Time is quickly winding down for Saturday's Serie A showcase at Juventus Stadium. All of two days remain before the clear-cut top two teams in Italy square off against one another in a game people have been hyping up and anticipating for days on end now. We all know the circumstances and what's at stake. If anything, we've been thinking about that stuff for even longer than those in the Italian press.
Both teams will walk into Juventus Stadium on the back of lengthy winning streaks. One team has a longer one, but we won't rub that in the face of the current league leaders right now. (Although, 14 straight wins is pretty damn good.) Both teams will are playing some damn good football these days, and they're both pulling away from the rest of the pack in the top third of the table because of it.
But what has allowed Napoli to not only get off to such a strong start this season, but also maintain it? That's what we're here to try and find out about. We've enlisted the help of Conor, the resident Napoli expert here at SB Nation who just so happens to write about Juve's opposition on Saturday night on a pretty regular basis over at The Siren's Song.
So, without further adieu, we had some questions for the exalted ruler of both the network's Napoli blog and all of SBN Italia as a whole, and he had some answers for us all.
BWRAO: Let's get right to the point. Is Gonzalo Higuaín human? Or, in an easier way of phrasing it, just how dominant of a striker he's been this season?
TSS: I think he's been replaced with a T-1000. It's the only real way to explain it.
Seriously, though, there's a couple of reasons. He got healthier over the summer, changing his diet so he could have more energy and drop some weight. Between that and the tactical adjustments made by Maurizio Sarri, both in terms of team shape and approach, and Higuain has been a huge beneficiary of that.
More than anything else, though, he's been more consistent this season. In previous years, Higuain has tended to go on white-hot runs of form, then spend upwards of two months not doing much at all. This season, he's been consistently involved and consistently effective, and it's been a joy to behold.
BWRAO: Since Juventus and Napoli last saw one another, neither team has had many slip ups. From the Napoli point of view, what has enabled them to pick up point so consistently?
TSS: They play as a unit, not just with each other but for each other. They spent the last two seasons playing in a bunch of individual roles in a system that demanded many of Napoli's players to do things they weren't comfortable with or were well-suited for, and teamwork was almost a secondary concern. This season, Sarri has set them up in a way that plays to their strengths and imbued a sense of togetherness that Napoli had sorely lacked. These players play for each other, fight for each other, and win for each other. That is why they've been so consistent, because when one man falters, another steps up to cover him and lift him back up.
BWRAO: What's an area of Napoli's squad that might not be getting as much recognition as it deserves due to Higuaín's insane season?
TSS: Just how f**king good their midfield has been. The trio of Marek Hamsik, Jorginho, and Allan have controlled almost every match the trio has played together, keeping possession with ease and flying all over the pitch to break up the opponents' play and help spring Napoli's fierce, quick-developing attacks.Their balance and ability to work fluidly together is top-notch, and they can adjust to almost any threat. Watching them do their thing this season has been all kinds of fun, and hopefully they're just going to keep getting better and better.
BWRAO: Lorenzo Insigne is already in double digits when it comes to goals and assists. Is this the player Napoli fans thought he would be when he first burst onto the scene a few years ago?
TSS: I think he's more than that player. Back then, fans saw a miniature Ezequiel Lavezzi, who at the time was a very good player but not nearly as complete and well-rounded as Insigne is today. His ability to disrupt defenses and score goals has never really been in doubt — a couple rough runs of form aside — but his playmaking skill has taken massive strides over the last couple of years, with improvements coming by leaps and bounds this season. He's becoming a special player right in front of our eyes, and this payoff of the years of love and trust the fans have given Insigne is simply wonderful.
BWRAO: Does this game being played at Juventus Stadium and not the San Paolo worry you much?
TSS: Nah. Has to be played somewhere, and Napoli already whooped Juventus at the San Paolo, so that means it has to be played outside of Naples for the sake of fairness.