Juventus and Napoli will face off in a mouthwatering tie that could set the stage for what both clubs could achieve in 2022.
2021 could not have ended on a more contrasting note for Juventus and Napoli, who look set to be major players in the race for a top-four finish in Serie A.
The Bianconeri have been less than convincing all season but have shown themselves capable of eking out results and look ready to assault the top four for a spot in next season’s UEFA Champions League. Napoli, meanwhile, started the season strong, but a poor run of results has seen them plummet down the ranks in December.
With just five points separating Napoli in third and Juventus in fifth, the game could act as a potential six-pointer when it comes to Champions League qualification. Massimiliano Allegri’s side could move to within two points of their opponents should they secure a victory on the nig
Both teams face contrasting forms going into the game. Juventus have won five of their last six games and have been steadily rising up the table. Napoli, meanwhile, have lost three of their last five and have been steadily dropping down the standings. Serie A leaders going into December, they are now fighting to remain in the top four.
The Partenopei ended 2021 with a shock home loss to Spezia. Now on the road, they will be keen to get back to winning ways. Given what is at stake, it promises to be an intriguing contest. The Hard Tackle looks at how both sides could line up on the night and what tactics they might employ.
Team News & Tactics
Massimiliano Allegri will go into the game sans the trio of Giorgio Chiellini, Arthur and Carlo Pinsoglio, who all tested positive for Covid. Leonardo Bonucci and Moise Kean also miss out, while Brazilian full-back Danilo is out injured.
It is not all bad news as the dynamic duo of Federico Chiesa and Paulo Dybala have both returned to training this week. Their return will undoubtedly hand Allegri a massive boost when organizing his attack. This season, a lack of imagination has been a constant issue for the Juventus frontline, and welcoming back two of their best attackers should help ease it.
Allegri appears likely to play a 4-3-3 system that has worked well in recent games. Wojciech Szczesny looks set to start in goal behind a back four of Juan Cuadrado, Matthijs de Ligt, Daniele Rugani and Alex Sandro.
Manuel Locatelli will provide a screen for the defence and help Juventus gain a foothold in midfield. Add to it his passing ability, and one can see how Juventus can link their attack with the defence. Adrien Rabiot and Weston McKennie are expected to occupy the remaining two slots in the middle of the park and provide the legs in the engine room.
Federico Bernanrdeschi will likely be taken out of the spotlight with the big guns back. The Italian looks set to return to a more comfortable left-wing spot this time around. Paulo Dybala appears set to return to the first XI, while Barcelona-linked Alvaro Morata is likely to lead the line. Chiesa will likely feature from the bench later in the game.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Szczesny; Cuadrado, de Ligt, Rugani, Sandro; McKennie, Locatelli, Rabiot; Dybala, Morata, Bernardeschi
Luciano Spaletti has big decisions to make as a combination of injuries, Covid-19 and the AFCON tournament have robbed Napoli of several of their biggest stars. The visitors will be without Hirving Lozano and Kevin Malcuit, who have tested positive for Covid. Star striker Victor Osimhen is still recovering from a fractured cheekbone, while Mario Rui is suspended for the night.
Lorenzo Insigne and Fabian Ruiz both missed the loss against Spezia, but the former has made the cut for the squad this time around. Kalidou Koulibaly and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa are both at the AFCON tournament and will focus on representing their nations for the next few weeks.
With their squad depth now limited, the Gli Azzurri might need to delve into the youth players at their disposal to make up the numbers. That will see them at a major handicap going into their first game of the year.
Napoli could be deployed in a 4-2-3-1 system that sees Davide Ospina start in goal. The back four will comprise Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Amir Rrahmani, Juan Jesus and Faouzi Ghoulam. Stanislav Lobotka and Diego Demme will headline the double-pivot.
Lorenzo Insigne, Piotr Zielinski and Matteo Politano will start in the attacking roles in support of the striker, Dries Mertens. Insigne, who has been a great servant to Napoli over the years, is in the final stretch of his career in blue. He is all set to join MLS side Toronto on a free transfer in the summer.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Jesus, Ghoulam; Demme, Lobotka; Politano, Zielinski, Insigne; Mertens
- Napoli have beaten Juventus in three of their last four meetings in Serie A. No other side has beaten the Bianconeri more times in the same period.
- Juventus have won nine of their ten games against Napoli at the Allianz Stadium. They have only defeated Fiorentina and AS Roma more time at home.
- Juventus have kept a clean sheet in six of their last eight matches.
- Napoli are undefeated in 12 of their last 13 away matches.
- Juventus have scored at least two goals in six of their last seven home matches against Napoli in all competitions.
Player to Watch
Federico Bernardeschi ended 2021 on a high. (Photo by Paolo Rattini/Getty Images)
The Italian endured an indifferent start to the season and originally failed to make much of an impact for Juventus. However, he has come into his elements in the last few games. With several players missing, the 27-year-old rose to the challenge and put in impressive performances against Bologna and Cagliari.
With one goal and two assists over those two games, the winger played an instrumental role in the Bianconeri ending their year on a high. Both Paulo Dybala and Federico Chiesa are back available, and this should help take the pressure off Bernardeschi. However, him keeping the good run of form going will hand the home side yet another dependable option upfront. It will also give the Old Lady multiple reliable points of attack from which to hurt Napoli.
Juventus 2-0 Napoli
Not only are Napoli going into the game on the back of poor form but are also sans some of their best players thanks to several reasons. This hands the initiative to Juventus even before the ball has been kicked. On the other hand, the hosts will be welcoming back their two attacking talismans in Paulo Dybala and Federico Chiesa.
With home support to egg them on, it will come as no surprise if Juventus secure all three points on the night and come within touching distance of Napoli in the Serie A table.