How is AC Milan going to stop Napoli? To have a chance, Stefano Pioli’s team needs Rafael Leao to step up.

This month, there will be three games between the two teams.

This weekend’s Serie A match between AC Milan and Napoli is the one to watch (as always, you can watch Serie A on Paramount+), but the two teams will also meet again in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League. With 11 games remaining in the 2022–23 Serie A season, the Azzurri presently lead Lazio by 19 points. Stefano Pioli and Luciano Spalletti are two of the best-prepared Italian coaches, and it’s possible that there will be a sort of handover between the current Serie A title holders and the next ones.

Napoli has been in outstanding form this season, winning 23 games overall, drawing two, and losing twice to Inter and Lazio. With such a wide gap, if Napoli’s lead holds steady for the remainder of the season, supporters can celebrate the championship six games earlier on April 29, 2023, when they will play Salernitana at home. Since Diego Armando Maradona played for the club, it has been 33 years since Napoli last won the Scudetto, making that one of the most unbelievable stories of the year. After losing some key players like Kalidou Koulibaly, Dries Mertens, and Lorenzo Insigne, Napoli was able to start a fresh cycle this year.

However, the club unexpectedly improved with the additions of defender Kim min-Jae and Georgian winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. As a result of coach Spalletti’s skillful management of this transition, the team is currently in contention for the championship.

Contrarily, AC Milan emerged through a challenging period prior to the break with just one point from their previous three matches, losing to Fiorentina and Udinese away from home and drawing Salernitana at home. Given that they are competing for a Champions League spot and are now fourth, only one point ahead of AS Roma, Stefano Pioli needs a response. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a Swedish star who had a muscular injury and will be sidelined for at least the next two weeks, won’t be able to help AC Milan with that. The 41-year-old striker’s future, who is out of contract at the end of the season, is now made more uncertain by this setback.

Despite Ibrahimovic’s absence, Rafael Leao, who is also not enjoying his greatest season, may still contribute to Stefano Pioli’s team. After a solid start to the year, the Portuguese winger is presently still having trouble adjusting to a new position. Pioli switched the tactical scheme to a 3-4-3 with a three-back defense after a lackluster start to 2023. Leao’s position remained unchanged, but Pioli encouraged him to play differently this time, getting more actively involved in the action. Leao, however, has not scored since the change in strategy and has only assisted Junior Messias once (against Atalanta).

Since the club is still working to reach a deal on Leao’s new contract, which will expire in the summer of 2024, it is evident that the situation off the field also affects him. Paolo Maldini, the director of AC Milan, expressed optimism that a deal might be reached even before the 2022 World Cup, but negotiations between the two parties are still ongoing. The quicker they find a solution, the better for the player and AC Milan.

When AC Milan plays Napoli on Sunday, his attitude and performance will be crucial because Pioli and the squad need the best Leao to once again shine in these kind of games. This is especially significant given that the two teams will rematch later this month in the Champions League quarterfinals. While doing so, The French goalkeeper, who returned from the international break having finally played as a starter for France and making a spectacular save against Ireland in the dying seconds of the game, will be at his best for the Rossoneri. His comeback last month was a turning point for AC Milan, who were suffering without the greatest goalkeeper in Serie A at the time.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, on the other hand, is the hero of the home team as Napoli is now getting closer to winning the title. The fact that he scored twelve goals and gave twelve assists to teammates during his 23 Serie A games played is noteworthy. This means that he contributed to 24 goals in 23 games. With him on the field, Napoli essentially began every Serie A game with a one-goal edge. The Rossoneri played a superior game in the first match at San Siro in September, when Giovanni Simeone’s game-winning goal decided the first meeting between the clubs this season, thus Napoli needs to be careful and not underestimate AC Milan. Given that Victor Osimhen will be returning from international duty with a torn adductor, Simeone might play a significant role in both the match on Sunday and the Champions League match.

This first of three meetings between these clubs will reveal a lot about their Champions League quarterfinal game in April. The first leg will take place in San Siro on April 12 and the second leg will be played at the Stadio Maradona the following week on April 18. Prepare yourself for a fantastic month of Italian soccer, beginning this Saturday.