The great Italian composer Ennio Morricone will enjoy his birthday this Sunday and may even watch his beloved Roma take on Sassuolo. However, most everyone else will be watching a much more influential game further north between Juventus and Napoli. Certainly one of his films, The Good the Bad and the Ugly can relate to the situation between the three top clubs, but it will take a brave person to define which is which this early in the season.
There is also a lot of pride tied up in today’s Turin tete-a-tete, with Juve goalkeeper Gigi Buffon praising both clubs for their progress since arriving from Serie B just six seasons ago. “The prestige of the tie was lost a bit after the years of Michel Platini and Diego Maradona,” he said. “That returned with the matches in Serie B, where both teams had ended up. Now we find ourselves competing at the top and that is the result of planning.”
Certainly over the last few years the bi-seasonal clashes have been crucial pointers towards who would finish top, with Juventus winning the last three home fixtures between the two sides. On the surface the result slightly favours Juve, who have yet to drop a point at home, scoring 15 and conceding just four. Napoli meanwhile have scored 10 times in five away games, losing just the once.
Yet overall things are as tight as a tide of Zebras squeezed into a FIAT Panda. Currently both sides are deadlocked in second and third on 28 points, with Napoli only above Juve on goal difference. With no midweek games coming up due to the international break, both Coaches will be fielding their strongest teams and with the sides pretty much equal in everything, it’s a tough call.
Both outfits are scoring just over two goals a game, with over 50% of their shots on target, and Napoli slightly ahead in the goals to shot ratio with 19% against Juve’s 15%. Their overall pass completion ratio is the same on 86%, while their pass completion rate in the final third is also identical on 75%. Where Juve do have a better ratio is in the number of crosses: 230 to Napoli’s 173 and their respective success rates of 23% to 17%. With most of the rest of the stats being equal, it will probably need an individual piece of magic to break any deadlock.
In this case the Press believe the balance of the game revolves around the two Argentine strikers, Juve’s Carlos Tevez and Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain. Is the duel more of a media fancy than an actuality, considering both players have strikingly different characteristics and perform different roles in their respective teams?
Napoli’s system sees Higuain as a sole striker supported by a trio of forwards with Marek Hamsik the consistent choice along with two of Jose Callejon, Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens and Goran Pandev. Whoever is picked, Pipita is blessed with an array of creative types willing to supply him with the ball and who can score themselves.
On the other hand Juve are set up with twin strikers Tevez and one of Sebastian Giovinco, Fabio Quagliarella, Mirko Vucinic or Fernando Llorente. And it is here that Napoli perhaps has the advantage with their attacking trio offering more opportunities for themselves and Higuain to score than Tevez’s trio. Unfortunately for the number 10, his creative players Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba play further away from him than Napoli’s triad, which leads to less goal scoring opportunities.
However, despite that Apache has been no slouch, playing in one more game than Higuain and scoring six with two assists compared to Pipita’s five goals and three assists.
Yet the player who puts them both to shame is Hamsik, who proves best value with six goals in 736 minutes, one every 122, plus an assist. Meanwhile Tevez scores one every 147 and Higuain one every 143. So let’s forget the Apache, Pipita and the media projections, as it could well be Marekiaro who makes the difference at the end of the day.