How Juventus Will Line Up Against Napoli

Anthony LopopoloFeatured ColumnistMarch 29, 2014

Before May, Juventus could win the Scudetto. They are trying for 100 points, a total no team in Serie A history has claimed. That they are unbeaten in 22 games is a good sign.

Leonardo Bonucci told Corriere dello Sport (h/t Sky Sports) that the game this weekend at Napoli is their “hardest match before the end of the season.” The Europa League could hold a few more tough fixtures for them—Juventus play Lyon this week—but the remaining eight games for Juventus in Serie A do not pose much of a challenge, Livorno, Bologna and Sassuolo among the easy prey.

81 - Juventus have picked up 81 points, more than any other side after 30 match-days in the Serie A history. Signora.

— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) March 28, 2014

The atmosphere at the San Paolo is not kind to any visitor, but Juventus in particular have not won a match there since 2001, per Football Italia.

And Napoli have the desire to beat Juventus. Lorenzo Insigne just wants to score (h/t Football Italia). He has started the past three games, and it is always tough for Benitez to choose between Insigne and Dries Mertens, who is also available for the game.

Gonzalo Higuain must have the same itch. He has lost all three games that he has played against Juventus, without scoring at all. But Jose Callejon and Marek Hamsik add several dimensions to an attack only second to Juventus in scoring in Serie A.

Juventus won’t have Tevez or Andrea Barzagli—Tevez will serve a suspension after collecting his fourth yellow card during the week—but they will have Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal in midfield. Paul Pogba has not enjoyed the most consistent of seasons, despite all the chatter about his future, and he has fallen off a little. He needs a big game.

Pirlo has won points on his own, and while he commands the craft of the free-kick like no other player, Juventus need more of a threat out front. Even with Tevez, Juventus have not played as the standings suggest as of late.

They hold a 20-point advantage over Napoli, but the Bianconeri have let up. They keep winning, and maybe that’s all that matters, but they have managed just seven goals in their past six games in all competitions.

Pablo Osvaldo should get the chance to get his first goal in Serie A with Juventus, and Fernando Llorente will most likely play beside him. It’s a decent partnership, Osvaldo being the kind of player to drift out of the middle and out wide, Llorente assuming a stronger presence in the box.

The one thing they do best is defending. Juventus may give up shots, and Gianluigi Buffon may have to make a big save, but they limit the number of shots actually on goal.

Journalist Gianluca DiMarzio reported on Friday that Juve had a meeting with Martin Caceres to discuss a contract extension, and it is no surprise: The Uruguayan has played more games lately as a replacement in the starting lineup for the injured Barzagli.

Caceres is a pretty clean defender with a great aerial presence, and he plays well with Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini. Maybe Caceres needs those anchors do perform with confidence. When he plays with Angelo Ogbonna, it’s not so tidy.

But the depth of Juventus and their ability to edge out those close games is the overwhelming characteristic that separates them from the rest. Benitez told reporters, per Football Italia, that Juventus simply have the money to win. The statement is not really fact.

Benitez: “… when you have more money, it’s easier to win.” Napoli gross spend 100.7m euro. net -29.5m. Juventus gross 31.8m, net +5.9m.

— James Horncastle (@JamesHorncastle) March 29, 2014

So the match on Sunday is not necessarily about the standings. The feelings of resentment are there. Napoli still stand six points behind Roma in second place, and they may want that spot to qualify directly to the Champions League proper. But there is no race between Juventus and Napoli.

Probable formation: Buffon; Caceres, Bonucci, Chiellini; Asamoah, Pirlo, Vidal, Pogba, Isla; Llorente, Osvaldo

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