It’s only the second round of Serie A, but one of the biggest two matches of the season is upon us. Juventus are hosts to Napoli in this Saturday evening delight which is bound to satisfy even the most picky football lovers.
All pundits and betting enthusiasts agree that the title in Serie A will most likely be won by one of these teams and that’s why their match-up so early on in the season is a real treat for football enthusiasts.
Biggest Italian Modern Rivalry
Juventus have won the Italian top tier eight years in a row. That is a feat which no club in Europe’s top league’s has managed to achieve in recent years and is a testament to the Turin’s side strength. The strangest thing about this dominance is the fact that almost all of those eight consecutive league wins have been achieved with a dominant difference at the top.
In fact, the only club which pushed Juventus’ title bid all the way to the wire was then Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli two seasons ago. As fate would have it, Sarri is now in charge of the Old Lady and will have to fight off the challenge from the club which literally deified him.
Napoli came second to Juventus in three other seasons, in addition to that successful Sarri year, and the most recent of those was last season when Ancelotti comfortably guided them to the second spot. However, Carlo failed to make a decent title challenge and Allegri’s men literally ran away with the title.
Napoli’s owner, Aurelio De Laurentiis, saw that the gap between his team and Juventus was once again starting to get bigger after bridging it during Sarri’s reign, so he acted accordingly and brought reinforcements.
Napoli were one of the most active sides in the summer transfer window and made several really good signings. They managed to bring in 6-7 really good players who fit into Napoli’s and Ancelotti’s philosophy perfectly. They did that for around $120 million which is unprecedented in a highly inflated market such as the current one. De Laurentiis is truly a master of his trade.
The most notable and most recent of these signings is the one of Hirving Lozano from Dutch side PSV. The Mexican left winger is one of the most talented prospects in the world right now and at 24 is about to reach full football maturity. Getting him for less than $40 million is simply criminal on Napoli’s part.
The Mexican joins an illustrious list of additions which includes the rock solid former Roma defender Konstantinos Manolas, former Udinese keeper Alex Meret, and the future-star-to-be, the Macedonian midfielder Eljif Elmas.
These players are perfect additions to an already impressive squad and one has the impression that Napoli will put Juventus to the sword this season. They have the squad, have the manager, and have the desire to show Sarri why he made a mistake by joining Juventus.
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Napoli’s first match of the season in Florence was a sign of just how good this team will become once it gels together. The Neapolitans won the match 4-3, showing incredible attacking potency, but also left a lot of space for opposition attackers to operate in.
The victory showed that while this Napoli side is set for big things, it will still have to work on playing as one cohesive team, especially in defence. With players such as Manolas and Koulibaly in the centre of defence, that shouldn’t be a problem though, and in time the Napoli defence will get much better.
What’s more, first team full backs Ghoulam and Hysaj weren’t part of the starting eleven against Fiorentina. They came on from the bench in that match and should start on Saturday in Turin.
The back four of Hysaj, Manolas, Koulibaly, and Ghoulam will most likely be Ancelotti’s starting defensive unit for the season and a much better defensive performance is expected from Napoli in the matches in which they appear.
Controversy at the Start
There was one thing which overshadowed Napoli’s defensive issues though, and that was the controversial VAR penalty decision at the end of the first half. Dries Mertens broke through Fiorentina’s defence when he was apparently taken down by Fiorentina’s Gaetano Castrovilli.
Replays from the VAR room showed that the tackle was almost non-existent and that if it was a penalty, then it was an incredibly soft one. However, Davide Massa stood by his initial decision and awarded Napoli a penalty which Lorenzo Insigne turned into a goal.
Subsequent replays after the match showed that Mertens most likely dived for his penalty and that caused a lot of controversy on the Italian peninsula. There was even an official review of the situation by Serie A’s highest ruling bodies, but after all the proceedings were completed, Mertens was cleared to play against Juventus.
Italy’s Strongest Team
This controversy is unlikely to change the mood in the Napoli dressing room and they will definitely be happy to have won 3 points at one of the most difficult away trips. As intimidating as Artemio Franchi can be though, playing in Turin against Juventus is by far the most difficult task an Italian team faces during the season.
Maurizio Sarri’s side is a scary proposition for any visiting team and this year they might be stronger than ever. As their goalkeeper Szczesny said during this week, by buying De Ligt and Ronaldo, there are now no more players to eliminate the Old Lady from the Champions League. Jokes aside, this really is a complete Juventus team which bursts with quality.
On the subject of De Ligt, Juventus’ most prominent summer transfer piece of business is likely to make his first start against Napoli on Saturday. The Dutch midfielder fits perfectly into Sarri’s vision of how his team should play and will definitely start instead of either Khedira or Matuidi.
Comfortable Start of the Season
Unlike Napoli, Juventus had an easy away trip against Parma to kick things off this season. They won the match by the slimmest of margins, but those final 1-0 didn’t really reflect on how comfortably Juventus triumphed in their first match.
It would be fair to say that Ronaldo could have even scored a hat-trick if he had luck on his side, but at the end of the day it was only Giorgio Chiellini’s first half deflection which was the difference.
Sarri May Return in the Dugout
One of the things which worried Juventus fans ahead of that trip to Parma was the fact that their manager Maurizio Sarri was out with pneumonia. The free-smoking Italian admits to smoking around 60 cigarettes per day and that finally seems to have taken its toll.
Sarri sat out most of Juventus’ pre-season with the difficult illness sidelining him and is said to have followed training sessions in a separate room away from the squad and coaching staff.
This is not what Juventus’ board and fans signed up for when they appointed the ex-Chelsea and ex-Napoli manager as they wanted to start the season with a statement both from the players and from the manager.
The fact that Maurizio said that he would not give up smoking or even reduce those 60-a-day aggrieved fans even more. This is definitely not the best way to kick off a working relationship especially after joining from Juventus’ arch rival and after making ‘those’ hand gestures towards Old Lady’s fans a couple of years ago.
With all of that being said and done though, there is a big chance that Sarri will be in attendance at the stadium once Napoli come to town and he may even lead his team from the dugout. If that is the case, and he really makes an appearance on the bench, then that should make for an interesting encounter against his former employers.