Gonzalo Higuain says Napoli have no intention of buckling under pressure as they continue their quest for a first Scudetto in 26 years with a hotly-anticipated visit to champions Juventus on Saturday.
In a Serie A weekend that could also be decisive for Fiorentina and Inter Milan, who face off in Florence on Sunday, Napoli travel to Turin looking for their second victory over the Old Lady this season.
It would see Maurizio Sarri’s league leaders stretch their advantage over Massimiliano Allegri’s men to five points, and send the southern city of Naples into an even bigger frenzy as the dream of a first league title since the heady days of Diego Maradona draws closer to reality.
After Saturday’s clash Napoli will have 13 games to show they are worthy of succeeding Allegri’s four-time defending champions.
Higuain, who is looking to emulate his legendary compatriot Maradona, said Napoli’s ability not to panic will be just as crucial as his goals.
“Everything depends on us, we have to keep calm and keep our feet on the ground,” Higuain told the Tg1 programme.
“My intention is to keep on scoring. For me, obviously, but above all to help the club as we keep fighting for this important objective.”
With 24 goals in as many league games, it is no wonder Higuain admits he is “having the best season of my career”.
He has already surpassed the 22-goal tally that earned Mauro Icardi and Luca Toni a share of last season’s ‘Capocannoniere’ (top scorer) award and has Gunnar Nordahl’s 1950 record of 35 goals in a single, 20-team season firmly in his sights.
Failure to reach both or one of those goals, however, would quickly fade into insignificance if Higuain emulated Maradona, who inspired Napoli to an historic first title in 1987 and their second in 1990.
“It would be magnificent if I could emulate him and bring the title to this city. I know that, for the people of Naples, he was more than just a football talent,” said Higuain.
“For me, just getting close to what he achieved at Napoli fills me with pride.”
A second-half winner by Higuain helped Napoli to a 2-1 victory at the San Paolo last September, but Juve were struggling for form and confidence following several key personnel changes last summer.
Allegri’s men have since strung 14 consecutive wins together to maintain their bid for a record-equalling fifth consecutive league title, although they have the added pressure of the Champions League to contend with.
Although Napoli, who have won eight in a row, boast the most potent attack (53 goals), Juve ‘keeper Gianluigi Buffon believes the league’s stingiest defence (15 conceded) can thwart them.
“Both teams will be out to win, but for us it is also important not to lose,” said Buffon.
“Napoli have the best attack and Higuain is a real danger but 90 percent of the time the team with the best defence wins in Italy.”
Sami Khedira is in the Juventus squad after suffering a muscle injury while Napoli’s Jorginho returns from suspension.
Sarri said Napoli will stick to the basics in the game.
“We’ll visit Juventus with a view to playing our own football and showing the pride of our people,” Sarri said.
“We’ll prepare the game the way that we always do. We’ll isolate ourselves from everything that surrounds us, even though our supporters are a great deal of help.”
A stalemate in Turin would be embraced by Fiorentina and Inter, who are now respectively 10 and 11 points off the pace.
Stunned 4-1 at the San Siro earlier this season when Nikola Kalinic hit a hat-trick for La Viola, Inter can ill afford to lose ground in their bid to secure Champions League football next season.
Brazilan Joao Miranda returns from suspension in timely fashion and is set to play alongside Jeison Murillo in a centre-back partnership that, over 15 games together, has proven Inter’s tightest.
AC Milan, meanwhile, will be hoping for a draw in Florence ahead of hosting Genoa at the San Siro on Sunday when influential midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura could make his return from injury.
On Friday, Roma claimed a fourth successive win to move into third spot with a 3-1 triumph at relegation-haunted Carpi.
But they needed two late goals to secure the three points with Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah hitting the target in the 84th and 85th minutes.