Juventus travel to Napoli tomorrow in a top-of-the-table clash that could go some way towards defining either side’s Scudetto challenge. Manager Massimiliano Allegri knows there’s a lot riding on the game, but sought to downplay it with plenty more games to play.
Allegri started off with an update on former Napoli fan-favourite Gonzalo Higuain who had hand surgery earlier this week and is doubtful for the game.
“Stephan Lichtsteiner is out. Juan Cuadrado has trained a little, along with Federico Bernardeschi but they should be available, I’ll see what the situation is today.
“As for Higuain… the hand is definitely painful, but he could be available. We’ll see today, let’s say I’m confident.
“Let’s see how he is, how much pain he’s in, because it’s pointless risking a player for one game when we have another 30 between now and the end of the season.
“So we need to judge things well, together with him.
"Would he play if it was the Coppa Italia final? Well, it isn't the Coppa Italia final, we have 30 games ahead of us so...
"Really, I don't know what condition he'll be in. I know his hand isn't good, it's sore, so let's see tomorrow. Today Gonzalo has given me his full availability, so we'll try to be confident."
Juve are four points off Napoli, and a loss could see them slip seven behind, while an away win would narrow it to one point as well as apply an immense amount of psychological pressure on the Partenopei.
“First of all, Juventus up to this point have made the journey we should have done. Napoli have done and are doing incredible things, because they’ve won 12 games and only drawn two, Inter are two points behind them and then we’re four points behind Napoli.
“We’ve dropped a few points on the road, but then of course football comes down to incidents.
“That said, Napoli really are doing extraordinary things. They’re to be congratulated for what they’re doing, what they’ve done for the past three years, and tomorrow is a good test, especially ahead of Olympiakos.
“That’s the first decisive game of the season, because we can’t get it wrong there. We’re obliged to reach the Last 16 of the Champions League.
“I repeat, Napoli represents a good test for us, because first of all it’s a fascinating match.
“We’re playing in Naples, with a full stadium, so it should be a nice night of sport and football and I hope it is. There should be a spectacular game, because it will have technical players in it.
“It’s an important game, which we have to face as the great team Juventus are, with great respect for Napoli.
“Right now Napoli are ahead of us, they’re favourites for the Scudetto and we need to be good at chasing and keeping up with them, getting to March in the best condition to make the final push.
“Tomorrow is an important step, but not a decisive one.”
Napoli have the best defence in the Serie A this season, a change from previous years when Juve have led in that category.
“Tomorrow we have to play a great game first and foremost. That matters above all to get the two results which suit us. A win would definitely be a fantastic leap forward, and we’d give a beautiful signal, but a draw would be another positive result.
“We start from the performance, tomorrow we need to put in a good performance from every point of view: technically, tactically, physically; because tomorrow will be a physical game.
“In these kind of games it’s the details that make the difference, so whoever makes fewer mistakes has more chance of bringing the result home.
“Does defence or attack matter more? In the end all that matters is who comes first, no team finishes top by chance.
“Napoli play beautiful football, and I’d say they’ve learned quickly to do the defensive side too which, among other things, has always been Maurizio Sarri’s strength.
“Ever since his time at Sangiovannese his strength was the defensive phase. Now they’ve understood that to win leagues you need to have the best defence.
“That’s what the league table tells you. I repeat, the last 10 seasons have always told you the same thing: the best defence wins the league.”
Speaking of defence, how will Juve be lining up in the back tomorrow?
“They [the defence] are getting better, Benedikt Howedes is definitely one who’s better on the ball, with more quality. Andrea Barzagli can play with no worries.
“They used to say that the older you get, the deeper you go. Barzagli started with me at Pistoiese and played as a midfielder, fortunately then they put him at the back, Otherwise he wouldn’t have had a career, poor guy…
“Now he could play as the third centre-back, and even play a little behind the others. Then there’s Howedes, but at the same time there’s Medhi Benatia.
“Benatia has to be more convinced of the quality he has, he’s got two good feet but sometimes he loses his way.
“I don’t know if we’ll play three or four tomorrow. We’ll see, because I still haven’t decided who to play up-front. It depends on that, depending on who plays up-front, we’ll decide on who is behind them.
“There could be space for Blaise Matuidi, but I repeat: it depends on whether I have everyone available up-front.
“What absolutely won’t change is the attitude of the team.”