About three or so months ago, when Juventus and Napoli were basically matching each other win for win and the point difference between the two never seemed, I constantly thought to myself that the fixture between the two teams in the middle of April would be the title decider. One way or another, I hoped the two possible Juventus outcomes would involve either pulling away for good or finally leapfrogging Napoli and into first place.
Because of a couple of unpredictable results, Juventus jumping into first place might have happened a little sooner than some of us might have thought. That means, when the two teams meet Sunday night in Turin, there’s two options as to how this game can go:
- The Scudetto race will be over.
- The Scudetto race will be very much alive with four games to go.
OK, so there’s also the possibility of Juventus and Napoli sharing the points at Allianz Stadium and all of those above situations will be not all that applicable.
This is what we do know: Juventus enters this Scudetto showdown against Napoli with a four-point lead once again after struggling once again with a relegation battler midweek. If Juventus wins that game instead of playing out a 1-1 draw, this game doesn’t have as much meaning to it as it does now, with a six-point lead being maintained.
Instead, Juve’s lead is at four.
And doggone it, as much as this game may cause a whole bunch of stress, crushing Napoli’s Scudetto dreams while also basically wrapping up a seventh straight title in the same game at home ... well, that just sounds tremendous.
I guess we can agree to disagree when Max Allegri says that this game is important, but not decisive. That’s just Max being a little too down the middle, but hey, the man can say what he wants. He’s earned that right.
The route to get to this point hasn’t always been the prettiest one. For all the wins they’ve picked up once again this season, it’s not like Juve have been dominating the opposition right and left and rolling their way to another title. This hasn’t been easy. Napoli has most certainly pushed Juventus this season like few teams have during this current six-year run of Scudetto celebrations.
I think that’s why having Napoli come to Turin at this point in the season, with so much on the line, would just be the perfect way to make a little more history.
You know, a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone type of deal where you essentially pull away to win the title while also ending your closest competition’s absolute hope of getting back into the title race.
Maybe some thought that was possible a few months ago as Juventus just hung around in second place as they went win-for-win with Napoli for what seemed like half the season.
Things changed — and for the better — in the standings.
Now, in front of their hometown crowd, Juventus look to put the final nail in the Napoli coffin while also putting one hand on their seventh straight Serie A title.
Sounds like a good way to spend a Sunday in Turin to me.
Juventus have won their last four home matches against Napoli in all competitions.
Make it five.
Napoli are undefeated in their last 29 away matches in Serie A.
Keep it at 29.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) Does Paulo Dybala start on the field or on the bench?
Understandably, Allegri was rather coy when it came to questions about his starting lineup at his pre-match press conference. If he’s a guy who doesn’t say much about who’s starting when Juve play mid-table or relegation battlers, it’s not like he’s going to show his hand 24 hours before his team takes on the closest competition to them in the league.
Therefore, we don’t know if Dybala will be one of the 11 players starting.
A couple of weeks ago, this would be simple crazy talk. Dybala was coming off a hat trick against Benevento, he was looking like he was about to hit another rich vein of form as the season headed toward it’s final stretch of games.
And a couple weeks later we’re talking about Juve’s No. 10 potentially not starting the biggest league game of the season.
For all we know, Allegri considers starting Dybala a no-brainer and all of the talk over the last three days has been a complete waste of our collective energy. Maybe the struggles that Dybala has had since the Benevento hat trick aren’t much of a worry to his head coach. Since we’re all sitting in front of our laptops instead of sitting in Turin and watching training sessions each and every day, all we’re left is to guess and wonder what’s up.
And for what’s it’s worth, Sky Italia, the people who first started this talk of Dybala not starting against Napoli, are predicting Dybala will start in his usual spot behind Gonzalo Higuain in a 4-2-3-1 formation on Sunday.
So there’s that.
2) Gonzalo Higuain against his former team — again.
In terms of goals in league play, this hasn’t been the kind of Higuain season we’ve seen in previous seasons. He’s not lighting Serie A on fire, but with the players around him he doesn’t necessarily have to.
If there’s one thing about Higuain we’ve seen since he’s joined Juventus, it’s the fact that some of his best — and most decisive — games have come against his former team.
You need to look no further than the last time Juventus played one another on the first day of December.
Who scored the game-winner at the San Paolo?
That would be Good Ole Pipa.
Sure, Higuain hasn’t scored a goal in over a month and has just two goals in his last 10 appearances, but the guy has shown that he can be decisive just when it looks like he’s heading into a serious nose dive form-wise. That’s always how it’s been during his two seasons with Juventus thus far. You think he’s breathing nothing but cold, then he comes back with six goals in his next five games.
This is the Gonzalo Higuain we know. This is the Gonzalo Higuain that we have come to love. Even through the good times and the bad. Higuain forever.
3) Which Napoli squad shows up.
The common line of thinking has you assuming that because it’s a big game that a big-time Napoli effort is going to follow.
The thing is, though, as much as they were a dominant force that beat up on just about everybody not named Juventus for the first six or so months of the season, things haven’t exactly been as routine as they were since the start of March.
There’s the 4-2 stunner against Roma.
There’s also been draws against Sassuolo and Napoli thrown in there, too.
You can come back at me and say that Juve haven’t exactly been a force of nature lately, and you’d pretty much be correct.
But now that we can count on one hand how many rounds are left in the Serie A season, Napoli’s going to need to start picking up three points every time out or else their title hopes will be completely dashed.
We know what’s riding on this game. They know what’s riding on this game.
A win and their Scudetto hopes are very much alive.
A loss and one of the best seasons Napoli has ever had will end with a second-place finish.
And those hopes will have been ended by the team that they might despise the most. Ah, what fun there could very well be at Allianz Stadium on Sunday night. Get your popcorn ready.
MY STARTING XI
Juventus (4-3-3): Gianluigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Daniele Rugani, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic, Blaise Matuidi; Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, Douglas Costa
When: Sunday, April 22, 2018
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Kickoff time: 8:45 p.m. local time in Italy; 7:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 2:45 p.m. on the East Coast; 11:45 a.m. on the West Coast
HOW TO WATCH
Television: beIN SPORTS CONNECT, fuboTV (United States); Rai Italia America (Canada); BT Sport 1 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport 1 HD Italia, Sky Supercalcio HD, Sky Calcio 1 (Italy)
Online/Mobile: beIN SPORTS CONNECT, fuboTV (United States); beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada, DAZN Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia (Italy)
Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, you can also follow along with us live and all the stupid things we say on Twitter. If you haven’t already, join the community on Black & White & Read All Over, and join in the discussion below.
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