Stars collide on Sunday in Naples at the Stadio San Paolo as Juventus and Napoli will author another chapter in their heated rivalry.
Back in late September, the Partenopei, led by Carlo Ancelotti, leapt out of the gates early with a Dries Mertens strike 10 minutes into proceedings in Turin. From there on however, ‘the Old Lady’ established dominance once again over their league rivals, as Mario Mandžukić equalized then grabbed the lead before Leonardo Bonucci put the bow on the victory with Juve’s third in the final quarter-hour.
Entering this tie, the Bianconeri hold a firm grasp of first place with a 13 point advantage over Napoli and sit in pole position to make it eight straight Serie A titles. Despite that, Ancelotti men will press on and look to exact revenge from earlier in the season against a Juventus side hoping to catch fire again after a rough patch of form.
Here are four talking points ahead of Napoli vs Juventus:
To Sit or Not to Sit CR7: After picking up a knock in last weekend’s 1-0 win over Bologna, the Portuguese star’s status for Sunday had been in doubt all week long. Despite all this, Ronaldo will likely be fit to start for Allegri who could opt to rest the superstar vs Udinese next weekend ahead of the reverse leg in the UCL Round of 16 with Atletico Madrid. Juventus’ talisman forward has been involved in 51% of the club’s 53 goals this Serie A season (19 goals, 8 assists), so certainly they want him on the pitch in hopes of locking up the title race for good. However, Juve must be cautious as any further aggravation to that ankle could have major implications on Ronaldo being 100% fit for the club’s most important match of the season with Atleti.
Zidane’s Shadow Looms as Pressure Mounts on Allegri: The Italian manager was scrutinized after his conservative approach and selection of De Sciglio over Cancelo contributed to Juve’s first leg defeat against Atletico. In the aftermath, the ex-Milan boss faced an onslaught of hate and criticism from supporters on Twitter, prompting him to delete his account earlier this week. While Juve sit comfortably at the top of the table, and will likely win the league once again, Allegri’s future beyond this campaign hangs in the balance as upper management reportedly already have his successor lined up in Zinedine Zidane.
Napoli’s Brick Wall Backline Looks to Stifle High Powered Juve: Historically, Italy’s emphasis on the art of defending cannot be rivaled. In recent years, the country’s ‘catenaccio’ principles have taken a backseat to a more expansive offensive approach. Yet, the recent defensive records of several in Italy’s top flight prove they can still stay true to their roots. Since December, Napoli and Milan sit jointly at the top of Europe with the least goals conceded (5). Ancelotti’s men will surely look to attack at every opportunity, but need a masterful effort from the back line this Sunday if they want to stymie Juve’s offense and earn a home victory.
Napoli’s Longshot Title Dreams Rest in Sunday Clash: A 13 point advantage in the league table for Juventus will be nearly impossible for Napoli to make up, but that will not deter Ancelotti‘s group from showing up Sunday to cut into it either. Giorgio Chiellini was quoted by Sky Sport saying Napoli “are doing fine” but believes “winning this one would knock them in definitive way.” Despite the large deficit, Napoli will come out with vengeance and a desire to knock Juventus off their tracks and perhaps slow any momentum they look to build heading into the do-or-die bout with Atleti on the 12th.
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