After their first league meeting of the season was postponed in controversial circumstances, the old rivals now clash for the second time in a matter of weeks, following Juve’s Supercoppa Italiana triumph last month.
Mirroring the ascendant form of talismanic top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus have certainly clicked into top gear in 2021, as they seek to defend the Scudetto and post a tenth consecutive title success.
Defeat to Inter last month has proved to be the only loss they have suffered since the turn of the year, during a fixture-packed run featuring league, cup and Supercoppa success – a streak that has elevated them to third in the Serie A standings, just five points behind second-placed Inter, with a game still in hand.
In January, Juventus managed to turn over Milan, Napoli and Inter – among several others – also keeping clean sheets in all five league matches since losing at San Siro. Their latest victims in the top flight were close contenders Roma, who they leapfrogged in the league table last weekend, as a result of a comfortable 2-0 victory in Turin – the highlight of which was Ronaldo’s imperious left-footed opening strike.
Swiftly followed by a successful midweek conclusion to their Derby d’Italia semi-final tie in the Coppa Italia – where a goalless draw saw them progress to meet Atalanta in May’s final – the immediate future for Andrea Pirlo’s side looks bright.
While Ronaldo continues to top the goalscoring rankings and others such as Federico Chiesa, Alvaro Morata and Weston McKennie chip in supporting contributions, the Bianconeri have rarely been concerned about where their next goal will come from. They have, though, significantly tightened their defence too, with a run of six shut-outs in their seven most recent games paying testament to that improvement.
Not in peak form, but still posing a potent threat to any backline, Napoli’s attack will be the latest to tackle the challenge of breaking through an increasingly resilient rearguard.
Pressure continues to mount on coach Gennaro Gattuso ahead of the Old Lady’s arrival in Campania, as Napoli struggled badly in the first half of their cup semi-final defeat to Atalanta on Wednesday. Despite a return to the starting XI for major summer signing Victor Osimhen – whose misfortune and misadventures have plagued his debut Calcio campaign – the Partenopei were unable to recover from going two goals down within 16 minutes.
That anti-climactic end to their Coppa Italia defence came just days after a dispiriting loss at Genoa in the league, a result which leaves Gattuso’s team adrift of the top four and totally out of the Scudetto race.
The continuing battle between manager Gattuso and club president Aurelio De Laurentiis surely only has one ‘winner’ now, after Napoli’s temperamental custodian was reportedly furious following their latest pair of defeats.
Upcoming games against Atalanta and then Granada in the Europa League – following this crunch clash with Juventus – are apparently set to be decisive for the future of the tempestuous coach, as candidates such as Rafa Benitez and Max Allegri wait in the wings.
With defensive options limited by injuries to key players this week, Napoli have a considerable task in keeping out their visitors’ revered attacking talents and will again lean heavily on Hirving Lozano and Lorenzo Insigne to weigh in with goals at the other end.
While fellow forwards such as Osimhen, Andrea Petagna and the injury-stricken Dries Mertens have proved unreliable this term, the diminutive duo are the team’s joint top scorers with nine goals apiece and will be integral to Gattuso’s hopes of saving the Azzurri’s season – and his job.