Napoli (+118) vs Juventus (+290), Draw (+264)
The two favorites to win the 2017-18 Serie A title meet this Friday (December 1st) when league leaders Napoli host six-time defending champs Juventus in one of the biggest games of the season. A win for Juve would place them within a single point of Napoli, while a loss would be a heavy blow to their title chances.
The 33-time Italian champions have been uncharacteristically sloppy this season while Napoli have been in spectacular form. In a bizarre role reversal, Juve head to Stadio San Paolo as the heavy underdog.
Recent Record and Form
Napoli (12-2-0, 38 points) remain unbeaten after 14 Serie A fixtures and currently lead the league by two points. The team hot on their heels is not Juventus, though; it’s Inter Milan. The Italian top flight has become the most competitive league of Europe’s “Big 4” and Napoli are a fitting posterboy for the exciting, revitalized league.
They’re at risk of being knocked out of the Champions League after losing twice to Man City and once to Shakhtar Donetsk, but domestically they’ve been impeccable. Manager Maurizio Sarri has openly admitted that the Champions League is a secondary concern for him, and ending Juve’s six-season streak is his main priority. They’ve already beaten title contenders Roma, AC Milan, and Lazio, but their biggest test will be against I Bianconeri.
Juventus (11-1-2, 34 points) haven’t been meeting their own lofty standards this season. One draw and two losses over 14 games is by no means a disaster, but with Serie A suddenly competitive again, they’ll have to do better in order to claim their seventh consecutive title. They recently lost 3-2 to Sampdoria, which allowed Napoli and Inter to surge ahead in the standings. Earlier in the season, they fell 2-1 to Lazio.
The Gutted Juventus Defense
There are quite a few factors contributing to Juve’s slump. The most glaring issue has been their lackluster defense. After losing Leonardo Bonucci and Dani Alves over the summer, their backline has been a little dysfunctional. Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini formed one of the greatest defensive partnerships in modern football and held the Juve backline in place for over half a decade. Chiellini now plays alongside Daniele Rugani, a promising 23-year-old Italian centre back. They’re both extremely talented defenders, but it will take time for the duo to click.
To make matters worse, Chiellini is nursing a thigh injury and may miss Friday’s clash. He missed last week’s Champions League match against Barcelona and did not feature in their 3-0 win against Crotone last weekend, either. If he’s sidelined for the Napoli match, it will be a huge blow to the already leaky Juve defense.
The Napoli System
Napoli does not have the financial backing that the mega-clubs enjoy, and that’s made abundantly clear when you glance at their roster. There aren’t any household names or €100-million superstars, but that’s not to say that Napoli have a bad squad. Far from it.
Raúl Albiol and Kalidou Koulibaly are two of the best defenders in the league; both are tough to get around and are capable of starting attacks from the back. Allan, Jorginho, and Marek Hamsik are all well-rounded midfielders, able to push forward as well as pull back. Up front, Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, and José Callejón have flourished under the wing of Maurizio Sarri.
Sarri has crafted a system that is tailor-made for the Napoli squad. They play an exciting, compact style of football that relies on a tight formation and short passes. They’re confident enough to play out from the back, drawing the opposition deep within their half and then pushing forward.
Pick: Juventus (+290)
Juventus are certainly not at their best at the moment, but they’re showing hints of regaining their form. They held Barcelona to a 0-0 draw last Wednesday and followed that with a morale-boosting 3-0 win against Crotone on Sunday.
Things are not as bad as they’re made out to be for I Bianconeri, and they still boast a world-class lineup. They deserve to be the underdogs against Napoli at San Paolo, but there’s a lot of value in picking them at +290.