San Paolo, Naples
February 28, 2013
The Southern part of Italy has always had a strained relationship with its Northern counterpart and this social phenomenon exists in Serie A as well. Juventus and Napoli, despite being miles apart have shared an intense rivalry in past four decades. Their rivalry has somewhat intensified even more in Antonio Conte era as the Azzurri have emerged as one of the main antagonists for the Old Lady.
Last season, Juventus staged a gallant comeback to tie the game 3-3 after being 3-1 down in San Paolo in the first half. That match remains the only instance where Conte’s side has conceded three goals in a single match. The Bianconeri brushed aside Napoli in the return leg in Turin on their way to wrestling the Scudetto from Milan. Napoli did manage to get a measure of revenge by defeating Juventus in Coppa Italia final, thus preventing the Bianconeri from sealing their first double in over one and half decades. The two sides once again faced off in pre-season Super Coppa in Beijing. Juventus once again staged a comeback to win that match 4-2. It was a controversial and ill-tempered encounter which saw Napoli reduced to nine men in regulation time. A master class from Paul Pogba helped Juventus score two goals in last 10 minutes to beat Napoli 2-0 in the first encounter of current Serie A season.
Napoli have been the primary challenger to Juventus this season and the match in San Paolo can potentially decide which team will finally lift the Scudetto.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Napoli wasted two golden chances in catching Juventus in past two rounds of Serie A. Their first chance came when Juve lost to Roma last week. Napoli could potentially have closed the gap to a single point but instead managed to drop points at home against Sampdoria. They allowed the Old Lady to stretch her lead to six points after being held to a 0-0 stalemate yet again at Udinese in past week. Edinson Cavani’s form has taken a sharp drop as well. The Uruguayan hitman missed a sitter against Udinese and has not managed to find the back of the net in exactly one month, quiet a remarkable record given his form this season. Unsurprisingly Napoli have also scored only three goals in past six matches, none in last four. However, Juventus have often proved to be one of Cavani’s favoured opponents and he has a consistent record of scoring against Bianconeri from his Palermo days.
Former Fiorentina defender Alessandro Gamberini is out with an ankle injury, which would mean Miguel Britos will take his position. Club captain Paolo Cannavaro will be in the heart of Napoli’s three man defence with Uruguayan Hugo Campagnaro taking up the third slot. Interestingly, Napoli’s defence has been solid this season, despite not playing with Cannavaro for most of the first half of the season. With only 21 goals conceded Napoli have the second best defensive record in the peninsula, after Juventus’ 17 goals.
Gorkhan Inler and Valeron Behrami’s partnership has proved to be a successful one for Neapolitans and these two have started regularly together. Behrami is the midfield enforcer and leads the tackles chart for his club with five successful tackles every match. Winter signing Armero will take part in one of the important mini-battles in this match when he takes on Lichtsteiner in the opposite wing.
Marek Hamsik, who mugged at gunpoint just two weeks back, will play in the hole behind two strikers. Hamsik will look to exploit the empty spaces between Juventus’ midfield and defence. If Inler and Behrami manage to keep their opponents’ central midfield quiet then Hamsik will get enough space to change the course of this match.
Goran Pandev has been in indifferent form this season and has lost his starting spot to young hotshot Lorenzo Insigne. Fast and possessing good close control, Insigne can act as a perfect foil to Cavani. The Uruguayan is comfortable in holding possession and shielding his marker and can create space for Insigne to exploit. Juventu plays a high line in defence and have often looked wobbly against fast counters, something Napoli specialize on. Cavani and Insigne will be looking to make runs into channels behind Juve’s backline and hit Juve on the break.
The presence of Diego Maradona is likely to act as an X Factor for Napoli. Perhaps the most iconic player in the club’s history, Maradona still enjoys a god like status in Naples and his presence in stands is likely to drive an already boisterous home crowd to frenzy.
Possible Starting XI (3-4-1-2): De Sanctis; Britos, Cannavaro, Campagnaro; Mesto, Inler, Hamsik, Behrami, Armero; Cavani, Insigne
Antonio Conte’s side bounced back from a disappointing loss against Roma to curve out a well-deserved and clinical 3-0 home win over basement boys Siena. As expected, Juventus dominated the match from start and could have easily scored more goals. Some of the highlights from the win against Siena was Sebastien Giovinco coming out of a mini-rut with a well taken goal, Paul Pogba’s 5th goal of the season with a typical long ranged effort and most importantly, Giorgio Chiellini returning to the field once again.
Chiellini didn’t start against Siena and did suffer a bruised ankle after the match but it looks likely that he will return to the starting XI against Napoli. Countering Napoli’s infamous counter attacking 3-5-2 was one of the main reasons why Antonio Conte tweaked his Juventus formation so it is most likely that this match will be a clash of two identical systems. Chiellini is likely to start on left-side of the three man defence but he may drift inwards to mark Edinson Cavani. Andrea Barzagli on the right side is likely to keep a close watch on Marek Hamsik while Leonardo Bonucci will operate as a sweeper, playing higher up the pitch and spraying passes for Juventus midfielders.
Arturo Vidal looked completely jaded against Roma after playing a particularly taxing match against Celtic prior to that. Vidal will come back into starting XI after a well-deserved long rest, after missing out against Siena due to a suspension. Juventus would need Vidal’s energy and bustle in central midfield, considering the fact that Napoli have two imposing central midfielders in the form of Inler and Behrami. Vidal’s partner Claudio Marchisio is likely to play a crucial role in central midfield. With Gamberini missing, Napoli’s defence will slightly be weakened with Migule Britos coming in. Marchisio’s late runs into penalty box, meeting passes from Lichtsteiner and Pirlo is one of the hallmarks of Conte’s system and Britos may be caught out of position in such cases.
Stefan Lichtsteiner will also have an important role to play with Pablo Armero facing him in opposite wing. Both players are known for their energy and ability to keep their flanks mobile for long periods. The Swiss wing-back needs to have a good game in order to neutralize Napoli’s movement along the touchline.
Alessandro Matri is likely to return to the fold after sitting out of the starting XI against Siena. Matri is in a purple patch right now and will be further motivated by his excellent performance against Napoli in San Paolo last season. His off the ball movement will also be an important factor as Napoli defence often tends to leave spaces behind when they break on counters.
Possible Starting XI: Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah; Matri, Vucinic
Edinson Cavani (Napoli)
Cavani has an excellent record against Juventus which includes a sparkling hat-trick in 2010/11 season. He failed to have an impact when Napoli travelled to Turin in October but he will be looking to break his barren goal-scoring run against the Old Lady.
Arturo Vidal (Juventus)
The long rest is bound to come handy for Juve’s Chilean terrier. Vidal was one of the best players on the pitch when Juventus defeated Napoli in second half of last season. Facing one of the more battle hardened midfields in Serie A, Juventus would need Vidal to find his feet quickly in San Paolo.
Napoli 1-1 Juventus
Napoli have shown in past that they do not deal with pressure well. The make or break situation of this match as well as having a day less rest will have an impact on Napoli. This will be a tough, gritty encounter but Juventus should come out of Naples without significant damage.