Can Resurgent Juventus Close the Gap On Leaders Napoli?
We are only a week back into the resumption of action in Italy’s Serie A and already there has been plenty of surprises as the battle at the top continues with leaders Napoli hosting second-place Juventus.
A surprise on the return of the Serie A saw pace setters Napoli’s 14-game unbeaten run come to a premature end at the hands of Simone Inzaghi’s Inter Milan last Wednesday.
The result reignited Inter’s own challenge to reclaim the crown lost to city rivals AC Milan last season, moving I Nerazzurri into fourth place.
I Rossoneri, who were leading the chasing pack, took advantage of Napoli’s defeat to close the gap with a nervy 2-1 victory in Salernitana, but could not back the result as late defensive frailties saw Stefano Pioli’s side throw away a two-goal lead at the San Siro against Roma last time out.
A fate not too dissimilar happened to Inter who themselves crumbled three minutes into stoppage time to also share the spoils in a 2-2 scoreline but at the hands of minnows Monza.
The one consistent since the restart has been the form of Juventus. Under the tactical nuance of Massimiliano Allegri, the Old Lady has been quietly moving up the Serie A standings after a slow start in which Allegri’s side mustered up a substandard 10 points from their first seven matches.
Since then, things have started to fall into place for the Bianconeri, building from the back increasingly looking impenetrable.
Despite looking short at times and lacking a cutting edge in offence, scoring significantly less than their title challengers of Rome, Milan and Naples at the mid-point of the season, Juventus’ frugal defensive unit has provided the solid base to propel Allegri’s side into a position to spoil Napoli’s fairy tale start.
Seven goals conceded all season and eight clean sheets in a row is some feat but not a major surprise given the genius tactical know-how of a manager who has five Scudetti’s to his name.
Allegri, the mastermind of four of Juventus’ nine titles in a row in the record-breaking 2010s period, is now in his second spell at the club having initially left his role in 2019.
An ill-fated spell followed his tenure with former player and Italian icon Andrea Pirlo. Following Allegri’s and Juventus’ success, it was always going to be a daunting challenge and it did not work out for both parties for various reasons with the club scrambling to claim the last Champions League qualification spot.
In this period, a lot of change happened on and off the pitch as the enigmatic Cristiano Ronaldo departed the club.
An unprecedented fourth place in the table was unacceptable for the Bianconeri who are used to a generation of serial domination as Italy’s top club.
Allegri’s return followed but bore initial similarities to the results of his first season in the last campaign, finishing behind this season’s leaders Napoli and the Milan duo of AC and Inter.
Unlike his predecessor though, time is on the Italian’s side, given to rebuild and replicate past glories led on the pitch by club icon Giorgio Chiellini. This season’s team is by no means the perfect article but is showing signs of developing a new generation of stars.
In defender Bremer, the Juventus backline is marshalled with one of the world’s best young defenders. Last season’s Serie A Defender of the Year with Juventus’ bitter city rivals Torino has been a revelation to the Old Lady’s change of fortunes.
Whilst up front, Allegri’s capture of young Serbian powerhouse Dušan Vlahović, the second youngest player to score 50 goals in Serie A history for Fiorentina, has the potential to help take the club back to the top.
Friday’s match will present a meeting with a familiar foe to Allegri. Let’s not forget his side denied the Partenopei the title twice in their double-winning campaigns of 2016 and 2018.
The match will be contested with intrigue for the neutral, smoldering and simmering as the latest story awaits telling.
The league’s best offense in Napoli with the division’s top scorer Nigerian Victor Osimhen go head-to-head with the watertight backline of Juventus in a battle offering the most poignant resolve of both sides’ title credentials.
Something must give but will it be Napoli’s run of nine consecutive victories at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium or Juventus’ unbreeched defensive run that gets broken?
Omens will be on the home side to alley their rival’s pursuit. Having won the last three league meetings in Naples, a positive result will be crucial to the ambition of Luciano Spalletti’s young side.
A first home defeat of the season, however, will reduce Napoli’s lead to four points, an unthinkable thought considering the dominance shown by the Partenopei in the first half of the campaign.
Equally, the away side will also want to avoid damaging their own momentum carried on since the resumption of the league, leaning towards a cagey battle.
Top scorer Vlahović’s continued absence for the next month may well force Allegri’s tactical hand to look to stifle the leaders, a tactic that has seen his side fruitful but also arguably fortuitous in gaining a breakthrough in the Serbian’s absence.
Danilo’s late winner against Udinese was enough to take the three points on Saturday, however, it is a worrying trend that has seen the Old Lady leave it late to score in the last third of games all too often with none of their last four games producing a goal for Allegri’s side before the hour mark.
One thing that is certain is Friday’s result will not win the title but will firmly place the victors in the limelight as the team to beat.