League leaders Juventus will host third-placed Napoli in a top of the table Serie A clash on Saturday. While the match could theoretically have title implications, the main subplot revolves around Juve striker Gonzalo Higuain facing his former club for the first time since completing a 90 million euro transfer last summer.
The Argentine, who broke the record for goals scored in a single season with 36 last season, has found the back of the net seven times in 10 appearances for the defending champions so far. Unlike last season, when they started the season on a losing streak, Juve have come out of the gate hot this season.
Apart from losses to AC Milan and Inter Milan, the Bianconeri have dropped no points this season and remain unbeaten at home.
Matches between these two have taken on a new dimension in recent seasons with hostilities having reached such a fever pitch that no away supporters will be admitted to Juventus Stadium on Saturday. Part of the hostility stems from a longstanding mutual suspicion between the North and the South of Italy.
But in recent seasons, Napoli, along with Roma, has been one of the few challengers to the Juventus hegemony over Italian football. Last season in particular, in light of Juve’s poor start, Napoli looked to be in the driver’s seat for the title at the winter break. But a subsequent dip in form and a resurgence from Juve saw the title remain in Turin.
The rivalry was made all the more contentious this summer when Juventus made a bold swoop for Higuain, triggering his release clause and making the former Real Madrid man the most famous player in the history of Serie A.
While Napoli have thus far failed to wrest the Scudetto from Juve and bring it back to the South, they did best them in the 2012 Coppa Italia Final. Napoli also beat Juve in Serie A last season and remains one of the few teams in Italy with the firepower to challenge the Old Lady on the pitch and in the title race.
Napoli have been on a good run of form coming into this match, having won their last two Serie A outings and overcome a three-game losing streak earlier this month.
Although complicating the situation for manager Maurizio Sarri is the injury to Arkadiusz Milik. The Poland striker was signed in the summer to fill the void left by Higuain. Unfortunately, after a strong start to the season in which he’s scored four goals in Serie A and a further three in the Champions League, the former Ajax man suffered an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament that will see him out for at least six months.
Without Milik, the goal-scoring impetus will fall on the likes of Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne. Belgian midfielder Dries Mertens has also contributed in the goals department and the skilled playmaker could make an impact in this match.
Juventus, to put it simply, have the best squad in Italy and probably one of the best in Europe. Manager Max Allegri’s side bounced back from last week’s loss to Milan with a midweek trouncing of Sampdoria that saw the return of Claudio Marchisio, who had himself been sidelined for six months with an ACL tear.
Despite maintaining their position atop the standings, there’s still a sense that Juventus are more vulnerable this season than in recent years. Roma are just two points behind in second, so even a draw could see Juve’s perch at the top threatened.
But playing at home against a team with no support in the stadium, Juve must be considered favorites to take all three points and maintain their position at the summit of Italian football, for now anyway.
Watch Juventus vs. Napoli this Saturday October 29 at 9:35 p.m. EST on BeINSports.