Juventus vs. Napoli predicted lineups and preview

juventus-napoli

Although Juventus, crowned Italian champions for the last five seasons in succession, being perched atop the Serie A table is no great surprise, there’s a sense early this season that a more fascinating title race could be on the cards.

It’s one that Napoli, in fourth place and four points behind the league leaders, will want to be involved in; they can make a statement of intent when visiting the Juventus Stadium on Saturday evening. Especially against their former forward Gonzalo Higuain, who left the Partenopei for Juve in the summer for a whopping £75 million.

Both sides have accrued some crucial momentum coming into this game too. After their loss to AC Milan last weekend, Juventus looked a lot more like their usual selves in midweek, coasting to a 4-1 win over Sampdoria. Meanwhile, Napoli were comfortable in a 2-0 win over Empoli.

This game will be a much more significant examination of the credentials of both sides, though, with neither flourishing in the traditional big matches recently. So far this term Juventus have lost to both Milan sides in Serie A, while Napoli were humbled 3-1 by AS Roma recently. This game offers the chance of a springboard for each.

Juventus are a pretty formidable outfit at the J Stadium, though, with their last loss in Serie A on home soil coming on the opening day of last term against Udinese. They’ve won a staggering 21 games in succession in the league on their own patch coming into this one too.

Still, Napoli are a side that will play with ambition and invention under the guidance of their manager Maurizio Sarri. That’s why this fixture is the standout one across European football’s elite leagues this weekend.

Date: Saturday, October 29, 2016
Time: 2:45 p.m. (ET)
US TV: Not available
US Streaming: beIN SPORTS Connect and fuboTV (free trial)

Juventus

While they may be top of the league by a couple of points from AS Roma, so far this season those tied to Juventus have been waiting for this side to click into gear based on their own high standards. There were some signs they’re finding a groove in midweek against Sampdoria.

The Bianconeri flew out of the traps in the contest, with early goals from Mario Mandzukic and Giorgio Chiellini giving them an early lead. And while Sampdoria did halve the deficit in the second period, Juventus were in cruise control for this one, scoring twice more to secure a 4-1 win, with Miralem Pjanic and Chiellini again on the scoresheet.

It was a win forged in the middle of the park, as manager Massimiliano Allegri was able to field his first choice midfield three for the first time this term, with Claudio Marchisio returning from injury to join Sami Khedira and Pjanic at the hub of the side.

That’s a trio the Juventus fans have been looking forward to seeing since Pjanic joined the club in the summer, and the initial signs were positive against Sampdoria. Indeed, the blend of power, purpose, guile and technique that threesome offers will rival any midfield setup in Europe.

Another linkup the Bianconeri fans were looking forward to seeing flourish was the forward duo of Higuain and Paulo Dybala. But given the injury to the latter, Mario Mandzukic is set for a run in the side; he looked determined to take his chance against Sampdoria, turning in an excellent display.

As aforementioned, the J Stadium has been a venue of remarkable prosperity for Allegri’s Juve side. It makes them massive favorites for victory here and even with Dybala sidelined, the manager has so many different quality options to consider ahead of the visit of the Naples club.

Napoli

The big concern for Napoli as they face up to this daunting challenge is a dearth of options to lead the line against what is a formidable defensive structure. Even more frustrating for them will be seeing their former goal-getter in opposition colors.

After all, the Partenopei’s big money summer acquisition, Arkadiusz Milik, is a long-term absentee due to a cruciate injury, while Manolo Gabbiadini is poised to miss the next two matches after he was sent off against Crotone last weekend. Sarri has had to get creative as a result.

In the win over Empoli, the manager utilized a fluid front three of Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne, with the former the man operating at the centre of the trio. On the night, Mertens performed admirably, although the masses of defensive quality Juventus possess will make for a much more testing outing in Turin.

The rest of Sarri’s side will be intriguing to see to. At the back, the match will likely come to soon for the stricken Raul Albiol, meaning Kalidou Koulibaly and Vlad Chiriches will continue to link up in defence. Meanwhile, in midfield, talisman Marek Hamsik started the previous game on the bench, but expect him to be drafted back in for this huge occasion.

Napoli will be aware of the threat posed by the home side and they’ll know plenty about Higuain. The striker enjoyed a remarkable term at the San Paolo in 2015-16, scoring a record-breaking 36 goals and firing the team to the UEFA Champions League. It’d be particularly painful for the visitors if he was to find the net.

Even so, Napoli will need to detach themselves from this pre-match narrative and consider the momentous challenge they have on their hands here. If they were able to put an end to Juve’s immaculate recent home record, it could be the catalyst for a title charge of real clout.

Predicted Lineups:

juventus-napoli

Key Battle: Gonzalo Higuain and Mario Manzukic vs. Kalidou Koulibaly and Vlad Chiriches

While Mandzukic may not possess the same dynamism and flair as Dybala, as a third choice centre-forward he’s a tremendous option and a striker who can offer a fine foil to Higuain.

Indeed, Mandzukic is physical, hard-working and a powerhouse in the air. His presence is so unsettling to opposition defences and for an instinctive striker like Higuain, that’ll facilitate spaces to burst into in dangerous parts of the pitch. Additionally, both players have proven over many years that they each know where the back of the net is.

Koulibaly and Chiriches will be tasked with coping with this twin threat, and they’ve yet to totally convince as a pair. The former hasn’t been at his indomitable best following a summer of transfer speculation, while Chiriches has looked a little rusty in his outings so far, which isn’t surprising given his lack of regular football.

It’s a partnership that must thrive on Saturday for Napoli if they’re to emerge with anything from this game. Juventus will heap massive amounts of pressure on the back four and with two high class forwards at the point of their attack, the visitors’ centre-back duo will need to be unbendingly alert to nullify the constant threat posed.

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