Serie A Week 30 – 25/3/10 (19.45 UK)
Napoli – Juventus
Stadio San Paolo
Two giants in crisis go head-to-head and it’s likely only one will emerge with hopes of fourth place still intact.
Currently three points separate the teams, as Juventus are in sixth and Napoli trail in joint seventh with Genoa. Alberto Zaccheroni has all but given up his dream of staying on the Bianconeri bench past this season after their humiliating Europa League exit to Fulham.
In the last 10 days Juve have thrown away a 3-0 lead against bottom of the table Siena, lost 4-1 at Craven Cottage and fallen 1-0 at Champions League qualification rivals Sampdoria. It has reached the point where many are calling this the worst Juventus squad of all time.
Walter Mazzarri’s men are fresh from holding Milan to a 1-1 draw at San Siro, but that came after two consecutive defeats and they are without a victory since beating Livorno 2-0 on January 24. Even more worrying is that the Partenopei haven’t celebrated in front of the home fans since January 10, notching up just four draws and a 3-1 defeat to Fiorentina.
Neither side can afford to slip up again, so we’re bound to see a fiery battle between two giants of the sport. Juventus lost here 2-1 last season when Amauri’s opener was overturned by Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
They haven’t conquered the San Paolo since September 2000 and will be particularly eager for revenge, as Napoli earned a shock victory in Turin earlier this term. Recent meetings have been thoroughly entertaining in this stadium, as in Serie B they drew 1-1 and the Coppa Italia earlier that season ended with a spectacular 3-3 result.
Juve goalkeeper Antonio Chimenti was so angry at allowing Antonio Cassano’s lob to go in from midfield that he punched a locker room table in frustration – and promptly fractured his hand. Luckily for the club that had been reduced to fielding its third choice shot-stopper, second pick Alex Manninger is back in action after his own injury. Gianluigi Buffon remains on the treatment table along with Martin Caceres, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Hasan Salihamidzic.
Question marks hang over Alessandro Del Piero, who sprained his ankle against Sampdoria and will require a late fitness test. On top of these issues, Nicola Legrottaglie is suspended and Momo Sissoko on compassionate leave.
Antonio Candreva is again expected to start with Diego and Mauro Camoranesi fanning out behind David Trezeguet. Claudio Marchisio and off-form Felipe Melo take the midfield reins in Sissoko’s absence, but there are also injury doubts over Giorgio Chiellini in defence.
Napoli must do without Fabiano Santacroce, former Liverpool full-back Andrea Dossena and Salvatore Aronica.
The performance against Milan at the weekend was a vast improvement on recent outings, even though Fabio Quagliarella is yet to break his drought. The return of Lavezzi from a muscular injury made a big difference with his blistering pace on the counter.
Keep an eye on: Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus) – The veteran returns to his hometown club and will be facing off directly with his younger brother Paolo, who plays in defence for Napoli. It has been a rough campaign for the Italy captain, but he should be given a warm welcome by the crowd.
Last five in Serie A: Napoli (D D L L D) Juventus (W L W D L)
Last season: Napoli 2-1 Juventus
Napoli (probable): De Sanctis; Campagnaro, P Cannavaro, Grava; Maggio, Gargano, Pazienza, Zuniga; Hamsik, Quagliarella; Lavezzi
Juventus (probable): Manninger; Zebina, F Cannavaro, Chiellini, Grosso; Felipe Melo, Marchisio; Camoranesi, Diego, Candreva; Trezeguet