The proven formula worked out again versus Udinese, and the success stopped being a random thing a while ago, with the long break not affecting the squad’s confidence and efficacy. While still a nail-biter, the showing was a little better than the one in Cremonese, as the opponents didn’t create as many clear-cut chances despite controlling the ball in the first half. The defense holding up without Gleison Bremer was remarkable and the harbinger that the passive phase has been perfected at this point.

Making the lineup progressively more offensive and subbing in fresh pieces led to two consecutive victories. Having somebody like Federico Chiesa off the bench is a true luxury. He’s too good not to return to the starting lineup in the near future, and accommodating him might be a minor problem, but his current use is optimal given his physical condition. Making key plays only boosts his morale.

Angel Di Maria had arguably his best performance in ages with the Bianconeri, and playing as a no.10 is only a small adjustment for him. It’s pretty clear that such addition hasn’t panned out the way everybody hoped, considering the early Champions League elimination and his injury woes. However, there are still six months to salvage it a little, maybe adding a trophy to his collection.

The conservative strategy will face its ultimate test in this one, as the sturdiest defense will tangle with the most formidable attack in the league, even though it hasn’t been at the peak of its powers in the first two matches of 2023. It’s easier and less risky to rope-a-dope lesser opponents, but the gambit could have disastrous results if the team gets pinned back too much Friday due to the dangerousness and variety of Napoli’s weapons.

It’d be way tougher to resist if the squad had a center of gravity as low as in recent tilts because you can’t let the Azzurri forwards linger near the box for too long without somebody eventually finding a crease to score. While nobody expects a seismic change in the game plan, it’d be better to defend higher on the pitch and muck it up far away from the goal until the chivalry comes and the enemies get worn down.

Juventus topped Inter and Lazio during the winning streak, so there’s precedent for them stopping good offensive teams, although at home in both instances. Sky would be the limit if they succeeded in this clash too for its ramifications on the standings and the loud message it would send to the rivals, although many pundits insist that penalization points are incoming from the various plusvalenze and whatnot trials, which does take some fun out of hot streak.

The starting right wing-back will be once again a critical choice. Weston McKennie held his own against Destiny Udogie, but the direct opponent will have very different traits, physique, and style in this one. Since Daniele Rugani and Federico Gatti have been fine in their last displays, one has to wonder whether the coach will consider sticking Danilo out wide or if that’s too defensive-minded even for his liking. The only other doubt is who will complete the midfield between the two youngsters, Leandro Paredes, who was back from the dead in the past game, and eventually the American international if he doesn’t play on the flank.

Probable Lineup

3-5-1-1: Szczesny; Danilo, Bremer, Alex Sandro; McKennie, Fagioli, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Di Maria; Milik. 

Absences: Vlahovic (sports hernia), Pogba (meniscus tear), Bonucci (thigh tendon soreness), De Sciglio (thigh strain), Kaio Jorge (patellar tendon tear). 


Napoli didn’t come out of the break guns blazing, but Milan and Inter committing seppuku in the last round quickly restored their confidence and their lead, which had shrunk due to the loss of the Nerazzurri. They should be in better shape for this clash with another week of practice under their belt. The favorable combination averted a simmering crisis, as they weren’t super brilliant in the first two matches out of the gate. They were slow and predictable in San Siro, and the opponents ran them over as nobody ever managed to do in the first half of the season. The score was arguably tighter than what transpired.

Then the Sampdoria game broke in their favor thanks to an early red card, but they would have won five-nil on their heyday. The question is whether it’s just a matter of time until they return to their dominating selves, or if the trend is bound to continue. Having such a long mid-season break is unprecedented, and there was no real recipe to deal with it. Perhaps teams that look sluggish now will go like gangbusters in April and May when fixtures are more decisive because they put a lot of fuel in the tank in the winter.

Perhaps the mental element was a factor too, as the stoppage halted their momentum. If that were the case, the recent win and pulling away from the suitors would be beneficial. Considering the heated rivalry, the home-field advantage, and the fact that there aren’t two months of anticipation building up this game, they are highly unlikely to come out as flat as they did against Inter. The opportunity to assess a potentially lethal blow to the Scudetto race is too tasty.

While they have looked like an indestructible juggernaut for months, some issues are creeping up. Kim Min-Jae has been dealing with a lingering calf injury during the World Cup and afterward. He subbed off early in the previous game, but he should be good to go. On the other hand, it’s hard to be 100 percent with the thought of making the problem in the back of your head, especially for such a twitchy and physical player. In addition, Amir Rrahmani is working his way back into shape after being sidelined for a long time, and it showed.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia had to nurse a back issue in November and December, and he was very subdued in his first two 2023 outings. He didn’t try any of his signature mazing runs or majestic shots. Time will tell whether it’s just a matter of conditioning, and he was in picture-perfect form when he first joined since he transferred in the middle of the schedule of the Georgian league. He’ll have to tilt his body clock to playing at this time of the year. Or if the opponents have started to figure him out, or at least find a way to slow him down a little. It’d be foolish to underestimate his ability to snap out of it at any second and decide the match with a jaw-dropping play, though.

With other centerpieces being up-and-down, Victor Osimhen has been a true constant, other than when he was unavailable, a time that they navigated brilliantly thanks to their forward-thinking purchases. Giacomo Raspadori and Giovanni Simeone were arguably overkill, considering how stacked they already were offensively, but they indeed came in handy in time of need. Luciano Spalletti is toying a lot with the position of the ex-Sassuolo starlet, who’s faring well no matter his role and playing time. He gives them a lot of flexibility, and 4-2-3-1 could easily be in their future if they cashed in on either Piotr Zielinski. El Cholito is instant energy, which has already allowed them to pull out wins in matches that were seemingly slipping away from them.

Those who played in the World Cup, Zielinski, Frank Anguissa, and Hirving Lozano might need a little bit of time to be as effective as before. Matteo Politano can fill in for the Mexican winger without a hitch, but it’s more troublesome to substitute the other two, especially in a crunch game, even though Tanguy Ndombélé and Eljif Elmas are serviceable.

The fact that they aren’t firing on all cylinders offers Juventus a good opportunity to pick up a result that would have been almost unthinkable a few months ago, but the Bianconeri will need a perfect game because, even if not devastating, Napoli still have a lot of weapons and certainties to lean on.

Probable Lineup: 

4-3-3: Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Kim, Rui; Anguissa, Lobotka, Zielinski; Politano, Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia.