Naples is getting ready for the mother of all title parties as AC Milan travel south on Sunday for the first of three major clashes between the Serie A giants in a matter of weeks.
Southern Italy's biggest city is counting down the days until Napoli can officially say it is champion for the first time since 1990 thanks to a 19-point lead at the top of Serie A. Such is the size of its advantage that with 11 games to go, long-suffering Napoli supporters have let go of their traditionally superstitious ways and already bedecked the town in blue and white in anticipation of near-certain victory for their beloved team.
The number three in honor of what will be Napoli's third league title can be seen on flags and banners and painted in murals around the city. Diego Maradona said a Scudetto for Napoli "is worth 10 for Juventus" after guiding the team to its first in 1987 and the late Argentine icon has been joined in the walls of Naples by the stars of this year's title charge. Depictions of leading scorer Victor Osimhen and wing wizard Khvicha Kvaratskhelia are all over town, most notably in the central Forcella district where at the foot of a mural of the two attackers is a toilet painted in Juventus' black and white colors.
Osimhen's 25 goals in Serie A and the Champions League has given the Nigerian striker hero status in Naples. One coffee bar a short walk from the anti-Juve toilet is offering an "Osimhen coffee,, served in a tall glass with sugar and cocoa on the edges and artisanal chocolate at the bottom, for the princely sum of three euros ($3.26) -- three times the price of an average espresso coffee. A pastry shop has made a dessert in his honor, a chocolate tart with a mask like Osimhen's and crumble designed to look like his dyed blonde hair.
Milan trilogy. Juventus draws most ire from Napoli fans even though it was the Milan clubs that denied the team from winning more than two titles during Maradona's wild time in Naples. Juve, which hosts Verona on Saturday, might yet postpone Napoli's coronation if its 15-point punishment for alleged transfer trickery is overturned next month. If so, the club would bounce up from seventh to second above Lazio.
But, for now, it's fourth-placed Milan which is trying to spoil the party, with Sunday's showdown and then an all-Italian Champions League quarterfinal set to take place in two weeks.
Napoli come into the matchup on a high and with an almost full squad available, while Milan will be without injured starting center-back Pierre Kalulu and veteran forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Olivier Giroud, who last season scored the winner at Napoli which sent Milan charging to its first league title in 11 years, will start up front after returning from suspension. He recently agreed to a one-year contract extension with Milan that will be announced sometime in the next few days.
Milan is also in a battle to make next season's Champions League, a point above Roma, which hosts relegation-threatened Sampdoria and three in front of Atalanta ahead of its clash at last place Cremonese.
Stefano Pioli's team has its work cut out as having briefly looked like getting its season back on track, the team has fallen to deserved defeats at Fiorentina and Udinese and only drawn at home with Salernitana in its last three games. Meanwhile, Napoli has dropped just five points at home all season and is playing with the freedom of a team that knows its time for glory has arrived.
Saturday: Cremonese vs Atalanta, Inter Milan vs Fiorentina, Juventus vs Verona
Sunday: Bologna vs Udinese, Spezia vs Salernitana, Monza vs Lazio, Roma vs Sampdoria, Napoli vs AC Milan
Monday: Empoli vs Lecce, Sassuolo vs Torino
© Agence France-Presse