First place Juventus host second place Napoli at the Juventus Arena on Saturday (5pm BST) in what promises to be an intriguing top of the table encounter.
The only two undefeated clubs in Serie A are level on 19 points at the league’s summit, each having recorded six wins and one draw from their seven fixtures to date.
They have the best two defensive and scoring records in the league – although Roma tie Napoli on 14 goals scored, three behind Juventus on 17 – and have clearly been the class of the field thus far.
Juventus, of course, have an undefeated record that goes back much further than the start of this season. The Vecchia Signora were last season’s league champions, going the entire 38 match campaign without defeat.
Fiorentina gave them a scare in the fifth round of this season’s fixtures, but Juventus have otherwise been imperious, winning by less than two goals on only one occasion. They brushed aside Roma 4-1 in their last home fixture, going 3-0 up within 20 minutes and never looking likely to relinquish their lead thereafter. In the second week of the season they hammered last season’s third place finishers Udinese 4-1.
The draw with Fiorentina came with Claudio Marchisio and Mirko Vucinic rested from the start after a hectic schedule of matches, robbing Juventus of two players important to the effective operation of their system. Of more concern to coach Antonio Conte will have been the 1-1 Champions League draw at home to Shakhtar Donetsk at the start of October.
Juventus, who on average obtain a share of possession higher than 60% per match, were reduced to just 43% by a hard-working, determined and technically gifted Shakhtar side who could easily have walked away with the victory had their finishing been a little more clinical. With possession no longer acting as a shield the Juventus defence looked far weaker than it has in domestic action this season.
The possession game is not, however, the one favoured by the team travelling to Turin on Saturday. Napoli are most readily categorised as a counter-attacking team and although their approach has undergone subtle alterations in the wake of Ezequiel Lavezzi’s move to Paris Saint-Germain that is still a fair description.
Although he was never a prolific goalscorer, Lavezzi’s searing pace and willingness to take on defenders was often the catalyst for the swift counter-attacks that at times, especially during their third place finish in 2010/11, made Napoli one of the most visceral, thrilling teams in world football.
In his absence, the more sober talents of Goran Pandev have been afforded a regular starting berth. A neat, clever support striker, Pandev links very well with Napoli’s primary goalscorer Edinson Cavani, but is also aware of his defensive responsibilities, content to drop back and help out. “For my type of football, Pandev is the ideal player,” Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri enthused earlier this season.
Pandev’s introduction has facilitated a small change in formation, the 3-4-3 becoming a 3-5-1-1, with Marek Hamsik, previously one of the ‘Three Tenors’ of Napoli’s attack, dropping into a slightly deeper role as part of the midfield five. With Hamsik deeper and Pandev more willing to track back than Lavezzi had been, there is a lot more protection for the Napoli defence.
Napoli conceded 46 goals in 38 matches last season, at a rate of 1.21 per match. This season that has improved dramatically to just 0.42 goals per match, Napoli having conceded a league best three in their seven matches to date. They ceded a high number of shots on goal in the early rounds of the season, but that has also been improved upon in recent matches.
Juventus are likely to be without Sebastian Giovinco and have slight concerns over the fitness of Vucinic (fever) and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon (muscle strain), with Fabio Quagliarella and Marco Storari standing by to deputise. Napoli look to have no such worries and are likely to be a full strength for Saturday’s match.
Juventus vs Napoli Betting Tips Verdict
This is likely to be a well-contested match between two teams in excellent form. Juventus were comfortable 3-0 winners in the equivalent fixture last season, but Napoli are working better as a unit this season and are capable of putting up a much better fight this time around.