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Countdown to Juventus vs. Napoli: Five Crucial Matchups

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Football's (almost) back! Football's (almost) back!

Lintao Zhang - Getty Images

A season ago, the Juventus-Napoli matchup provided some of the biggest fireworks in a Serie A season that was full of them. Goals were scored — a lot of them, in fact. In three games against one another last season, Juve and their rivals to the south combined to find the back of the net 11 times.

A lot of them were pretty good goals, too. See for yourself.


That goal was cool.

Anyways, as is the case with any game that has big-time implications, there are battles within the overall battle of two teams going for the outright lead in Serie A. It is what determines a draw from a loss, a win from a draw. And with footy being such a tactical kind of game, it's no wonder that when you execute what you sought out to do, it pretty much pays off more often than not.

So, as we approach Saturday's first-place showdown between

1. Mirko & Friends vs. Napoli's Defense

Mirko Vucinic is the guaranteed starter. Who will partner with him in the Juventus attack is another story. But there's no denying that whether or not Big Game Mirko shows up will be one of the biggest things to keep an eye on. He changed the Supercoppa for the better when he came off the bench, grabbing the goal in extra time that wrapped up the win.

But he's kinda gone in and out of it, as per Vucinic Law, in the last couple of games leading up to the international break. That's really no surprise, seeing as that's pretty much been the theme throughout most of his career.

2. Leonardo Bonucci vs. Edinson Cavani

Obviously Cavani will get a crack at everybody in the Juventus back three, but Bonucci was the one defender (non-Lucio category) who really struggled for a good portion of the match when these two teams met in Beijing.

And, in a way, that could sum up the season thus far for the one Juventus defender who always seems to be under the microscope. Bonucci has had an up-and-down season thus far. He's had his good games. He's also had his so-so games. And then there's the task of trying to contain Cavani, the man who leads Serie A in goals with six through seven games and is arguably the post striker in Europe not named Ramadel Falcao.

Man, I'd love one of them on my team. Think Juventus will try to get somebody like Cavani? Wait....dammit.

3. Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner vs. Christian Maggio and Juan Zuniga

Like with any team that goes up against a team with a three-man defense, the play of the wingbacks is incredibly important. In the Supercoppa, Asamoah and Lichtsteiner were very good on the offensive end, with only the Swiss Tank having some trouble back on defense. Kojo seemed like he ran up and down the left flank about a bazillion times and didn't even look a wee bit tired afterwards.

There's no reason to think that Juventus won't be able to take the upper hand when it comes to the battle on the wings this time around. That's especially true when you consider that defense, ironically, is not where Maggio and Zuniga stand out.

4. Andrea Pirlo vs. Napoli's Midfield

Compared to other teams that play with a three-man defense, Napoli's style is a bit different. Instead of the constant pressing that Fiorentina employed against Juventus last month, this weekend's opponents are more of the sitback-and-counter kind of team. That's really no secret.

Because of that, Andrea Pirlo should have more room to manoeuvre in the midfield, allowing him to pick out passes at his own pace rather than trying to dodge midfielders right and left. I should say "should" because Napoli employed some man-marking on Pirlo in August when the two teams met in the Italian Super Cup matchup. While that would be smart decision for Napoli to go with, who exactly knows what Walter Mazzarri will actually go with.

5. Juventus' Midfield vs. Napoli's Counterattack

It ain't just the Pirlo show, folks. Well, sometimes it can be. But that's not the point.

As we've seen since Mazzarri took over Napoli, they love them some counterattacks. It's the Napoli way. There's no other way around it. It's their bread and butter — much in the same way Claudio Marchisio does late-game heroics in front of goal. That's why it's vastly important that Juventus' midfield, notably Vidal and Marchisio, are able to slow down the Napoli attack when they counter (or any push towards goal for that matter).