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Juventus vs. Napoli Preview: Round 18 — So we meet again, old friend

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When Juventus coughs up lead like they did in Tuesday's Derby d'Italia against Inter, you want to see how the immediately respond. Not just respond on the field, but mentally as well. The draw against Inter was one of the more disappointing results of the season to date even though they came away with a point.

They have to do all of this in one of the toughest atmospheres not named Juventus Stadium Italy has to offer.

Juventus follow up their incredibly lackluster start to 2015 with a trip to the Stadio San Paolo and all the crowd noise and craziness that comes with it. It's a place where they haven't had much success at all lately, as Napoli are undefeated in their last nine home matches against Juventus. Few teams can say they've had that kind of success against Juventus in terms of overall play, let alone on their home ground.

No, it's not going to be easy, but it's something Juventus is going to have to do to get back on track.

The room for error in Serie A is now gone thanks to Tuesday's draw against Inter. Juventus could very well be in second place when they take the field in Naples depending on what happens in the Rome derby earlier in the day. Not like Juventus shouldn't be motivated enough to get back on their winning ways against Napoli based on what happened in the Supercoppa a few weeks ago in Qatar, but now that they've got Roma seriously nipping at their heals is just that more reason to get three points in a heated environment.

So basically don't do what happened in Doha.

That would just add to the frustration, don't you think?

And nobody wants to see a repeat of the Derby d'Italia again. Well, at least the second half. If Juventus want to replicate that first 45 minutes — aside from the poor finishing in front of goal — then you won't find me objecting to it.

I liked that half of football. And so should you.

GOOD NEWS

When Juventus starts putting complete games together again, then it will be good news. Now? Nah, we're still waiting for something good to happen and Juventus to get three points.

BAD NEWS

Serie A standings entering Sunday:

1. Juventus, 40 points

2. Roma, 39 points

Dammit, things are a lot closer than a couple of matchdays ago.

(I guess I had something other than injuries to talk about. This time I wish I didn't. Not that I want Juventus players to get injured, though. So please no more injuries, guys.)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. Juventus and the search for a 90-minute effort.

There was no middle ground for Juventus in the Derby d'Italia draw. They started out great, then they went to utter crap right before our eyes. They didn't just taper off, they completely fell apart. The attack that absolutely peppered the Inter defense seemingly vanished. The defense that kept Inter's offense quiet completely crumbled — both with individual mistakes and boneheaded errors. Juventus' opponent Sunday night is, at least on paper, entering the match on better form. Inter were basically a mixed bag of meh, while Napoli have won three out of their last four games in all competitions. And that's partly because Juventus couldn't shut the door in the Supercoppa. (Juve shouldn't do that again.)

2. Can Arturo Vidal build of his Derby d'Italia display?

Arturo Vidal's Derby d'Italia was basically a microcosm of the entire game for Juventus. Absolutely fantastic in the first half, not very good at all in the second half. However, when it comes to Vidal, those kinds of first-half showings have been few and far between this season. He has struggled, obviously, but you could see his batteries were recharged over the holiday break. While it didn't carry into the second half Tuesday night, seeing Vidal be like the Vidal of old was one of the best things to happen in a first half against Inter that was filled with wonderful things. Forty-five minutes of game time isn't much of a sample size at all in the grand scheme of things, but that Inter performance is clearly something Vidal can build off of going forward. We weren't able to say that much at all before the Christmas vacation.

3. Juventus' defense vs. Gonzalo Higuain.

Let's take a quick moment to remember what Napoli's No. 1 striker did against Juventus a couple of weeks ago in the Supercoppa: Two goals, a perfect 10 rating on WhoScored, and just overall badassery. And what did the 27-year-old Argentine do in his first game of 2015? Just went ahead and scored another two goals, pushing his total to nine in Serie A this season. It's safe to say that Higuain is in some of the best form he's had all season right now, and Juventus know that firsthand from playing against him a couple of weeks ago. And while Napoli do have other attacking options that Juve need to be mindful of, Higuain is clearly the No. 1 player Max Allegri's defense should be keying in on. That's not too hard to figure out these days.

4. The Manolo Gabbiadini factor.

Napoli's newest striker isn't expected to start, but at some point Gabbiadini will probably step onto the San Paolo field as a Napoli for the first time Sunday night. Where in the attack the 23-year-old Italian will plug in is obviously still to be determined, although I'd expect it to be out wide for one of Napoli's two wingers. And you know that Manolo will have a little extra special motivation to show Juventus what they are missing out on. I mean, I would, too, and I'm just a guy who thought Gabbiadini could have been a helpful piece to the puzzle even if he wasn't expected to be a big-time player.

My starting XI (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Evra; Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba; Vidal; Tévez, Llorente

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