Over the course of the last few years, the Juventus-Napoli matchup has usually come with some sort of Scudetto ramifications attached to things. Juve would usually be in first place, with Napoli either trailing behind in second or third and there’d be plenty of riding on the two rivals playing one another no matter who the two managers have been.
This season their second Serie A meeting of the season — which is technically the first, but just go with me here — does have plenty on the line. It’s just not what we thought it might come the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
The long-awaited game in hand is finally here. It comes at a time where there’s plenty of rumors brewing about the future of the two managers at their respective clubs. But, rather than those two managers potentially squaring off for the upper hand to win the Scudetto, Juventus and Napoli will face one another at Allianz Stadium to see ... who walks of the field in fourth place. That’s right. One of the more heated rivalries in Serie A over the last decade has nothing to do with the league title, but rather who can head into the second weekend of April in fourth place and Italy’s final Champions League spot.
Less than ideal.
But here’s the current situation in Serie A:
- Juventus and Napoli are both tied on points with 56.
- The only reason why Juventus is technically ahead of Napoli is because their goal differential is all of one goal better, plus-31 to plus-30, than their rivals to the South.
Napoli, unlike Juventus, has found some kind of form since the end of February. As Juventus’ wins have been pretty much forgotten as they seem to stumble over themselves every couple of weeks — and then we have the game-changing passing that some of their players have gone on to do in recent games — Napoli hasn’t lost in its last seven games in all competitions. That might not seem like a lot, but it’s certainly something Juve wish they could brag about or remind you of as their form continues to be far from anything impressive.
No matter what RIno Gattuso’s status currently is in Naples — and it doesn’t seem all that good when he’s currently being linked with other jobs while he is still employed — Napoli has, at least in part, turned things around and found some sort of consistency.
And don’t forget that in a meeting of these two teams all of a month ago, it wasn’t pretty.
The pressure is on Andrea Pirlo to try and get this ship righted as fast as possible, with some corners of the Italian media — and, I’ll say this, they’re exactly the most reliable ones — suggesting that anything other than a win against Napoli will be the final nail in the coffin of his Juventus managerial career. For all we know, this could be the end of the road for Pirlo as Juve’s Champions League future is anything but a certainty — especially with the way they have been playing the last couple of months.
No mater how long his leash actually is, though, every single win that Pirlo gets over the next two months will be valuable as all hell to try and ensure Juve’s playing Champions League ball again next season. And especially when it’s a potential win over the closest rival for fourth place as the top of the Serie A table behind Inter continues to be an unpredictable five- or six-team grouping. Those head-to-head battles, especially when points are at a premium to try and achieve your suddenly-new No. 1 target, they’re important.
Who knows if Juventus will actually do any of this because they’re so incredibly hard to predict both right now and for much of this season. But if they haven’t figured out the situation facing them in recent weeks, they most definitely should know it now.
Now we can just hope they get the message.
- Leonardo Bonucci is still out with COVID-19.
- Federico Bernardeschi is also out with COVID-19 after his positive test was announced by the club on Tuesday.
- Merih Demiral, however, has gone through proper protocol and will rejoin his teammates Wednesday morning follow two consecutive negative tests follow his diagnosis last week.
- Following their one-game suspension over the weekend, Paulo Dybala, Weston McKennie and Arthur returned to training on Easter Sunday. While Arthur is expected to miss out due to injury, Dybala and McKennie are likely to be called up and be available off the bench.
- On Dybala, Pirlo said the following at his pre-match press conference on Tuesday: “Dybala is fine, he has been training with the group over the past few days and has started kicking the ball again without feeling any pain. He is ready to be on the field tomorrow, even if he doesn’t have 90 minutes in his legs, as he has been out for three months, but having him is already a very good thing.”
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
There are a whole lot of contributing factors as to why Juventus are where they are at the moment. Some of it is the front office, some of it is the man filling out the starting lineup, some of it is a squad that doesn’t fit, and some of it is simply players who were playing well at the beginning of the season just aren’t at the same level they were.
It has been over a month since Morata’s last goal in a Juventus jersey. Sure, that’s not over the span of so many games as it could have been earlier in the season because there’s a two-week international break thrown in there, but the fact still remains that the red-hot Morata that was around during the first three months of the season has not been there come 2021. That’s not to say he’s been a total waste because he’s still contributing — like with his assist in the Turin derby this past weekend — but it’s safe to say that Juve’s No. 9 isn’t scoring goals like he did a few months ago.
Basically, he’s just a little off.
Take the most recent Juventus game as the prime example. He had a very nice assist for Federico Chiesa’s opener — and also did well to stay out of his way — but Morata’s finishing was not on point. He had chances, putting two of his three shots on target, but couldn’t find the back of the net. And based on the chances that he did have, something tells me that the version of Morata that we saw earlier in the season would have finished at least one of those.
Look, Morata has always been a streaky player and, at his age, he’s not going to suddenly change that goal scoring record now. He’s in the midst of a very good season when you look at the numbers, but the fact remains that he’s not scoring as much as he did in the first half of the 2020-21 campaign.
But if Juventus want to have some kind of chance of actually finishing in the top four, they’re going to need more than two guys be consistent goal scorers over the next six or seven weeks. Having Cristiano Ronaldo to go along with an in-form Chiesa is fine, but having a third leg goal scoring threat like Morata contribute consistently just makes this team that much more dangerous.
When: Wednesday, April 7, 2021
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Official kickoff time: 6:45 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 5:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 12:45 p.m. Eastern Time; 9:45 a.m. Pacific Time
HOW TO WATCH
Television: RAI Italia North America (United States); RAI Italia North American, TLN (Canada); Premier Sports 1 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Uno, Sky Sport 254, Sky Sport Serie A (Italy)
Online/mobile: ESPN+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); Premier Player HD (United Kingdom); Sky Go Italia, NOW TV (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.