San Paolo sets the stage for one of the weekend’s biggest fixtures in Europe as Napoli host league-leaders Juventus, a match which normally has serious title implications. Due to contrasting seasons however, the two rivals enter with vastly different objectives to obtain from this clash.
Let’s call it like it is. The 2019/20 season has been a disaster thus far for Napoli. From the drastic drop in form, lackluster performances, sacking of Carlo Ancelotti and the distractions facing the club, the Partenopei’s campaign has been a nightmare.
Entering the season, Aurelio de Laurentiis had aspirations of being the anti-Juve and the club to put an end to their prolonged dynasty atop the calcio world. But as we enter this tie on Sunday, the two outfits could not be heading in more different directions.
Under Gennaro Gattuso’s watch, the Azzurri have lost 4 out of 5 in the league and are currently 11th while Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus sit atop the table, riding the goalscoring prowess of superstar Cristiano Ronaldo’s white-hot form.
Napoli have endured their fair share of injury woes this season, specifically in defence where much was expected this season with the arrival of Kostas Manolas to partner Kalidou Koulibaly. Yet, now Gattuso has to make due with those fit to suit up and take the pitch, resulting in starting Giovanni Di Lorenzo alongside the Greek international who has simply failed to meet the expectations coming over from Roma in the summer.
As the last line of defence and guardian of the goal, David Ospina seems to be ahead of young shot-stopper Alex Meret on the pecking order, something that has certainly made many scratch their heads a bit considering the Italian is the consensus number 1.
The midfield brings little surprises as the trio of Fabian Ruiz, newly acquired Diego Demme and Piotr Zielinski are projected to each get starting nods in this one. Much of the same can be said about the attack with Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne flanking Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik who has been a consistent performer when regularly fit and inserted into the lineup. With Ronaldo on the opposite end having returned to his normal, yet freakishly, scoring self (13 goals in 10 matches across all competitions), Napoli will require Milik to make the most of his chances and have the supporting cast ensure he gets good supply.
For Sarri, his Juventus is expected to remain largely unchanged. Defensively, the back four shall include Juan Cuadrado, Matthijs de Ligt, captain Leonardo Bonucci and Alex Sandro. Earlier in the season when these two sides met, it was this area of the team that proved very leaky and susceptible to mistakes, especially de Ligt who will look to come good with a top performance.
Despite Adrien Rabiot’s positive run of form and increased workload, Sarri is expected to go with Uruguayan Rodrigo Bentancur instead alongside Blaise Matuidi and Miralem Pjanic.
Up front, Aaron Ramsey is to play in the hole as the creative cog linking play from the midfield and to the potent attacking duo of Ronaldo and Dybala. Together, the two are playing with much harmony and chemistry that we should expect the Portuguese to savor plenty of attacking chances to further pad his account and connect with his Argentine teammate to deal Napoli a tough assignment throughout.
Projected Napoli XI (4-3-3): Ospina; Hysaj, Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Rui; Ruiz, Demme, Zielinski; Callejon, Milik, Insigne
Projected Juventus XI (4-3-1-2): Szczesny, Cuadrado, de Ligt, Bonucci, Alex Sandro; Bentancur, Pjanic, Matuidi; Ramsey; Dybala, Ronaldo
STATS AND FACTS *via Who Scored
- Napoli have seen over 2.5 goals in their last 3 matches against Juventus in all competitions
- Napoli have been losing at both half time and full time in their last 3 home Serie A matches
- Juventus have won 14 of their last 17 Serie A matches
- Juventus have won their last 3 matches against Napoli in all competitions
- Juventus have scored at least 2 goals in their last 3 matches against Napoli in all competitions
When these two met way back in late August, the match ended 4-3 in favor of Juventus who squandered a massive lead only to be spoon fed all three points thanks to Koulibaly’s own goal at the death. Times are surely different now, with ‘Sarriball’ beginning to flow by design, catering to Ronaldo’s attacking ambitions, while Gattuso is learning on the fly how to find balance in a delicate phase of the season for Napoli. Based on the disparate form of the two currently, and Ronaldo seemingly unplayable, all signs point to ‘the Old Lady’ having her way in Naples.
Napoli 0-2 Juventus
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