It’s not often that two teams hold the fate of each other’s seasons, but that will be the case over the next week when Juventus face off against Napoli. Keen to hold onto an eight-point lead at the top of the Serie A table, Juve travel to Naples on Sunday. A positive result there would see them edge ever closer to the Serie A title while their opponents still hold distant championship hopes. Napoli are also wary of the chasing pack behind them for that third Champions League spot, with Lazio, Inter and Atalanta ready to pounce on any slip up.
he meeting between these two is always highly-anticipated. That it will play a huge part in deciding both sides’ season ambitions makes it even more exciting.
But the rivalry doesn’t stop there. The following Wednesday night will see them meet again, in the same place, at the same time for the Coppa Italia semifinal second leg. Juve hold a 3-1 lead from the meeting in Turin last month, which was dominated by controversy as the Bianconeri were awarded two penalties. Napoli threatened to field their second side for the return leg, but it’s unlikely that will occur as Maurizio Sarri’s men need just two goals to go through. They simply wanted to stir the pot with regards to what they see as generous refereeing in Juve’s favour but it would be unnecessary to throw away a chance in a cup final for the sake of making a point.
The talk surrounding that first leg tie sets up this weekend’s match perfectly. Both teams are always looking to get one over on each other, and with their league positions at stake, we should see a feisty encounter. Max Allegri’s team selection will be interesting. Will he set up more defensively, looking to contain Napoli’s attack, which leads the league with 68 goals scored? Or perhaps he saves those tactics for the second leg clash where he can sit on a two goal lead. Juve aren’t exactly in desperate need for three points, with their comfortable advantage as league leaders, but it would be wise to not give Roma any confidence of an overthrow at the top as we head into the final weeks of the year.
While Napoli boast an exciting attack, Allegri’s side are still the most astutely defensive of teams, not just in Italy either. Across Europe’s top 5 leagues of Spain, England, France, Germany and Italy, Juve have the second best record in terms of goals against with 19. Should Allegri fancy settling for a draw instead of push for all three on Sunday night, then chances are he’ll leave Naples a satisfied figure as Juve have the ability to sit back and soak up any pressure the home side throw at them. However, with the international break coming to an end Tuesday night, most of the squad should be fresh which might lead to to a more attacking approach. Roma face struggling Empoli at home on Saturday so Allegri’s hand could be forced if Juve’s lead is down to just 5 points by kickoff.
Napoli would love nothing more than to dent their rival’s treble hopes. Having been eliminated from the Champions League by Real Madrid, the domestic competitions are all they have left to play for. What joy they would get if they heaped pressure on Juve in the league or ended their Italian Cup aspirations with an unlikely comeback. They won’t get a better chance to lump misery on their counterparts than the upcoming double meeting. Even if they lose in the league, they still have a chance to knock them out of the cup just a few days later. You can be sure the Naples club will be motivated for such an opportunity.
Juve themselves have a chance to disrupt Napoli’s own domestic ambitions. Though they are 10 points behind the leaders, Napoli sit just six clear of Lazio and eight clear of Inter and Atalanta. Should they drop points at the weekend, they could find themselves a game clear of fourth place, which places a lot of pressure on a side expected to challenge for the title year in, year out. Napoli still have to face Lazio away from home, and it would be just as satisfying for Juve to throw their opponents season into disarray, especially after their complaints following last month’s victory. Napoli have picked up some impressive wins recently, most notably away to Roma and AC Milan but have also dropped points at home against Atalanta and Palermo. It’s been that sort of year for the club, but over the last few weeks they’ve started to show more consistency, winning 6 of their last 7 league games.
Juve must be feeling confident heading into the next week due to their dominant record over Sarri’s team. They have lost only 3 from their last 13 contests, dating all the way back to 2011, while if you include the Super Cup, its 4 losses from 15. Juve constantly outmatch Napoli, and there’s nothing from this season to suggest the next two matches will be any different. These games always mean something, with the rivalry increasing these last few years, but next week’s encounters feel even more special as both teams’ season ambitions depend on them.