It's been a bizarre season in Serie A so far. The four-time reigning champs managed just 12 points over 10 games. While Juventus' underlying statistics showed that they weren't nearly as bad as their performance in the league table suggested, it wasn't unreasonable to wonder if they had legitimate title hopes.
Sure, Juve had a few key players missing and they were more than capable of a hot streak, but could they catch the league leaders after such a dismal start?
Well, thanks to the improved health of Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira, the emergence of Paulo Dybala as a legitimate star, burgeoning chemistry among the new arrivals, and a massive 11-game win streak, it certainly looks like they can. Twenty-one games in, Juventus sits just two points behind Napoli at the top of the table, and virtually all statistical analysis has concluded that these are the best two teams in the league right now.
Looking ahead at the two clubs' schedules over the next few weeks, the Bianconeri have a great opportunity to claim sole ownership of first place.
The next three matches on Juve's league schedule are away at Chievo Verona, at home against Genoa, and away at Frosinone. While Juve recorded a draw against Frosinone previously, I think it's safe to say that it was a bit of a fluke. A quick look at the stat sheet from that match shows a result that is very unlikely to be repeated. Juve also drew against Chievo (the only of their next three opponents to sit at 10th or better in the table) earlier in the year, but once again, they outshot their opponent by a massive margin, only to get an unfavorable result. Furthermore, the lineup from that match hardly resembles the squad we should expect to take the pitch in the rematch. Mario Lemina, Stefano Sturaro, and Hernanes were all in the starting lineup, as Paul Pogba and Giorgio Chiellini began the match on the bench. Lastly, Genoa shouldn't present much of an issue for an in-form Juventus.
Napoli's upcoming stretch is a bit tougher, with Empoli (at home), Lazio (away), and Carpi (home) coming up. Empoli can be tough to take three points from, although Napoli will have the advantage of playing at home. Laizo's had a rough year, but Napoli will face them on the road and Lazio still has plenty of talent. Carpi, though, should be an easy win. Still, Napoli has two games in a row against teams in the upper half of the table.
The fourth match for both teams is where it gets interesting.
Napoli will travel to Juventus Stadium on Feb. 13 for a match with huge title implications. Either team could slip up between now and then, but the margin should still be close and the result will be a massive one for both sides, as the league's highest-scoring attack takes on the most talented defensive unit in Italy. Juventus will have an opportunity to get revenge for the 2-1 loss in Napoli earlier in the year and stake their claim as the best team in the country.