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Verdict: away win
Best Odds: 1
Napoli host Juventus on Saturday at Diego Armando Maradona’s recently renamed stadium as the two teams face off in a battle for important points. The match officially belongs to round 22 of the 2020-21 Serie A season, but will actually be the 21st match of the campaign for both teams.
The meeting between them earlier this season was postponed under highly controversial circumstances, but this will be their second clash in just a few weeks after Juventus triumphed over Napoli in the Italian Super Cup on January 20.
Having come very close to properly challenging Juventus for the title a few years ago, Napoli is now seeing the two Milan teams take that role away from them. Apart from Juventus, the two teams from the capital are also ahead. Napoli are now in sixth place with 37 points, 12 less than AC Milan in the top, 10 less than Inter Milan in second place, five less than Juventus in third and three less than AS Roma. and Lazio in the fourth and fifth, respectively.
The way Gennaro Gattuso’s team is at the moment is very difficult to describe. They won three (1-2 away from Udinese, 6-0 at home to Fiorentina and 2-0 at home to Parma) and lost three (1-2 at home to Spezia, 3-1 to Verona and, most recently 2-1 outside Genoa) in their last six league games. However, their last game in the overall standings was a 3-1 return loss to Atalanta, which saw them emerge from the Coppa Italia in the semi-finals.
Napoli won Group F of the Europa League, finishing above Real Sociedad, AZ Alkmaar and Rijeka. Granada will be measured in the round of 32 next week.
The biggest problem Gattuso faces for this game is the absence of his favorite central partner. Kalidou Koulibaly tested positive for Covid-19, while Kostas Manolas suffered an ankle problem that will keep him out until the end of this month. Amir Rrahmani and Nikola Maskimovic are ready to start in their place again, despite some questionable performances recently.
Other than that, fullback Elseid Hysaj was injured a few days ago and is expected to miss, and the same goes for midfielder Diego Demme. Both players will be subject to late physical fitness tests from now until kickoff. Midfielder Fabián Ruiz has returned from his quarantine, but it remains to be seen if he will be fit to start.
At one point earlier this season it seemed that the title race could gradually drift out of reach of the Old Lady after practically a decade of her dominance in Italian soccer. However, Juventus have gone back to doing what proven champions tend to do when things don’t go exactly the way they want: they’ve managed to hang on, stay in sight of the top spot, and it would be crazy to rule them out in that regard.
They are seven points behind Milan, who currently lead the group, but with one game less than the Rossoneri. It means that the gap could narrow quickly and they will look to take advantage of any mistake by either Milan team. There is still a long way to go.
The recent form of Andrea Pirlo’s team goes a long way towards proving that point. They have won five of their last six league games: 4-1 at home to Udinese, 1-3 away to Milan, 3-1 at home to Sassuolo, 2-0 at home to Bologna, 0-2 away to Sampdoria and 2-0 at home to Roma. The only game they lost was a 2-0 loss to Inter in Milan, but they took revenge on the Nerazzurri by knocking them out of the Coppa in the semifinals by beating them 1-2 in Milan and drawing 0-0. in the second leg in Turin.
Juventus had a difficult job in the group stage of the Champions League, but managed to finish ahead of Barcelona, Dynamo Kyiv and Ferencvaros, and will face FC Porto in the round of 16, with the first match played in Portugal four days after this one.
With Pirlo having the option of high-quality players like Giorgio Chiellini, Matthijs de Ligt and Merih Demiral for the center-back spots, he’s not likely to rush Leonardo Bonucci back into action as he recently recovered from injury and returned to training. Former Barcelona midfielder Arthur Melo is out with a leg injury.
Wojciech Szczesny is expected to take the spot between the posts ahead of veteran Gianluigi Buffon, and Alvaro Morata will likely return to the lineup ahead of Dejan Kulusevski to join Cristiano Ronaldo early on.
This is a typical game in which you would expect Juventus to win and continue to put pressure on the Milan teams ahead as they seek to reverse their respective advantages. Juventus is the best team and a team in great shape.
Verdict: away win
Best Odds: 1