Granted that there was little time to regroup and prepare something different given international duties, there was not a proper reaction to the recent stumble in the Derby. The squad came out a little more aggressively than usual but, as it has so often happened, they kept up the intensity just for a limited amount of time and got into cruise control after getting the lead. They recaptured it just a tiny bit for the final push, but not enough to complete the rally.
The lads better realize that qualifying to Champions League is not a divine right as other teams are ready to pounce if they do not turn it around. This match is absolutely crucial in that regard as Napoli are one of the hottest sides in the League right now. Atalanta are not going to relent and Lazio are streaky and might have started to go on a run. Roma slipped a bit but are not far behind and could get back on track once they recover some pieces. The competition is fierce and the Bianconeri needs to switch their focus in a hurry and quit being complacent, if not outright arrogant given they perform at times. Unfortunately in sports great dynasties tend to end in despair rather than in a blaze of glory.
Blunders in the back have been a habitual theme throughout the season, whether it has been collective mishaps, lapses in focus or individual mistakes. Wojciech Szczesny was clearly at fault in the Derby but it has occurred too often and to different contributors for it to chalk it up to an unusual and random circumstance. Maybe the players are not held accountable for their errors, or they think they can overcome any situation with their talent on the other end, thus putting too little care into it.
However, it is defense that does win championships, and Inter have started breaking away once they stiffened up in the back. Moreover, despite the firepower, Juventus have showed very little throughout the course of the season to really believe to be a true offensive juggernaut. They would have the tools, but they are generally too slow and predictable to properly activate all their weapons.
It looks like the coaching situation is going to sort itself out as it is difficult to envision Andrea Pirlo sticking around much longer with another negative result. If the executives had not made up their minds already and the final stretch is really going to be an acid test for him, the first step was surely underwhelming. There will be no time to dwell on them as the make-up game for Round 3 will finally be played, removing the asterisk in the standings.
Arthur, Weston McKennie and Paulo Dybala have been reinstated after the team-mandated suspension all have some chances to make the XI. Especially the young American, since Dejan Kulusevski is coming off another rough performance: he is contention also with Aaron Ramsey, but it would make sense with go with some more balance in a challenging match-up as the attempts to just outgun the opponents have been fruitless. On that regard, it is possible that Juan Cuadrado is used as winger, with Danilo at right-back, but it will hinge on whether Giorgio Chiellini will be able to perform with such a short turnaround. Federico Bernardeschi has contracted Coronavirus too, while Merih Demiral has cleared the protocol, but it might be too early for him to play.
3-4-1-2 Szczesny; Danilo, De Ligt, Chiellini; Cuadrado, Bentancur, Arthur, Chiesa; McKennie; Morata, Ronaldo.
Bonucci, Bernardeschi (COVID).
Napoli have recovered few important pieces compared to the recent match in mid-February which, considering the different form of the two sides, ended in a slightly surprising narrow win for the home team. The tables have turned now as they have proven to be in much better shape than the Bianconeri in recent tilts. The returns of Victor Osimhen, Dries Mertens and Hirving Lozano allow them to go back to the design they originally envisioned for their team, with the two top forwards either featuring together or alternative when the schedule gets thick. Moreover, Piotr Zielinski has been on fire in the hole after fully shaking off COVID.
Their playing style changes significantly with them on the pitch instead of Andrea Petagna, as both attack aggressively the space behind the back-line. The Nigerian international is a force of nature when he is given room to gallop, while Mertens has tremendous chemistry with the other attackers and he is also very capable passer. They are humming with all their weapons back and can throw different looks at the opponents. They recently had impressive displays on the road against Roma and Milan.
They instead have had some issues in the back, but Kalidou Koulibaly was not there versus Crotone. Amir Rrahmani has shaken off an injury and will be in contention with Kostas Manolas and Nikola Milenkovic, who had an horror show over the weekend, while the former Verona center-back has bee fairly reliable over his last few appearances.
They have lost Faouzi Ghoulam to an ACL tear just as he was starting to get more consistent playing, so they are back to having the offensive-minded Mario Rui and the more disciplined Elseid Hysaj as options at left-back, with the later likely being the choice in this one. Instead, Giovanni Di Lorenzo has a firm hold on the other defensive flank and he has been coming on strong lately, making his presence felt more in the final third than in the first few months of the season.
Fabian Ruiz has put a bout with COVID behind him, but his season remains mostly underwhelming as the pivot position does not really showcase his skills. Somebody has to adapt to make all the pieces fit and he generally ends up paying the price. They had a little spell with a three-man midfield, where he fares better, but they have understandably reverted back to 4-2-3-1 now that that the horses up front are available. They have generally run the scheme better with Diego Demme, who is a tidier passer and playmaker than the powerhouse Tiemoué Bakayoko, but he is dinged up.
Their recent streak has allowed them to move past some frictions between the coach and the president and some rumblings in the locker room. They approach the crunch game riding high and winning it after all the controversy would deal a major blow to their archrivals and allow them to gain an edge in the Champions League race.
They will surely be properly motivated and they operate at a rhythm that is going to be hard to match for the latest versions of the Bianconeri. Plus, they are perfectly suited to take advantage of open spaces, should the Old Lady leave as much as room as usual. Since they have turned it around in away contests, the only flaw they manifested recently is in the back, but a personnel change could fix it. It would not be surprising to see Rrahmani in the XI even though Manolas is the presumptive starter. The other doubts are injury-related as David Ospina and Demme are coming off small problems. In any case, there is not any drop-off between Ospina and Alex Meret, who has featured a lot. Mertens is said to have an edge on Osimhen for the no.9 spot.
4-2-3-1 Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Koulibaly, Hysaj; Demme, Ruiz; Lozano, Zielinski, Insigne; Mertens.