Europe seemed the spark to ignite Juventus and Napoli. After summer changes revamped the look of both, stuttering starts had increased pressure. Especially for new Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri, with media speculation already signalling his time in Naples could be short lived. Even club legend Diego Maradona voiced concerns.
With both winless through the opening three rounds, the start of European competition appeared ill-timed. Juventus travelled to Manchester to face a City side brimming with confidence. A superb Champions League comeback win showed what had been missing. Two days later Napoli brushed aside Club Brugge in the Europa League.
Those results seemed to do the trick. Juve backed it up by triumphing at Genoa, while Napoli made it successive 5-0 wins as they disposed of Lazio.
But as quickly as momentum was generated, two unlikely sources halted the charge. The Bianconeri welcomed Frosinone to Turin on Wednesday, with Napoli away to Carpi. Leonardo Blanchard’s injury-time equaliser denied Juve, while the Partenopei could not find a way past the Biancorossi.
Thanks to the efforts of the two promoted clubs, Saturday’s meeting at Stadio San Paolo takes on added significance.
Both teams are sitting in the bottom half, Napoli on six points and one ahead of the Bianconeri. For Napoli, the visit of Juventus is always a big occasion. The most eagerly anticipated fixture on the calendar. If the supporters want a win against any other side, it’s against Juve. But neither can afford to drop more points. With Inter three clear at the top of the table – already nine points above Napoli – the stakes are raised.
For a long time the trip south was a dreaded one for Juve. A 3-1 win in January was their first since 2000. They may have ended the hoodoo, but travel without a number of sidelined players. Injuries have robbed Massimiliano Allegri of continuity and it has resulted in some disjointed performances.
Sarri, backed by President Aurelio De Laurentiis in the face of recent criticism, does not have such selection issues. Following 10 goals in two home matches and with the backing of what is sure to be boisterous home support, they will be hopeful of adding to Juve’s pain.
The midweek results make for a fascinating encounter. Can the Bianconeri overcome injury problems to silence Naples again, or will the home side show their devastating best in front of goal?