Napoli and Juventus play the 25th edition of the Supercoppa Italiana in Beijing’s National Stadium, The Bird’s Nest, this weekend and it should be a fascinating showdown. One side possesses Serie A’s best defence from last season while the other is an attractive, counter-attacking side, with one of Italy’s most exciting forward lines.
It is a heady broth, difficult to call and a big challenge with each side wanting to put down the psychological marker of taking home the first trophy of the new season. It is also a chance to show one of the world’s most calcio-crazy countries that Serie A is still the home of fine football.
“We're fired up for this game with Napoli,” said Juve youngster Luca Marrone. “The Super Cup is the first piece of silverware up for grabs and we're determined to avenge our defeat in the Coppa Italia final. We can't wait to play it.”
Meanwhile Napoli Coach Walter Mazzarri feels that Napoli are more keen than Juve. “The Supercoppa has been missing from Napoli for 25 years, so we strongly want to win it,” he emphasised. “We won my first trophy this year and we want to continue winning. Juve also want to win it, but maybe we’re hungrier than them.”
Both clubs will be introducing new players and Juve have bought well with Kwadwo Asamoah and Seb Giovinco in particular, shining in pre-season. Yet they do have a few problems and with a possible 15-month ban hanging over Coach Antonio Conte, they are not even sure who will be sitting on the bench.
Factor in taht Conte’s assistant Cristian Stellini has resigned plus potential bans hanging over Simone Pepe and Leonardo Bonucci and it’s a situation that won’t be helping their psychological preparation.
“It is strange not having Conte in the dugout because we're used to hearing his voice but we have to show we're stronger than this,” said Giovinco recently.” We can't be making any excuses.”
Apart from all this, Juve have injuries to several key players, not least top defender Giorgio Chiellini. However, they are a strong side and with or without their inspirational Coach and vice-captain, they still have the necessary depth to be powerful opposition. And of course Juve are Juve.
On the other hand, Napoli are riding high on a wave of real confidence after beating top sides like Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen and Bordeaux in pre-season. Their new arrivals, including the former Fiorentina pair of Valon Behrami and Alessandro Gamberini have, like Juve’s, brought substance and experience to the team.
Obviously both sides have exceptional players so it might just come down to tactics. In pre-season Conte has been using a 3-5-2, which has proved relatively successful. However, with two of the favourites for central defence in Chiellini and Bonucci doubtful, changes may be made.
No such worries in midfield and more than ably led by Andrea Pirlo, the battle at the centre of the pitch should prove very interesting. In contrast to the defence, the forward line is fairly settled with two out of Mirko Vucinic, Giovinco and Alessandro Matri leaving Conte with a different kind of difficult choice.
Napoli Coach Walter Mazzarri also introduced a ‘new’ system in pre-season training, focusing on a rehashed version of his old shape, the 3-5-1-1. “It is more popular in the League,” he revealed. “Juventus won the Championship this year with it and [Gokhan] Inler will be our Pirlo.” It is a formation that sees the Swiss ace in front of the defence in a more central role, which has led to comparisons with Pirlo, who takes up the same position for Juventus.
It is a position that perhaps will suit him better as it is one he played successfully in whilst at Udinese and it would see him playing less of a defensive role than previous. It is part of a formation that might just enrich Napoli’s options, with Marek Hamsik and Blerim Dzemaili on either side of him to do the running. It will also allow Hamsik to move forward and not worry about tracking back as before when employed as a playmaker.
All in all it should give Napoli’s midfield a little more density without any pattern becoming fixed. It might also be a way to help Inler return to the form he showed at Udinese and just be the extra inch needed to beat the Italian champions. Add in new boy wonder Lorenzo Insigne, striker Goran Pandev, who has shown devastating form in pre-season and Edison Cavani and it is also a strong forward-line that Napoli bring to the table.
However, whatever the result, let’s hope it is a great match and can do justice to Italian football and to two of Serie A’s best teams.