The Juventus-Napoli rivalry didn’t exactly need much added to it to make things heated. These two teams, these two fanbases, these two groups of players, they simply don’t like each other. They are two of the best clubs in Italy, rivals from the northern and southern parts of the country.
But, as we know, there’s this rather large element now added to things. His name is Gonzalo Higuain and he has gone from one club to the other, with €90 million going in the opposite direction.
Saturday night at Juventus Stadium will be the first time that Higuain, Juventus’ new No. 9, faces his former teammates for the first time. There has been a lot of things said and written about Higuain — good and bad depending on how you see it — over the past three or four months since the first rumors of a move to Turin began. Napoli supporters basically see Higuain as the ultimate betrayer, someone who has gone from being good and now with the worst of the worst there is. That there alone is something that we can write a couple thousand of words about and that would be that.
But there’s a little more than just Higuain playing his former club for the first tiem. By the way, this is first place vs. third place.
Yeah, there’s that little matter of business, too.
Juventus Stadium will be rockin’ come Saturday night. It won’t take kickoff for the hometown crowd to be raring to go for this top-of-the-table clash. As much as we know that would be the case if Higuain hadn’t signed with Juve this past summer, it’s even more of that with everything that has gone down since he signed for the club-record fee at the end of July. But Juventus’ lead atop the Serie A table is small enough to where any kind of slip up against Napoli could see them be somewhere other than first place come the end of the weekend. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that to happen. That’s just me, though.
That’s part acknowledging the hype that comes with this game and everything that comes with it, but also the fact that it’s not even November yet and there’s still so much of the season to be played. As much as
And, as Allegri also said, Juventus’ final game of October came with a little different kind of context than it did a season ago. That’s good — at least from a table position standpoint, that is.
Times have changed, Max. You know what should also change, though? The fact that Juve’s performances have been relatively incosistent from the start of the season until now. You correct things and get it going in a game of this magnitude, that’s a pretty good jumping off point for the rest of the season, I’d say.
CLAUDIO MARCHISIO BACK
CLAUDIO MARCHISIO BACK
CLAUDIO MARCHISIO BACK
CLAUDIO MARCHISIO BACK
(Just wanted to make sure we were on the same page here.)
Paulo Dybala still not back :(
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Gonzalo Higuain against his former team.
Say hello to THE storyline heading into Saturday night at Juventus Stadium. Sure, there’s first place against third place. But knowing what we know and how everything went down over the summer, Higuain facing his former team is something that will be the first thing every single media outlet talks about during their pre-game shows on Saturday. Maybe that would be different if Simone Padoin was still around, but I think Higuain would still be the No. 1 talking point in that case. (Sorry, but I was in need of some Padoin schtick. Him not being around has limited my opportunities.)
Giorgio Chiellini said earlier in the week that Higuain is “saving his goals for Saturday,” which I’m guessing put all of the Napoli players and supporters in a pretty good mood. But, in a way, he could be onto something here. We haven’t seen Higuain find the back of the net since he snagged a brace against Empoli on the Sunday before the international break began at the beginning of the month. To grab a term from my friends who like to play baseball, this would be a time where Higuain is called “due” to score a goal or two. You know he’s going to be amped up to play against his former team. And he’s going to be even more jacked up to do something against Napoli considering all of the stuff that has been said about him since the day he put his signature on his contract with Juventus.
And hey, let’s check out Higuain the last time Juventus and Napoli played...
That was about two minutes after Simone Zaza’s game-winning thunderbolt last season. Let’s hope, for our sake and our sake alone, that Higuain is in a little better mood this time around, okay?
2. How Claudio Marchisio bounces back on short rest.
Now that we’ve gotten the return match out of the way, it’s onto the second one. And considering how fast and furious the fixtures are coming at us these days, it’s not going to take long to see Juventus back on the field again. Allegri said that Marchisio will be evaluated during Friday’s training session — which, I would assume, to be not just to see how he’s doing from a match fitness standpoint but also how the knee has responded to playing nearly 72 minutes just two days earlier. That second part is the biggest thing for Marchisio right now. As much as we don’t want him to be rushed or anything, he showed that his knee is feeling pretty darn good in his return to the field against Sampdoria on Wednesday night. But there’s also the fact that we don’t want it to be too much, too soon — and that’s a legitimate worry. The last thing Juve need to happen is to just thrown Marchisio back into the starting lineup game after game after game and wear him down right off the bat. It just sucks that it’s happening during these incredibly important stretch of games.
3. Juventus’ back three (or four) against Napoli’s attacking trident.
Seeing as Chielliini is healthy — and scoring braces like it’s no big deal? — again after his own injury absence, my money is on the 3-5-2 and there’s nothing any of you can do about it. That means it’s bound to be 3-5-2 vs. Napoli’s 4-3-3, a formation that has continued to be one of the top scoring units in Serie A despite the fact that Higuain is now wearing black and white stripes most weekends. Obviously, not having the injured Arkadiusz Milik is a huge hit for Napoli. But there’s still Jose Callejon, who has slowed down after his torried goal-scoring pace to open the season. If Lorenzo Insigne even comes close to looking like the player he was a season ago, there’s another threat to watch out for. The good thing going for Juventus? There’s no Higuain lining up across from them, so there’s one very, very important thing they won’t have to worry about when they play Napoli on Saturday night.
4. What role does Juan Cuadrado play?
I’m thinking this is more dependent on what formation Allegri chooses to go with more than anything else. And even though Cuadrado is in really good form, I’m thinking that he’s going to be Allegri’s first option off the bench rather than a starter because the 3-5-2 is the most likely direction Juve go. That’s no shot at Cuadrado, obviously. He has been great lately and has been one of Juventus’ best players since the latest international break came to an end a couple of weeks ago. As a starter or off the bench, Cuadrado will play a role in Saturday’s game, surely. And even if it is off the bench, he’s the kind of player who will be able to provide some much-needed energy and, maybe more importantly, speed. This is a lot like the Cuadrado we saw at the beginning of last season, too. Back then, it didn’t matter how many minutes he played, you had the sense he was going to do something good. Now, you just hopes he keeps the good times going.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (3-5-2-ish): Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Mario Lemina, Claudio Marchisio, Miralem Pjanic, Alex Sandro; Gonzalo Higuain, Mario Mandzukic
Location: Juventus Stadium, Turin, Italy
Kick-off time: 8:45 p.m. local time in Italy; 7:45 p.m. in England; 2:45 p.m. on the East Coast; 11:45 a.m. on the West Coast
TV: BT Sport 2 (United Kingdom); Sky Calcio 1, Sky Sport 1 HD Italia, Sky Supercalcio HD (Italy)
Online: fuboTV, beIN SPORTS CONNECT U.S.A. (United States); beIN Sports CONNECT Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live Streaming (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia (Italy)
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