MILAN (AFP) – Crisis-hit Napoli host holders Lazio tonight in the Italian Cup quarter-finals scrambling to end a spiral of defeats and remain in the race for a trophy which could save their season.
Napoli, Serie A runners-up in the past two campaigns, have slumped to 13th in the league, closer to the relegation zone than the Champions League places.
They take on an in-form Lazio, powered by Serie A top scorer Ciro Immobile who bagged a hat-trick in a 5-1 win over Sampdoria at the weekend, to extend their winning streak to 11 league games.
Simone Inzaghi’s side are third in the league and challenging for a first Scudetto since 2000, having beaten Juventus to lift the Italian SuperCup trophy last month.
Napoli coach Gennaro Gattuso knows his side face an uphill battle, after another “embarrassing performance” in a 2-0 defeat to Fiorentina at the weekend.
“We can’t go on like this,” blasted Gattuso, who has lost four of his first five league matches since replacing Carlo Ancelotti last December.
Frustration and tension is growing in the club.
The team have been in a training retreat since the Fiorentina defeat before hosting Lazio and welcoming champions Juventus to Naples next weekend.
“We need to do some soul-searching and do everything we can to find a solution,” continued the former AC Milan coach.
“Until the other day we were talking about the Champions League spots but realistically as things stand we should be looking beneath us.”
Napoli are without a league win at their San Paolo since October 19 and are also hosting Barcelona in the Champions League in a month’s time. The southerners have just 24 points from 20 games.
The Europa League is six points away, but lifting the Italian Cup for the fifth time, would qualify them for the group stage of the second-tier European competition.
Lazio beat Napoli at the Stadio Olimpico on January 11, with Immobile, the runaway top scorer in Serie A with 23 goals, finding the net.
Inzaghi’s side are building towards next weekend’s derby clash against Roma.
“We know how much the derby is worth for us and for the fans, but I can’t afford to think about that yet,” said Inzaghi.
“We have the Italian Cup in Naples and we want to move forward.”