Bitter rivals from either side of Calcio’s North-South divide, Napoli and their old foes Juventus clash on Saturday evening, as Serie A resumes.
The Bianconeri arrive at Stadio Maradona after a chastening defeat to promoted Empoli just before the international break – getting the post-Ronaldo era off to a losing start – while their hosts secured maximum points from their first two fixtures
After a frantic period of speculation, claim and counter-claim, Juventus saw their attacking talisman and last season’s Capocannoniere depart for Manchester late last month – and events just hours later confirmed their ongoing troubles could continue in Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence.
Despite their best efforts at breaking down an enterprising visiting side, Juve slumped to a shock 1-0 home defeat against Serie B champions Empoli, which followed hot on the heels of a second-half collapse on the 2021-22 campaign’s opening day.
The first matchday saw Max Allegri’s side ultimately leave Udine with only a point, as they threw away a two-goal advantage to draw 2-2, with Ronaldo making what turned out to be his final appearance from the bench.
Champions for nine seasons running before last year’s capitulation to arch-rivals Inter, this term Juve are certainly under pressure to produce, but are already faltering and in danger of matching a negative club record.
In their previous 51 Serie A campaigns, only in 2015-16 have the Bianconeri been unable to win any of their first three league games, and in all, Allegri has now failed to win his last seven matches in charge – including the tail-end of his previous super-successful spell.
Only three managers in the Turin giants’ history have actually suffered a longer winless streak in Serie A – with the most recent being Carlo Parola, back in 1974.
Therefore, their current coach will be determined to get back to winning ways in one of the highest-profile fixtures of this or any Serie A season – in a match-up which still bears the enmity distilled in Diego Maradona’s days.
The ill-feeling between Juventus and their southern rivals was stirred up again last October, as the 2020-21 season’s first scheduled meeting between the pair was controversially cancelled at short notice when Napoli failed to turn up, with their entire squad placed in quarantine by the Neapolitan health authorities.
Initially handed a 3-0 loss as a result, the Partenopei were later given a reprieve after their third appeal against the decision saw the sanction voided and a penalty point revoked.
That encounter finally took place in April, as Juve ran out 2-1 winners in Turin, with the spoils shared in the two other meetings between the clubs last term – Napoli coming out on top in the other league game; Juventus being crowned winners of the Supercoppa Italiana.
As they prepare for another crack at Juve this weekend – now in front of their passionate fans – the Azzurri can take confidence from back-to-back wins before the international break, as they beat Venezia on the opening day despite being a man down for much of the match, then overcame Genoa through a late Andrea Petagna strike.
Head coach Luciano Spalletti had therefore led his new side to eight consecutive wins including pre-season friendlies, but a slimmed-down squad shorn of internationals heavily lost a practice game with Campanian counterparts Benevento earlier this week.
That will matter little when Spalletti’s stride back out at the Maradona, where captain Lorenzo Insigne – just back from Italy duty – will aim to continue his goalscoring run versus the Old Lady. The diminutive forward has scored in each of his last three league matches against Juventus – his best such record against a single Serie A opponent.
Napoli Serie A form:
Napoli form (all competitions):
Juventus Serie A form:
Juventus form (all competitions):
We say: Napoli 1-1 Juventus
There are many other places Juventus would rather venture in pursuit of a belated first win of the season, and they may well be denied that first three-point haul again by an experienced Napoli side.
The hosts are sure to be fired up to stop the Bianconeri at all costs this weekend – and have looked the more cohesive prospect so far this term in any case – so will take at least one point from a hard-fought 90 minutes.