Napoli will host Juventus in a top-of-the-table clash in the Serie A on Sunday. Unlike most fixtures between the top two teams, this one lacks the intensity factor given they are separated by a massive 13 points.
Nevertheless – in terms of sheer footballing quality – the San Paolo Stadium will stage a game high on quality.
It rounds out a thrilling weekend of European action with El Clasico, the North-London derby and the Merseyside derby all on offer and so we take a look at the big talking points as Napoli and Juve lock horns.
JUVENTUS NEED A WIN, DESPITE THE LEAD AT THE TOP
Closing in on an eighth straight Serie A title, Juve also remain the only team from Europe’s top-five leagues to stay unbeaten through 2018/19.
A look at the league table will tell you that Massimiliano Allegri won’t lose sleep over a defeat to Napoli as a 10-point lead in March can comfortably be defended by a team of their calibre.
However, it’s not just about the points. The Bianconeri need a win over Napoli to reverse their fortunes ahead of the Champions League.
Despite league dominance from a results perspective, the Italian giants are not playing their best football at the moment. Atalanta dumped the Old Lady out of the Coppa Italia in January and Atletico Madrid provided them with a brutal gut punch in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
A 1-0 win over Bologna last week was the text-book definition of “scraping through”. Juventus are clearly in need of a morale boost as they attempt to overturn a 2-0 deficit against Atletico next week.
A win over a strong opponent like Napoli can provide just that and Juventus need to approach it like a must-win game, despite the 13-point cushion at the top.
A WIN CAN DECORATE NAPOLI’S SEASON
It’s clear that Juventus have it easy in the title race. But that’s not something Carlo Ancelotti should be telling his players. Napoli will be fighting for the title until they are mathematically out of the race and this game could hurt or help their chances to a huge extent.
Ancelotti’s first season at the helm of Napoli was not particularly fair to what he has brought to the club. The Italian brought about a good brand of football and ensured smooth transition to his philosophy. But a look-back at the end of the season will tell you that Napoli finished way behind Juventus in the league and failed to make it past the group stages of the Champions League.
Juventus added Cristiano Ronaldo to their stocked squad and hence strengthened the monopoly in the league. In Europe, Napoli were grouped with the mighty Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool and it still took a terrific save from Alisson in the last few minutes of the last game to eliminate them.
Judging Napoli’s season purely by these facts would be cruel. However, a lot of good will be done to their reputation if they beat Juventus on Sunday.
A 10-point lead is something that can be preserved easily, but it will put further pressure on the defending champions to stay cautious.
Having said that, a defeat will practically end any outside chance Napoli have to be crowned champions.
JUVENTUS ATTACK FACES DEFENSIVE TEST
Firstly, it’ll be interesting to see if the Italian giants will field Ronaldo, who is nursing an ankle injury. Resting him, keeping in mind that the biggest game of their season is a week away seems prudent.
That said, there’s a strong argument for starting the Portuguese. Napoli’s defence can serve as preparation for Juventus’s attack and Ronaldo in particular.
Atletico owns one of the best defences in Europe and you would bet on them to hold on to a two-goal lead. Ronaldo – who has scored just one goal in the Champions League this season – will have to step up to hand Juventus qualification to the next round.
Meanwhile, Napoli too are doing a great job defensively. They are undefeated in their last 18 home matches and kept a clean-sheet in each of their last five Serie A games.
Kalidou Koulibaly and Nikola Maksimovic constitute one of the best defensive pairings in Europe and could provide a training of sorts to Ronaldo before he takes on Jose Giminez and Diego Godin. Allan dropping to provide support in defence could also resemble Rodrigo carrying out his defensive duties.
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