It’s been hyped as the biggest and the most important clash of the season so far. Juventus host Napoli at the Juventus Stadium as Serie A’s top two lock-horns. It is too soon to call it a title decider as we’re still only in October but it does pit two front-runners against each other. Two teams with identical records and with similar goals this season. Napoli, realistically, remain the only Serie A outfit capable of halting this Juventus juggernaut. They are, in fact, the only side to have ever gotten the better of Juventus since Antonio Conte took charge last season. A win here for them will be a statement of intent to the rest of Serie A.
We take a look at few of the battles that could very well decide the victors on the night.
Andrea Pirlo vs Marek Hamsik
Pirlo, needs no introduction. His passing range is second to none and artistry with the ball that would make Michelangelo smile. Indeed, Pirlo is the fulcrum and heart-beat of this Juventus side. Everything stems from the feet of the maestro and a huge part of their game revolves around the thinking and imagination of the Italian International. Pirlo’s influence on the game cannot be neglected, doing so would be suicide.
Marek Hamsik is one of the most in-form midfielders in the peninsula right now. He has certainly risen to the occasion following Lavezzi’s departure. The Argentine’s sale has triggered a new mature Hamsik that has thrived in his free role at the club. Hamsik has found more space and has been given the license by Mazzarri to roam around the pitch.
On Saturday though, he might be asked to ‘do a job’ on Andrea Pirlo and escort him around the pitch but not in an entirely generous manner. Hamsik will be Pirlo’s shadow, hounding him and offering him no room to breathe. This could go a long way in shackling Pirlo and indeed Juventus. On the other hand, given Napoli’s penchant for swift counter-attacking football, Hamsik could burst through the middle and ghost past Pirlo, whose lack of pace has been well documented. This will make for one fascinating battle.
Kwadwo Asamoah vs Christian Maggio
For two sides that play with a three-man defense, width is always important; the full-backs involved need to contribute steadily at both ends of the pitch. In Asamoah and Maggio, Juventus and Napoli possess two frightening prospects. Asamoah has seamlessly been drafted into this Juventus side and scored one of the goals in the SuperCoppa with his hammer of a left-foot. Asamoah has been one of the stars of Juventus’ season thus far with 3 assists and a goal to his name. His transition from a central midfielder to left full-back has been made with consummate ease.
He will go head on against Napoli’s steam-roller, Christian Maggio. The former Sampdoria man doesn’t receive the same kind of attention that the Partenopei’s attacking trident do, but he is just as important to Mazzarri’s philosophy. Maggio has the pace and ability to dominate that right flank, delivering crosses that Cavani feasts on. His tussle with Asamoah will make for an intriguing contest.
Juventus Defense vs Edinson Cavani
Without a shadow of a doubt, Edinson Cavani is the most lethal attacker in Italy. The Uruguayan has all the ingredients of a modern and perfect centre forward. Strong in the air, excellent finisher, blistering pace with a work-rate that is admirable, Cavani is every managers dream striker. With 6 goals, he leads the Capocannoniere charts and his threat is something Juventus will be weary of. Cavani’s record against the Bianconeri should be cause for concern for Antonio Conte’s men but questions may be raised over his fitness and there is a general air of worry surrounding his late arrival from South America.
While Juventus’ three man back-line were solid and dependable last season, they have been rather shaky this term. They no longer offer the same kind of confidence that saw them concede the fewest amount of goals in Europe last season. Leonardo Bonucci has improved since his Bari days but he still is prone to moments of madness in the heart of the defense. While Andrea Barzagli, who had an impeccable 2011-2012 campaign, has been found wanting at times this season and has looked far from being assured at the back.
Giorgio Chiellini though has been the most impressive performer at the back and remains a stalwart for Juventus. His tough-tackling, no nonsense style is right out of the Italian guide to defending, an old-school warrior. Should Cavani manage to exploit the lack of pace in Juve’s back-line, he could cause a few headaches for the Juventus defense which does miss one of its most vital elements in Gigi Buffon.
Antonio Conte vs Walter Mazzarri
Conte and Mazzarri are two coaches with different approaches and different footballing philosophies. The Juventus manager is a firm believer in possession based football whose sides try to carve out openings with patience. Mazzarri has built a team that quite possibly is the most deadly counter-attacking side in Europe. A team that is comfortable sitting back, allowing the opposition possession and then attacking at break-neck speeds with efficiency.
It will be interesting to see how the teams line-up with regard to the tactical set-up employed by their managers. Both managers favor a three man defense, so width generated from the full-backs remains essential. Mazzarri has stated that he won’t be content with just a draw and that his side will be aiming to come away with all the three points in an intimidating stadium. Conte’s Juventus don’t play for draws and already have that winning mentality instilled in them. The clash between these two managers will make for a captivating duel with contrasting styles of football but with a similar objectives – three points and top spot.