Preview: Napoli vs. Juventus

The standout game of the weekend in Serie A comes early, as Napoli welcome Juventus to the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Friday.

The two sides currently occupy the top two positions in the Serie A table entering the weekend’s action.

Match preview

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia celebrates scoring for Napoli on October 12, 2022

Napoli, who remain top of the standings, returned to winning ways by beating Sampdoria comfortably last weekend.

It was the sort of dominant performance they needed after a sub-par display at San Siro against Inter Milan in their first match after the World Cup break.

Inter restricted the Partenopei to very little in a 1-0 defeat that seemingly blew the title race back open again.

However, after a weekend of very favourable results which saw AC Milan, Inter and Lazio all concede stoppage time equalisers, Napoli have extended their lead at the top to seven points.

This Napoli side are the perfect embodiment of the modern Serie A, as they are arguably the most free-flowing side in Europe’s top five leagues.

No players in the division have as many goal involvements as their dangerous duo of Victor Osimhen (12) and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (11).

Their record of scoring 59 goals in 23 matches this season illustrates why they are so far clear at the top and why they progressed through their Champions League group without much fuss.

This will be a fascinating test of Napoli’s title credentials though, as they failed at Inter just over a week ago and now have Juventus and Roma to come at home in the next fortnight.

The seven-point gap looks healthy, but Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli faltered with Juve in strong pursuit both in 2015-16 and 2017-18, so current boss Luciano Spalletti’s biggest test is still to come.

Juve certainly are charging, after such a woeful start which saw their home support turn their backs on the side, they now find themselves second.

Juventus' Danilo celebrates scoring their first goal with Nicolo Fagioli on January 7, 2023

A remarkable run of eight consecutive wins without conceding a single goal has seen them surge up the standings.

This is the first time they have won eight on the spin since 2018, back when Massimiliano Allegri was last in charge, on their way to winning an eighth straight Scudetto.

They left it late to beat Udinese, but a piece of brilliance from the returning Federico Chiesa set up Danilo for another 1-0 win.

The Juve faithful will be delighted to welcome back arguably the best player in the division in the form of Chiesa as they look to progress further on an unlikely title challenge which is now well on the cards.

That win over Udinese was not the first time they have left it late since returning to action in the last week either.

Their first game back saw them see off Cremonese by a solitary goal to nil once again, with an injury time free kick from Arkadiusz Milik required to win all three points.

Only Cagliari in 1966-67 have kept more clean sheets at this stage of any Serie A season than Juventus have in this campaign, as Allegri’s side have kept 12 clean sheets after just 17 games.

In the last 15 Serie A seasons, only on one occasion has the side with the best defensive record not won the Scudetto, and Juventus have let in only seven goals all season, six fewer than the next best, league-leaders and upcoming opponents Napoli.

The front page of Gazzetta at the weekend went with the headline ‘La Juve Fa Paura’ – ‘Juve is scary’.

The belief in Italy is that the Old Lady are showing signs of returning to their old selves, winning ugly and being excellent defensively, the qualities they showed before the mess of the past two seasons and despite all the chaos going on at board level within the club.

Team News

Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti reacts on January 8, 2023

There are no new injury concerns for Spalletti to worry about, so the only changes to his Napoli side could all be tactical.

Elif Elmas took the place of Piotr Zielinski in midfield for the trip to Samp and clinched the win with a penalty in a good performance, so the Macedonian may keep his place.

Mathias Olivera will battle with Mario Rui for the starting spot at left-back, while Kosovan Amir Rrahmani could come back in to replace Juan Jesus in the centre of defence.

On the other hand, there is an eye-watering list of injury absentees for Allegri and Juventus to deal with once again here.

Dusan Vlahovic (groin), Paul Pogba (knee), Leonardo Bonucci (tendon) and Juan Cuadrado (knee) are all out, while Mattia De Sciglio and Bremer are doubtful.

Natural full-backs Danilo and Alex Sandro were used as makeshift centre-backs against Udinese with Bremer and Bonucci absent and Federico Gatti left on the bench.

They were able to welcome Angel Di Maria back into the fold, though, after his World Cup exploits with Argentina, while Italy’s absence from the tournament allowed Chiesa more time to settle back in after his awful knee injury.

This could be the fixture where one of Italy’s Euro 2020 heroes makes a long-awaited first start since he suffered that ACL tear a year ago.

Napoli possible starting lineup:
Meret; Di Lorenzo, Kim Min-jae, Rrahmani, Olivera; Zambo Anguissa, Lobotka, Zielinski; Politano, Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia

Juventus possible starting lineup:
Szczesny; Danilo, Rugani, Gatti; McKennie, Rabiot, Locatelli, Miretti, Kostic; Di Maria, Milik

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