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Juventus vs. Napoli Preview: Round 12 — Welcome to the main event

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Valerio Pennicino

It may not have the same kind of pomp and circumstance as the game Juventus played earlier this week. It may not have the same kind of season-altering impact that Real Madrid coming to Turin might have had for the simple fact that it's not the Champions League group stages and Juve aren't entering with just two points in three games.

You know what, though? Juventus-Napoli is pretty darn close.

It's Serie A's No. 2 team and...No. 2 team meeting in one heck of a matchup to head into the international break on. And if there was a team that was picked to challenge Juve's stint atop the Serie A mountain, it was Napoli and their summer full of spending the chest of millions upon millions of euros that came with selling Edinson Cavani to Paris Saint-Germain.

The result, through 11 games, has been the same amount of points (28), as both Juventus and Napoli find themselves entering Sunday's showdown in Turin looking up at the same team in the standings — Roma. Not exactly what everybody thought would happen in regards to who would be at the top of the table, but Juve and Napoli being in the top three isn't all that surprising.

And now, barring Juve playing out their second consecutive draw, second place will belong to only one team come the end of 90 minutes at what is expected to be another loud and boisterous Juventus Stadium crowd. (I wouldn't expect anything less from them.)

Doesn't sound like a bad way to spend a Sunday night in Turin.

Well, if the result goes in favor of the guys who wear the black and white stripes, that is.

GOOD NEWS

As disappointing as it was, there's no getting around how well Juve played against Real Madrid on Tuesday. And outside of the snooze fest at the Tardini against Parma, the way Juve has played between the first Madrid game and the return leg has to be encouraging. They received a whole lot of praise after Tuesday's 2-2 draw at Juventus Stadium, and rightfully so. Now it's time to keep the good run going.

BAD NEWS

The rumors are true. No Giorgio Chiellini, no Martin Caceres tomorrow night against Napoli. Add that to the consistent absence of  Mirko Vucinic and Stephan Lichtsteiner ever since the last international break and you've got quite a few key pieces on the sidelines due to injury.

Dammit.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. Juventus' Argentinian striker vs. Napoli's Argentinian striker.

They were two of the biggest signings in Serie A this summer. Not in terms of their price tags, those were completely different. But Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain put to be the myth that big names don't want to play in Serie A anymore. And through the first three months of the season, they've lived up to the billing. Tevez has scored six goals, Higuain has scored five. That's not counting the impact each has made in the Champions League. When Juve and Napoli take the field Sunday night, the two Argentinian strikers will be under the microscope. That's pretty easy to figure out.

2. How Angelo Ogbonna plays.

With no Chiellini, it's Ogbonna time on the left side of Juve's three-man defense. The last time he started a game, he was unintentionally trying to score a goal on Gigi Buffon just a few minutes after kickoff. He settled into the match after that, but it hasn't exactly been a seamless transition from one Turin club to the other for one of Juve's summer signings. Does all of this mean he's a bust? Of course not. Six appearances in a Juventus jersey is hardly the sample size to declare if Juve did or didn't waste a good chunk of money this summer. One thing is pretty clear: Ogbonna's getting another chance in a big game to show what he's worth. And that means no funny back passes that make Buffon panic.

3. Juventus' wingbacks vs. Napoli's fullbacks.

Looking at most predicted starting lineups, maybe it should read "Juventus' wingbacks vs. Napoli's wingbacks" for the simple fact that both Christian Maggio and Pablo Armero aren't really fullbacks. Both aren't exactly model examples of fullbacks for a four-man defense. Don't believe me, watch Maggio's highlight film from the Italian national team the last couple of years. That means Kwadwo Asamoah and Mauricio Isla — who looks set to start on the right — will be matched up against a couple of offense-first fullbacks. Sounds like a good matchup, right?

4. The tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Rafa Benitez.

For one of the few times in Serie A this season, Juventus' manager won't be going up against a team that players some kind of variation of the 3-5-2 he helped make Italy's latest trend. Nah, Benitez is a 4-2-3-1 kind of guy, and that means Juve will be trying to breakdown a team that isn't like others in Italy. Sure, there's that whole thing about Napoli having good players inhibiting those spots on the field, but like any meeting between two very good managers, there's the battle within the battle. Then again, that tactical attle sounds like something Conte enjoys.

5. How the Real Madrid game impacts Juventus.

By the time there's kickoff at Juventus Stadium, Conte's squad would have had nearly five days away from an actual game. This time of year with the way the schedule has been set up, that's impressive. Not only was the Real Madrid game a tough one physically, it certainly was draining mentally. The biggest thing when it comes to Juventus is to see if they can raise themselves up emotionally just days after one of the biggest games of the season. Call it a hangover or whatever you want, but the game after the game might be just how — or how not — Conte's men are able to get psyched up again just days after Madrid's visit to Turin.

My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Ogbonna; Isla, Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba, Asamoah; Llorente, Tevexz

OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 8:45 P.M. IN ITALY; 2:45 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 11:45 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST