The hours and minutes until Juventus and Napoli square off in Turin are getting smaller and smaller. Juventus vs. Napoli is the biggest match of the season to date domestically, a matchup that has two good teams playing one another and one massive storyline that has linked to the two clubs together more than ever before in recent memory.
Because not every one of us is able to watch every single Serie A match there is, we have enlisted some help to get some more information on Juventus’ opponents this evening. That, as has been customary when we see Juve face one of their most-heated rivals in Napoli, means we enlist the services of the man in charge of SB Nation’s Napoli blog, The Siren’s Song, Conor Dowley. With Conor’s help, we were able to accomplish what we always want to do with these things — ask questions and have them answered by folks who follow Juventus’ opponent that weekend just as close as we keep track of the Bianconeri.
So, away we go. And, as always, thanks to Conor for helping us provide some Napoli perspective in a corner where so many things are seen with black and white glasses on 99 percent of the time.
BWRAO: Hi, Conor. I was going to ask you about Gonzalo Higuain’s best performances as a Napoli player, but I didn’t want to piss you off so I chose otherwise. To the questions...
BWRAO: How would you describe Napoli's performances to date?
TSS: Until Arkadiusz Milik got hurt playing for Poland in the last international break, I would have said I was very confident that they could play with Juventus in this match. His movement and instinctual quality up top meshed brilliantly with the rest of Napoli's attack and midfield, allowing them to play fluidly and aggressively. They were excellent with him in the side, and they had the ability to play with almost anyone.
Since then, though.... yikes. Losing Milik has stripped Napoli of that dynamism and fluidity, and their attempts to find tactical adjustments have gone for naught. It hasn't helped that Manolo Gabbiadini was garbage most of the time he was on the pitch in Milik's place, and Napoli's attacking depth getting further hampered by his idiotic red card only makes things worse. Napoli were better with Dries Mertens playing as a false nine at midweek, but that came against Empoli and still wasn't all that convincing.
So to answer your question more directly, Napoli early in the season were excellent and inspiring. Thanks to Milik's injury and the flux up top since then, though, Napoli have been awful at worst and mediocre at best -- and the timing of this poor form could not be much worse than it is.
BWRAO: Why hasn't Lorenzo Insigne been the Lorenzo Insigne from a year ago?
TSS: That's a tough question. His form has been off ever since he was robbed at gunpoint early last spring, but this season he's been a constant disappointment. It's not that he's been bad by any means, he's just been so far off what he's capable of being, of being the top attacking talent and constant threat he's capable of being, that it's been hard to watch.
It's not helping that there's a big contract dispute going on between him and the team right now, causing distractions and discord at a time when both player and squad need none. As tough as it is to say it, it's starting to look like he may not be long for Napoli -- between the distractions, the inconsistency, and the drama that flares up between him and the fans every time his form dips, it might just be better for everyone at this stage if they part ways.
BWRAO: Who, outside of the obvious front three, need to be big-time performers if Napoli want to come out of Saturday's game with points?
TSS: Marek Hamsik is the obvious big name, but in midfield it's actually Jorginho who I really want to see step up. The Brazilian started the season in astoundingly good form, but of late fatigue and the general malaise of the squad has seen him fade of late. Napoli need him at his best in this match, because his calm and quality in possession and deeply underrated defensive qualities will be vital against Juventus.
The other two who need to be at their best are Kalidou Koulibaly and Nikola Maksimovic. The pair have actually been quite good in defense since Maksimovic was forced into the lineup by an injury to Raul Albiol, but they’ll need to step it up another notch if they're going to keep Juventus' attack at bay. They've got what it takes, but now they need to prove it.
(Once again, a thanks to Conor for answering our questions even though he is a busy, busy man. And I am not just saying this because he is the boss of the SBN Italia blogs and I am trying to stay on his good side. Nope, not at all.)