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Serie A Preview: Napoli vs Inter

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Bragging rights and much more are on the line as Walter Mazzarri returns to his old stomping ground...

Giuseppe Bellini

I must sound like a broken record telling you fine folks that Inter is in a must-win situation every week but that's the way it's felt this season.

And so again it's three points or bust for the Nerazzurri as they prepare to head into the San Paolo cauldron on a night the Neapolitan natives are yearning to play their role in Rafa's revenge.

I don't know Rafa Benitez personally but I have a sneaking suspicion that he's had this game circled on the calendar the day the Serie A schedule was released.

I'm pretty sure that this encounter will also pique the interest of Walter Mazzarri a little more than the others. Both managers will be facing their old teams and this one could get explosive and, oh hey, this clash will also go a long way in deciding the final Champions League spot.

A win for Inter will see it climb just one point behind Napoli (and extend one of the most deceptive unbeaten streaks in the history of deceptive unbeaten steaks to nine games) but a victory for the Partenopei will open up a seven-point lead and we can all but wave goodbye to participating in Europe's most elite club competition next year.

So, Sunday is kind of a big deal. A must-win game for Inter, again.

THE VITALS

Date: Sunday, December 15

Time: 2:45 ET

Venue: Stadio San Paolo

BATTLE DOSSIER

Inter Probable Formation: 3-5-1-1: Handanovic; Campagnaro, Ranocchia, Juan Jesus; Jonathan, Taider, Cambiasso, Alavarez, Nagatomo; Guarin; Palacio

Napoli Probable Formation: 4-3-2-1: Rafael; Maggio, Fernandez, Albiol, Reveillere; Dzemaili, Inler, Insigne; Callejon, Mertens; Higuain

Unavailable For Duty: Diego Milito and Walter Samuel are inching closer to full fitness after thigh injuries, while Cristian Chivu nears a return following knee surgery in the summer.

Operation Avalanche: To seize the port of Naples in order to cut off the FSW's supply routes before sacking the city without mercy.

Enemy Of The State: Goran Pandev will be revved up for this one. The Pride of Macedonia has scored three goals in his last two domestic matches and will do everything in his power to make his presence felt against his old side... if he's given the chance. He holds the dubious distinction of being subbed off in all 10 of his Serie A starts this season. I think most players would be disillusioned with their manager with that kind of substitution record. I wouldn't be adverse to any double-agent action that results in an own goal on Sunday. Just saying.

Fear Factor: 8: Napoli is as frightening as a jilted lover with a vast arsenal of high-powered weapons at their disposal. A quick look at their state of mind right now shows that they were dumped from the Champions League with 12 points; their former manager walked out on them last season to join Inter and their new coach is still obsessed with his old team after they showed him the door. This should go well.

Medal Of Honor: I'm expecting a huge effort from Ricky 'El Chupacabra' Alvarez this weekend. He has been marked out of games recently but I can see him running rampant and wild at the San Paolo.

If Inter Wins: I will fill my inflamed bronchioles with the best spring water the great country of France has to offer.

If Inter Loses: I will feel more miserable than I already do and a 15-hour snooze might be in order if the Nerazzurri get run off the pitch.

Likely Outcome: Sometimes the good guys lose. Rafa's revenge dooms Inter to its second loss of the season as our Champions League hopes fade away after a 3-1 setback.