Key Battles That Will Shape Napoli's Clash with Juventus

Jack Alexandros Rathborn@@jackrathbornContributor IIIMarch 29, 2014

Key Battles That Will Shape Napoli's Clash with Juventus

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    Massimo Pinca

    Napoli host Juventus on Sunday in a game that does not have the significance that most neutral calcio fans would have liked.

    The Partenopei's title challenge has long since burned out, while Juve have relentlessly stormed to, in all probability, a third successive title.

    Rafael Benitez's side know there is still plenty riding on the game, however, even if the Azzurri go into the match seeking a win for entirely different reasons.

    Benitez is adamant that second in the table should be the goal now, with Roma holding a sizeable advantage to be the best of the rest.

    Despite the obvious fact that second is better than third, failure to usurp the Giallorossi will mean that Benitez's side will face a Champions League qualifier at the very beginning of next season, something that is never ideal when preparing the squad during pre-season.

    The Old Lady have different challenges left to fulfill this season, even if they continue to insist the title race is not over.

    Antonio Conte's side are set for a record points total in Serie A and they will see Napoli as a stepping stone to this.

    There is also the small matter of both sides gaining a psychological edge for the start of next season, with Napoli surely looking to hold together a more sustained title challenge.

Stopping Carlitos

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    Massimo Pinca

    This will ultimately be the most pivotal battle on the field in this game.

    Carlos Tevez is the most in-form player in Serie A, and if Napoli are to stand any chance, they will need to find a way of halting the Argentinian.

    Federico Fernandez and Raul Albiol will need to approach this job carefully, knowing that Dani Osvaldo or Fernando Llorente will also be lurking to take advantage of inattention, should Benitez insist on double-teaming former City star Tevez.

    This could mean Valon Behrami may need to position himself a little deeper than usual, perhaps even filling around the back of Napoli's last line of defence, in the event that Tevez is able to avert the offside trap.

    It will be a great challenge for Napoli, considering this season has seen them transition from a back three to a back four, with Juve's front two likely to prove the sternest test yet at the San Paolo.


Napoli's Wide Players Stealing a March on Juve's Full-Backs

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    Tano Pecoraro

    Napoli's best bet to cause Juve problems could be to set their wide players free in behind Juve's full-backs as soon as they win possession.

    Jose Maria Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne, in for the injured Dries Mertens, will need to be alert when Napoli are able to dispossess the Old Lady.

    Upon this moment, we can expect Behrami and Gokhan Inler or Jorginho to use their excellent distribution to stretch the game and speed up the home side's transition from defence to attack.

    Kwadwo Asamoah is in a rich vein of form, but he is at his most impressive when pressing high up the pitch and joining in with Juve's attacks.

    The Ghanaian must be disciplined, in the same way that Stephan Lichtsteiner has proven to be over a long period, when picking his moments to offer Juve a wide threat in the final third and when to be more restrained.

    Insigne has been one of Napoli's best performers this season, but the Italian winger has been far too inconsistent and conceded his place to Mertens. With Mertens out with injury, this becomes an even greater opportunity for Insigne.

    On the opposite flank, if left-back Faouzi Ghoulam can force his opponent Lichtsteiner to drop deeper, Napoli will be able to force two-against-one situations. Algerian Ghoulam, back from suspension, is always willing to dovetail the right-winger in front of him.


Hamsik Can Disrupt Pirlo's Ability to Control the Match

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    Francesco speranza

    Marek Hamsik has struggled for form in recent weeks, but this game he may need to put aside his troubles in the final third when Napoli are in possession in order to help his team.

    The Slovakian could have an enormous impact on this game by positioning himself in the pocket of space between Juve's midfield and defence.

    Ideally Hamsik will disrupt Andrea Pirlo at every opportunity he can get, as he remains one of the more athletic players in the league, though the 26-year-old's usually impressive passing and shooting has eluded him in recent months.

    With a tremendous engine and determination when pressing, Hamsik could be key to preventing Pirlo from quieting the San Paolo crowd, which is what Juve will obviously seek to do in the early stages of the match.

    Gonzalo Higuain is often very intelligent when Napoli break up the opposition's spell in possession, usually darting between defenders and offering a channel of space for a teammate to pick him out.

    If Hamsik can force Pirlo to surrender possession enough times, similar to what Fiorentina did against Juve at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in the league, the Bianconeri can begin to look vulnerable defending against quick, direct opposition.