Juventus Stadium, Torino
November 10, 2013
Juventus FC and SSC Napoli share a regional rivalry, but it has reached a new level in the past few seasons with both clubs hovering around the top end of the table. This weekend Napoli will travel to Turin to play arguably the most high profile match of Serie A in 2013/14 season so far. Both teams are tied second behind record breaking AS Roma, Napoli ahead on goal difference. With Roma hosting basement boys Sassuolo, neither team can afford to drop points in this match and risk an increase in the gap of three points with the table toppers. This will also be the first time that Antonio Conte crosses paths with Rafa Benitez. Both clubs had matches in mid-week, though Juventus had one extra day of rest.
Juventus FC – Team News, Line-up and Formation
Juventus fought back in mid-week after being a goal down to snatch a point against Real Madrid (the match ended 2-2). It was once again a tale of two halves for the Old Lady. Juve dominated Real Madrid’s superior starting XI in the first half and could have easily done better than the 1-0 lead they took to half-time. However, the second half was the complete opposite as the nine time European champions looked firmly in control and could have easily nicked a victory. Defensive frailty and individual mistakes have haunted Juventus in almost every game this season and the mid-week game was no exception, as both full-backs – Martin Caceres, Kwadwo Asamoah – were caught napping during the Real Madrid goals.
Juventus played a 4-3-3 formation in mid-week with Claudio Marchisio operating as one of the wide forwards, often dropping back to turn the system into a 4-3-1-2. As per most reports, Antonio Conte is likely to switch back to his favourite 3-5-2 formation against Napoli. With Stefan Lichtsteiner still out injured, it seems likely that Mauricio Isla will start as right wing-back. Isla’s Juventus career is yet to take off despite signing on in the summer of 2012, though the Chilean’s position is likely to be vital in this match. Napoli’s Pablo Armero isn’t the most intelligent left-back around but he has pace and a dogged insistence to make direct runs at opponent full-backs. With Isla playing up the pitch and given his inability to track back in time, both Armero and Dries Mertens, who often drifts inside, may get acres of space behind the Chilean. Conte is likely to stick to his strongest central defence and central midfield in this match which means that in-form Paul Pogba will get the nod ahead of Marchisio.
Carlos Tevez is a sure-shot starter as one of the two strikers. The Argentine may also get some barracking from Napoli fans who had already mocked his joining Juventus during pre-season. Tevez is yet to score for Juventus in Champions League but is the club top scorer in Serie A so far. More than the goals, his grit, work-rate and inter-play with the Juventus midfield make him a vital piece of the Bianconeri puzzle. Fernando Llorente has slowly but steadily settled down in Serie A and his goal against Real Madrid is bound to give him more confidence. Paolo Cannavaro is likely to start for Napoli, and he has won just two out of eight aerial duels in the league so far: a reason why Llorente may partner Tevez.
Possible Starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon(GK); Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Isla, Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba, Asamoah; Tevez, Llorente
SSC Napoli – Team News, Line-up and Formation
The Rafa Benitez effect has slowly but surely began to show for Napoli in Europe. Despite being in the toughest group in Champions League, the Partenopei are right now placed joint top of table with Arsenal after winning three out of four matches in Europe. In mid-week, Napoli looked in trouble at one point during the match against Marseille, but a brace from Gonzalo Higuain ensured a 3-2 home win. In Serie A, they have not always been impressive but have nonetheless picked up wins regularly to stay within touching distance of Roma and Juventus.
Benitez has persisted with his favourite 4-2-3-1 formation this season, Christian Maggio and Armero, used to playing higher up the pitch under Walter Mazzarri have slowly adapted to playing a deeper role, though they are still prone to occasional errors. Maggio has not been a regular starter, losing his place to Giandomenico Mesto, whose injury will bring Maggio back in the team against Juventus. One of Napoli’s weak links in this match may be the likely central defensive pairing of Paolo Cannavaro and Federico Fernandez, two players who have not played together much this season. Just like their opponents in the weekend, Napoli’s defensive record is also somewhat patchy and they have conceded four goals in last three matches. With Juventus showing signs of returning to the best offensive form, the Napoli defence will be looking to cut down mistakes in Turin.
The midfield battle between Valeron Behrami, Gorkhan Inler and the Juventus trio will be an intriguing contest. The Swiss pair is hard-working and has a brilliant understanding between each other, unsurprisingly starting together regularly. Behrami is one of the toughest central midfielders in Serie A, with 42 tackles won in 8 matches and is likely to be given then job to mark Andrea Pirlo.
Napoli’s biggest strength lies in the thrust provided by the three playing behind Higuain, the lone striker. Marek Hamsik is the only one left among Napoli’s famous “Three Tenors”, but is possibly their most crucial player. With 19 key passes so far, the Slovakian is the main creative outlet in the team and will be looking to exploit the gaps which have often exposed Juventus’ defence this season. Lorenzo Insigne continues to mature as a player on the right side of Napoli’s attacking midfielder trident. Insigne has brilliant close control and dribbling ability and may cause problems to Giorgio Chiellini who has often blown hot and cold. With four goals and three assists in last five games, Higuain is carrying a rich vein of form to this game and will be looking to pile agony on a club which pursued him during summer, only to settle for Tevez eventually.
Possible Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Reina(GK); Maggio, Cannavaro, Fernandez, Armero; Behrami, Inler; Mertens, Hamsik, Insigne; Higuain
Players to Watch Out For
Carlos Tevez (Juventus)
Tevez was slightly subdued against Real Madrid and will be looking to bring his A-game to this big match. Rafa Benitez will not be able to field Napoli’s first choice defence in this match and the Argentine will be looking to take full advantage of any mistakes made by the Azzuri defenders. Tevez’s understanding with Llorente is also improving with every passing game and this will be their first major test together in Serie A.
Marek Hamsik (Napoli)
With 6 goals to his name, the Napoli captain has started off where he left last season and is easily one of their most important players. Hamsik hasn’t scored against Juventus since the 3-3 draw in Naples in 2011/12 season, a record which he would be trying to improve.
Juventus 2-1 Napoli
Like most Serie A games between top sides, this is also likely to be a tight and tactical battle. Juventus’ defence has been poor this season but they also have kept clean sheets in last three Serie A matches. On the other hand, Napoli missing out on some of the first choice defenders may tip the scales a bit towards the home side.