy forward looking in promising condition in the 16 minutes given to him in Wednesday’s narrow defeat to Paris Saint-Germain.

A second-string Juve team performed creditably against PSG despite losing 2-1 and Juve will be hoping to move above sixth-placed Inter, who are two points ahead of their rivals and sweating on the condition of star summer signing Romelu Lukaku after another hamstring injury.

Allegri is also hoping to have Dusan Vlahovic and Angel Di Maria available again for a match which is traditionally the biggest of the Serie A calendar.

Key stats

9 – Napoli’s league winning run will extend to nine matches if they take the points at Atalanta.

32 – The number of years Napoli’s long-suffering fans have waited for a league title.

1 – Juventus are the only Serie A team in the Champions League not to make the last 16.

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