Other than the Venezia game, Juventus took care of business in every match since the start of November. The only loss, to Atalanta, was costly, but they glitched afterward, and so the Champions League race is wide open again. It will be up to the Bianconeri to keep it that way, as a few challenging games are on the horizon. Starting with this one, which could not be more monumental. Napoli are in a tailspin, as they went from title contenders to be at risk of dropping out of the top four in the span of six matches. A Juventus win would fully drag them into the mud, and they are currently the side in worst shape among the contenders. The more spots are up for grabs, the merrier.

The Bianconeri have generally done okay against big teams in terms of focus and intensity, but the results have not been great. They topped Roma, Lazio, and Fiorentina, but those can not really be called signature wins. They lost in the first bout with the Partenopei and tied with Milan and Inter. The record will have to improve since they will soon face the Giallorossi, the Rossoneri, and the Bergamaschi again.

Help is on its way from the infirmary as Federico Chiesa and Paulo Dybala have recovered from their injuries. Massimiliano Allegri recently found a tactical sweet spot by alternating 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3, and there is no reason that should change now. The second formation would likely be better for the sake of the midfield, but La Joya would have to adapt to playing wider. The coach has resisted that more than the player. Hopefully, he will not go back to the hybrid 4-4-2.

It would now be technically possible to field an XI with Dybala, Chiesa, Weston McKennie, Federico Bernardeschi, Juan Cuadrado, who deserve props for their recent performances, and a striker together. It would be the best lineup Juventus have used all year. It requires minor adjustments, but a lot of courage since it is very offensive-minded. If everybody holds up from the physical standpoint, we might see it in easier fixtures or some spurts here and there.

The Alvaro Morata bombshell dropped out of nowhere in the last few days. The situation changes by the hour, and definite statements turned out to be erroneous later on. In any case, despite his flaws, Juventus can not just give away their top center-forward and take a flier on a veteran, hoping it would work out. The new management is supposed to be less schizophrenic than Fabio Paratici, and this will be an opportunity to prove it. The writing is on the wall on the Spaniard given the hefty option to buy and the scarce funds, but the most streamlined solution is to keep him and seek a new top striker in the summer.

As for the lineup, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini are both unavailable, so it will be a major opportunity for Daniele Rugani, but also for Matthijs De Ligt, who will need to lead the backline. Luca Pellegrini has the flu and, while he has not been ruled out altogether, Alex Sandro has the inside track on starting it. The rest will hinge on whether Dybala and Chiesa will both start right away, of if one will come off the bench, as probably recommendable. Allegri seemed to suggest it will be a 4-3-3.

Expected Lineup

Juventus (4-3-3): Szczesny; Cuadrado, Rugani, De Ligt, Alex Sandro; McKennie, Locatelli, Rabiot; Chiesa, Morata, Bernardeschi.

Ruled Out: Bonucci (muscle fatigue), Chiellini, Pinsoglio (COVID), Danilo (thigh strains), Ramsey (thigh injury).


It is not hard to find the reasons why Napoli nosedived so dramatically in December. They have been decimated by injuries and have been nowhere as effective as at the start of the season. They were able to bandy together for two or three matches once their cornerstones started to go down, but the situation ultimately became too difficult to overcome. Compensating for your best defender, midfielder, and striker being out at the same time would be hard for anybody, and especially so for a side that does not have great depth to begin with.

Kalidou Koulibaly and Victor Osimhen will be sidelined for this one as well, which certainly gives Juventus a window of opportunity. However, despite the negative results, the Azzurri have not seemed broken in their team spirit. They have not been thoroughly outplayed by anybody yet, even when they came up short. They would not have dropped the Spezia, and the Empoli matches had they been whole, as they pulled the strings but did not find a goal. They were in it until late versus Atalanta, and they quite stunningly blindsided Milan at San Siro.

It will be paramount not to take the match lightly and think that the opponents will just bowl over due to their problems. On the contrary, they will play with extra fire because of them. And, in any case, they are well within their seasonal targets, as the early scorching run was above their capabilities, and they were due for a regression no matter what. This figures to be a key bout for their aspirations too.

They have conceded more without Koulibaly, as they had kept several clean sheets beforehand. However, Juan Jesus has been serviceable enough: their defense has been more vulnerable but not shoddy or blunder-prone. The situation has given more responsibilities to Amir Rrahmani, who has shown he can be more than a second fiddle. David Ospina has stood out all season long, plus Giovanni Di Lorenzo is a stud in both phases at this point.

The bigger defects have been on the other end, as evidenced by the fact that they have been shut out by not-so-formidable teams. Dries Mertens can still have the occasional great play out of the blue, but he is not as prolific and consistent as he used to be. The teammates had grown accustomed to feeding Osimhen, and the two could not be more different. He can easily get lost between center-backs if guarded properly. Andrea Petagna adds a much-needed physical element, but he has never possessed the biggest nose for the goal.

The ideal solution would be to have the two backup strikers together, which would maybe make up for like 80 percent of the contribution of the Nigerian star. But going with two forwards would have negative ramifications elsewhere. First and foremost, it would not allow them to use Piotr Zielinski as a no.10, and, with his class, he has been their best contributor in the last month and a half, both as a playmaker and as a finisher.

They like to hold possession, but they will probably be more cautious in this one with Fabian Ruiz unlikely to start. Factoring in also André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, who was a coup, they lose a lot of muscularity without the African trio, which is something the Bianconeri can exploit. They will try to clog the spaces the best they can, and Stanislav Lobotka and Diego Demme, although smaller, are tenacious players, and then try to unleash their speedy offensive weapons in space.

Between COVID-19, the African Cup of Nations, and other problems, Spalletti, who got the virus too, does not have much to choose from. Lorenzo Insigne is not in great shape, but they would have to devise weird solutions if he was not in the XI. They are down to their third option at left-back. For now, the game is expected to take place.

Expected Lineup

Napoli (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Juan Jesus, Ghoulam; Demme, Lobotka; Politano, Zielinski, Insigne; Mertens.

Ruled Out: Koulibaly, Anguissa, Ounas (AFCON), Lozano, Meret (COVID), Rui (suspension).