Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 1
Napoli are set to welcome Juventus to the recently renamed stadium of Diego Armando Maradona on Saturday as the two teams take each other on in a battle for important points. The match officially belongs to the 22nd round of the 2020-21 season in the Serie A, but it will actually be the 21st match of the campaign for both these teams.
The meeting between them earlier this term was postponed under highly controversial circumstances, but this will be their second clash in only a few weeks after Juventus triumphed over Napoli in the Supercoppa Italiana on January 20th.
Having come very close to properly challenging Juventus for the title a few years ago, Napoli are now seeing the two Milan teams take that role away from them. Apart from Juventus, the two teams from the capital are currently ahead as well. Napoli are now in sixth place with 37 points, 12 less than AC Milan at the top, 10 less than Inter Milan in second place, five less than Juventus in third, and three less than AS Roma and Lazio in fourth and fifth, respectively.
The form Gennaro Gattuso’s team are on at the moment is very hard to describe. They won three (1-2 away to Udinese, 6-0 at home against Fiorentina and 2-0 at home against Parma) and lost three (1-2 at home to Spezia, 3-1 away to Verona and most recently, 2-1 away to Genoa) of their last six league matches. Their last match overall, however, was a second-leg 3-1 defeat away to Atalanta which saw them exit the Coppa Italia in the semi-finals.
Napoli won Group F in the Europa League, finishing above Real Sociedad, AZ Alkmaar and Rijeka. They will face Granada in the round of 32 next week.
The biggest problem Gattuso is facing for this match is the absence of his preferred centre-back pair. Kalidou Koulibaly has tested positive for Covid-19, while Kostas Manolas suffered an ankle problem which is set to keep him out until the end of this month. Amir Rrahmani and Nikola Maskimovic are set to start in their place again, despite some questionable performances recently.
Apart from that, fullback Elseid Hysaj picked up an injury a few days ago and is expected to miss out, and the same goes for midfielder Diego Demme. Both players will be subjected to late fitness tests between now and the kick-off. Midfielder Fabian Ruiz is back from quarantine, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be fit to start.
It seemed at one point earlier this season that the title race could gradually move away from the Old Lady’s grasp after practically a decade of their domination in Italian football. However, Juventus have once more done what proven champions usually do when things don’t go exactly their way – they’ve managed to hang on, to stay within sight of the top spot, and it would be folly beyond belief to write them off in that aspect.
They are seven points behind Milan who currently lead the pack, but with a a game in hand on the Rossoneri. It means the gap could be reduced quickly, and they’ll be looking to take advantage of any slipup from either of the two Milan teams. There is a long way to go yet.
The recent form of Andrea Pirlo’s side goes a long way in proving that point. They’ve won five of their last six league matches: 4-1 at home against Udinese, 1-3 away to rivals Milan, 3-1 at home against Sassuolo, 2-0 at home against Bologna, 0-2 away to Sampdoria and 2-0 at home against Roma. The only game they lost was a 2-0 defeat to Inter in Milan, but they got their revenge over the Nerazzurri as they knocked them out of the Coppa in the semi-finals by beating them 1-2 in Milan and drawing 0-0 in the return leg in Turin.
Juventus had a difficult job in the Champions League group stages, but they managed to finish above Barcelona, Dynamo Kyiv and Ferencvaros, and they’ll be going up against FC Porto in the round of 16, with the first game being played in Portugal four days after this one.
With Pirlo having the choice of high-quality players like Giorgio Chiellini, Matthijs de Ligt and Merih Demiral for the centre-back spots, he isn’t likely to rush Leonardo Bonucci back to action as he only recently recovered from injury and returned to training. Former Barcelona midfielder Arthur Melo is out with a leg injury.
Wojciech Szczesny is expected to take the place between the posts ahead of veteran Gianluigi Buffon, and Alvaro Morata will likely return to the lineup ahead of Dejan Kulusevski to partner Cristiano Ronaldo upfront.
This is a typical game you’d expect Juventus to win and to continue putting pressure on the Milan teams ahead as they seek to overturn their respective advantages. Juventus are the better team, and a team on great form.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 1
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