Napoli v Juventus
Club News, Match Preview Serie A, Serie A

Napoli v Juventus Match Preview and Scouting

February 12, 2021 - 3:00 pm

The squad has been undergoing a significant transformation ever since the debacle in the Serie A match versus Inter and the last two tilts surely confirmed it. The coaching staff has decided to do away with some possession and with a crazily high offside trap, opting to defend lower on the pitch and welcome more pressure. It has led to a lower rate of major chances for the opponents even though the back-line has been under siege for some long stretches, while the forwards have made the most of their opportunities on the other end, and the good results have kept coming.

It is a little underwhelming see the team lose a bit of their wildness, which made it surely frustrating but also kind of fun, but you can not argue with winning. At least the fluidity of the roles up front has remained, so it has not completely gone back to the successful but unentertaining Massimiliano Allegri days. We will see whether it was an adjustment based on the adversaries and on the situation, or it will stick moving forward, as Andrea Pirlo has proven capable of turning on a dime.

There is no denying that something had to be done to bolster the defensive phase, as the center-backs were too often left alone chasing after attackers coming in with a head of steam. However, it preferably should not come at the expense of the other side of the ball, as it would be nice to see a Juventus team powered by its offense for a change. In an ideal scenario, the two aspects can be combined. Furthermore, with all the pacey and quality goal scorers at their disposal, the Bianconeri should definitely be able to counter with more efficacy than how they have down lately and the tactic screams for this.

It might have been caused by some contingency reasons, but the switch to a purer 4-4-2 seems to be more permanent now that all the center-backs are healthy. It might have been a tweak to combat sides that play with width, but in the last three matches the scheme was rather clear as Weston McKennie had a more regimented role and was not allowed to pick his spots for his cuts, while on Tuesday there were two clear-cut wingers in the midfield.

The modification figures to benefit both Juan Cuadrado and especially Federico Chiesa, who will have a lighter workload, although the former will likely continue playing as fullback from time to time. Furthermore, Dejan Kulusevski could indeed play on the right flank in this scenario, the same position he had at Parma. On the other hand, McKennie and Aaron Ramsey could be a little too constrained on the wing and neither is natural out wide, so it is not all rosy. It is also true that the young American could simply return to midfield and Chiesa saw the lion’s share of minutes on the left, with the Welshman inevitably fading as he surely has not been healthy enough to be considered an indispensable player.

The health of the squad is worsening as Arthur will miss the match with a weird but hopefully minor lower leg injury and Paulo Dybala and Aaron Ramsey will not return in this one, plus Leonardo Bonucci is likely to be spared due to a thigh ailment. Weston McKennie is slightly dinged up and it could make some sense to have him as a back-up given his versatility and the absences elsewhere. In any case, one among Danilo, Juan Cuadrado, Alex Sandro and McKennie will begin on the pine.

Probable lineup:

4-4-2 Szczesny; Danilo, De Ligt, Chiellini, Sandro; Cuadrado, Bentancur, Rabiot, Chiesa; Morata, Ronaldo.

Injured players:

Dybala (knee), Ramsey (thigh), Arthur (lower leg).

Suspended Players:

None.

 

Unless they were cultivating unrealistic aspirations, up until a month ago Napoli were perfectly in line with their goal of qualifying for Champions League after a one-year absence. Yet, dark clouds started assembling over the head of coach Gennaro Gattuso and they ultimately affected the team and the results, as they have lost two of the last three matches, against Genoa and Verona, and were eliminated from the Coppa Italia semis in dismal fashion. They are still right there, not far from the top four, but the atmosphere within the club is less than ideal.

The divide between the gaffer and the president is likely the product of a stylistic clash, as Aurelio De Laurentiis would prefer them to have a free-flowing style similar to Maurizio Sarri’s one, while Gattuso is much more pragmatic. He has not been shy in fielding a plethora of attackers at the same time, but the rhythm is surely much slower and creating offense is mostly up to the players rather than the result of well-crafted schemes.

The campaign of the Azzurri has pretty acceptable in terms of results if it is taken into consideration that they have not have both of their best strikers Victor Osimhen and Dries Mertens for months. While the comparison of the former with Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Romelu Lukaku is laughable, he is certainly a way better striker than good ol’ Andrea Petagna. They had to make do with what they had and Lorenzo Insigne and Hirving Lozano have been splendid throughout the season, making up for the missing production out of the center-forward spot.

Osimhen is now healthy, but he has not look great in his first appearances after being sidelined by a shoulder sprain and then by COVID. He started midweek against Atalanta and, due to his precarious conditions, he might begin on the bench in this one. Both him and Petagna are massive reference points, but clearly the Nigerian is much more mobile and unpredictable and attacks the open spaces with ferocity, while the former SPAL forward is more prone to battling defenders with his big physique to open space for his teammates.

Lozano has made a huge leap compared to his first underwhelming season in the Peninsula and he is an all-around threat with his pace and dribbling skills, but also with surprisingly clinical finishing for somebody who is technically a winger as he is very masterful in picking the right spots to do damage in the box. Insigne is instead the main hub of their attack and constant source of assists and attempts from outside the box.

Gattuso has tinkered with the tactic, sometimes going with a pure 4-3-3 putting Piotr Zielinski as box-to-box, in other occasions fielding him as no.10 and limiting the radius of action of the other two midfielders. The second solution is more likely in this one since Diego Demme is out with a thigh injury and he is their best linchpin for a three-man line, although Tiemoué Bakayoko can do it even though he is not as polished as a distributor, while Stanislav Lobotka has not seen much playing time but would be a viable option given the situation.

It also hinges on whether Fabian Ruiz is ready to start a bout with Coronavirus or if they will turn to Elijf Elmas, who is a quite intriguing player but, like Zielinski, not exactly apt to playing as pivot as he needs to be let move freely without too many constrictions. They do have a lot of technique and offensive firepower in the midfield, but Ruiz, Zielinski and Elmas are all pretty inconsistent and feast-or-famine, as they can bag some gems just as easily as they can completely disappear from them game. Matteo Politano, who is generally a bench option, is the wild card as he could make the formation much more aggressive featuring in lieu of a midfielder.

It would not Napoli-Juventus if COVID was not involved in some way, shape or form and in fact Kalidou Koulibaly and Faouzi Ghoulam are going through the protocol as of now. Since Kostas Manolas is on the shelf with an ankle injury as well, they have their back-ups, Nikola Maksimovic and Amir Rrahmani, starting in the defense and that should be exploited. Elseid Hysaj is out of commission too, so they are quite depleted in the back and the Albanian international generally gets the nod in this kind of fixtures because he is more attentive than Mario Rui.

Given all their ongoing issues, from the sacking buzz to injuries to poor form, it is the right time to catch them in the schedule, but they should not be underestimated as they still have some very dangerous weapons at their disposal, especially if they are given room and you do not pay close attention to them, and the date with Juventus always provides some extra motivation and they see this as the right opportunity to turn things around after a very bumpy patch. The latest buzz suggests that they are going to game head-on with their most offensive-minded lineup as it yielded good returns in the final minutes of the Coppa Italia bout with Atalanta. 

Probable lineup:

4-2-3-1 Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Maksimovic, Rrahmani, Rui; Bakayoko, Zielinski; Politano, Insigne, Insigne; Osimhen.   

Injured players:

Koulibaly, Ghoulam (COVID), Demme (thigh), Hysaj (calf), Manolas (ankle).

Suspended Players:

None.

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