Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli face a major test of their Serie A title ambitions when they take on champions Juventus Friday night in their San Paolo Stadium.
Juventus’ Serie A dominance, with six consecutive Scudetto trophies, has shown signs of weakness this season.
Two losses — Lazio ending the Turin giants’s two-year unbeaten home record last month, before slumping 3-2 at Sampdoria two weeks ago – have given their rivals hope of a change.
But Massimiliano Allegri’s side still have the most deadly attacking line this season, leading the way with 40 goals, five more than Napoli and 12 ahead of second-placed Inter Milan.
Argentine ace Gonzalo Higuain — the scorer of eight of those goals — however remains in doubt after undergoing surgery during the week on a broken finger.
“What is certain is that ‘Pipita’ (Higuain) is professional and he’s focused, so let’s see if he can play,” said German midfielder Sami Khedira.
“That would be great of course, but if he can’t then we have a number of other forwards who can come into the team and they’re super players too.”
– ‘Highs and lows’ –
Veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini warned that the problem lies in Juventus’ defence which has leaked 14 goals compared to just nine conceded by Napoli.
“Ninety percent of the time, the team that has the best defence wins the league, it is statistics and we want to return to having the most solid defence,” said Italian Chiellini.
“In the last few months we have paid by suffering some highs and lows and conceding goals. We need to find the balance that’s been missing at the start of the season.
“We are all aware of the importance of Friday’s match,” continued Chiellini.
“The league doesn’t end after Friday, but a defeat would be difficult to digest.
“We want to leave the San Paolo without conceding a single goal, that would be a very important sign of strength.”
Friday night’s action sees all three Italian Champions League sides — Napoli, Juventus and AS Roma — in action before key European games next week on which their progress to the knockout phase depends.
AS Roma host SPAL without captain Daniele De Rossi who will sit out the first of his two-match ban for slapping Genoa’s Gianluca Lapadula in the face during their 1-1 draw.
Roma are fourth, seven points behind Napoli with a game in hand, and have a chance to reduce the gap against SPAL, who occupy the first relegation spot with just ten points to show this season.
Inter Milan host Chievo on Sunday with troubled city rival’s AC Milan hoping coach Gennaro Gattuso will ease into his new job against tailenders Benevento.
“The match against Benevento has to be like a World Cup final,” warned former Milan midfielder Gattuso who replaced Vincenzo Montella this week with the seven-time European champions languishing in seventh, well below their Champions League ambitions.
Friday (all times GMT)
Roma v SPAL (1730)
Napoli v Juventus (1945)
Torino v Atalanta (1945)
Benevento v AC Milan (1130)
Bologna v Cagliari (1400)
Fiorentina v Sassuolo (1400)
Inter Milan v Chievo (1400)
Sampdoria v Lazio (1945)
Crotone v Udinese (1800)
Verona v Genoa (2000)