Juventus v Napoli
Serie A Week 33 – Sunday, 22nd April – 19:45 GMT – Juventus Stadium
A huge missed opportunity for Juventus in the midweek round, where there is always some weird stuff going on. It is understandable to drop points here and there against the minnows on the road if you are unable to break the deadlock or maybe you go down in the score and then find a way to tie the game. Giving away a lead against a team that is offensively challenged, and neither attacked all that much, is a bad look, especially just a few days before the game of the season. It puts so much more pressure on Sunday night’s clash.
In Crotone, the squad never looked particularly efficient and was a little discombobulated, maybe because the master of puppets Miralem Pjanic was not there, maybe because Paulo Dybala did not have a good night. However, we still managed to go up in the score thanks to a corner kick and that should have been enough, but the curse of the bicycle kicks hit again, this time pulled off by Simy. Blaise Matuidi and especially Gonzalo Higuain had good opportunities, but the opponents resisted, with a little bit of luck.
As a result, we approach the showdown with a four-point lead, which is fine since we would still control our destiny even with the worst-case scenario, but we still have the demanding games with Inter and Roma coming up, both of whom I am sure would be delighted to derail our title chase. Napoli’s schedule is a little easier, even though there are no cakewalks. It is obviously a must win match for them, but also the Old Lady could use the maximum result to be more serene down the stretch.
Miralem Pjanic and Mario Mandzukic will be available on Sunday night, which would force Massimiliano Allegri to make tough decisions in the attack. We have performed much better with Blaise Matuidi as a glue guy on the left in big games, but that would result in one between Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic being on the pine initially, assuming for good reasons that Gonzalo Higuain will be in the starting line-up. Now, bringing the Croatian tank off the bench makes very little sense because of his style, while La Joya could be a force coming in late. However, that would also mean renouncing to one of your top three players for a good chunk of the game. It is a tricky situation, but that is why the coach is paid the big bucks. Recent history says that it is better to have Mandzukic out there in big games and we can always adopt 4-2-3-1.
Giorgio Chiellini will start in the back-line, Medhi Benatia is likely but not a lock. There are some doubts on the flanks and Benedikt Howedes has a slight edge over Stephan Lichtsteiner and Andrea Barzagli to play there and Kwadwo Asamoah could unseat Alex Sandro. Whoever plays at right back will have the arduous task of containing Lorenzo Insigne. Sami Khedira and Gianluigi Buffon will return after skipping one.
Federico Bernardeschi came back midweek for a very limited stint and that it is a terrific news as just a month ago he was at risk of going under the knife. The schedule is not that crowded going forward and he will have to make the most in small minutes, but it is good to have him back and the ranks are now complete in the attack. Stefano Sturaro is dealing with a sore Achilles’ tendon and will not be available. Mattia De Sciglio remains out with a plantar fascia injury.
4-3-3: Buffon; Howedes, Benatia, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Khedira, Pjanic, Matuidi; Douglas Costa, Higuain, Mandzukic.
De Sciglio (foot), Sturaro (Achilles).
Napoli are not as dazzling as they were in the early stages of the season, but credit where credit is due, they are pulling out wins out of their rear and, in the end, positive results add up and they could resume marching on. Case in point, they went down twice down against Udinese, staring at a nine-point cliff in the standings and a potential match-point for the enemies on Sunday, but outlasted the opponents and came back. It happened against a team that had lost nine in a row, but it was still noteworthy.
Arek Milik has been a very welcome late-season addition for them and it mitigated the effects of Dries Mertens’ funk. The Belgian has become a formidable goal poacher in the last two seasons, but the Polish is simply a different, more traditional type of striker and has buried some very heavy goals. The only knock on Maurizio Sarri this season has been that he relies on always the same tactic and there is no plan B if the first option gets stifled. Milik changes that, because they can now switch to a 4-2-3-1 with a physical presence in the trident.
They have yet to lose on the road, but they have not won in the last three games, against Milan, Sassuolo and Inter. These missteps, along with the defeat at home to Roma, allowed Juventus to leapfrog them and gain a little bit of ground. At times, they are a little lackluster to start the games and that is the best time to smack them. However, they are the team that collected the most points coming back from disadvantageous scores, so they are extremely resilient and it takes a lot to put them to sleep.
At this point, their artful style is no secret: ball dominant, but always looking for the perfect through ball for one of the three forwards. Lorenzo Insigne is the primary source of playmaking upfront, while José Callejon makes the engine go with his work rate and his off-the-ball cuts. Mertens is a mix of both styles and has the bigger nose for the goal of the three.
Jorginho pulls the strings in the midfield and he has made a big leap this year. Allan brings the muscles, while Marek Hamsik’s play has declined, but his savvyiness is still needed. They go to another level when they put in Piotr Zielinski, but he has never been as effective when starting.
Their offensive prowess was there in the previous two seasons as well, but they have been much stouter in the back this season and that is what sustained their run before the recent swoon. Kalidou Koulibaly is a wagon, Raul Albiol is extremely experienced and having Elseid Hysaj as right back is like fielding a third centre-back. Faouzi Ghoulam is better going forward, but Mario Rui has held his own very solidly being forced to fill in for long stretches.
The reported line-up doubts are between Mertens and Milik and Hamsik and Zielinksi, but I would be pretty surprised if Sarri did not pick the two regular starters. Milik probably can not play full minutes twice in a row, but he will make an appearance if things are not going well for them.
4-3-3: Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik; Callejon, Mertens, Insigne.
Juventus v Sampdoria Performance Statistics