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Friday April 20 2018
It's now or never for Napoli

The Scudetto race was transformed in just 10 minutes, so Napoli visit Juventus knowing the tide could turn in their favour, explains Emmet Gates

Just 10 minutes. That’s all it took. If Napoli defy the odds and win the Scudetto that their fans and seemingly every neutral in the world is dying to see, then this 600 seconds will be viewed as the most important. The most season-defining minutes of a throwing-all-their-eggs-in-one-basket campaign.

In the 64th minute of the midweek round, Maurizio Sarri’s men were nine points behind Juventus. Udinese, on a nine-game losing streak stretching back to mid-February, had taken the lead in Naples. Meanwhile in Crotone, Juve were leading 1-0 thanks to an Alex Sandro header. The title race was well and truly over. But then, but then, one minute later, everything changed.

Napoli, through unlikely scorer Raul Albiol, levelled the game in Naples, just as Crotone scored an even more unlikely of equalisers. And what an equaliser it was.

The 6ft 6in Nigerian Simy, channeling his inner Cristiano Ronaldo, flung himself into the air, not quite as magnificently as Ronaldo – ganglier and with less panache – but connected just as cleanly as his Portuguese counterpart. The ball flew past Wojciech Szczesny into the corner of the net.

For the next six minutes the gap was down to six points. Jose Callejon’s fierce shot was parried into the path of Arkadiusz Milik, who tapped in the rebound to give Napoli the lead. Lorenzo Tonelli would add another five minutes later. Juve would be held in Calabria. The gap now reduced from nine to four points, in ten minutes.

And suddenly there’s a title race again, and with Napoli travelling the 888km north to play the reigning champions on Sunday, Wednesday night’s swing in Neapolitan fortunes couldn’t have come at a better time. It means that Sunday’s clash – which in recent times looked like it wouldn’t mean very much – now has plenty to it.

It’s do or die for Napoli, but with Juve out of the Champions League, the Bianconeri have no outside distractions either. Their focus now permanently fixed on a third consecutive domestic double. You get the feeling there will be no more slip-ups, no further opportunities for Napoli to claw back.

What will be interesting is how Maurizio Sarri approaches the game. Milik had his first start since the opening day of the season against Udinese, and the Polish striker looks fresher than Dries Mertens. The Belgian has become increasingly haggard-looking as the season has progressed and only scored twice in the last two months.

Milik also offers something varied in attack, in comparison to Lorenzo Insigne, Mertens and Callejon - namely height. The chances of the former three out-jumping opposing players at corners aren’t particularly good. Especially in games against Juventus, the diminutive trio resembled kids battling against adults when confronted with grizzled veterans Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli.

Milik offers an aerial presence that can trouble the Juve rearguard. As well-marshalled as the Bianconeri back line has been over the past six years, their Achilles Heel has been defending crosses, especially from set pieces.

Whether Sarri goes down the Milik route remains to be seen, or if he reverts to type and sticks with tired trio of Mertens, Callejon and Insigne. Mertens and Callejon have played in every game this season, and Insigne has only missed one. That zip, that sharpness, that incisiveness that they’ve displayed throughout most of the campaign has deserted them when they most need it. Napoli’s performances have been leggy as of late, and Sarri has faced criticism for his lack of rotation.

Yet for the first time in recent memory, their fans will be allowed inside the Allianz Juventus Stadium for the most eagerly anticipated match of the season. You suspect this will give them the much-needed energy boost to gain an extra gear.

A Napoli win would reduce the gap to one point, and with Juve still to play both Roma and Inter away, the tide might just turn.

Sarri has stated the goal has always been to secure second, and with that now cemented, maybe, just maybe…

Have your say...
To all you naysayers, Juventus got dominated, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
on the 23rd April, 2018 at 9:59am
Sarri's system which is labelled beautiful football is good only for kids who play football at backyard , it doesn't feed people bread : consequently no trophies at the end of season... which is a beautiful gift to Juventus. come on ADL , Juve's turnover is not an alibi. When you fight for the scudetto even you are very well armed at physical , technical , tactical and psychological levels ,or you'd better have a team competing in Baseball , american football , hockey or Basket ball .
on the 21st April, 2018 at 7:29pm
@ Anonymous 9:19am

Ha, precisely.
on the 21st April, 2018 at 11:39am
"they get all the calls in serie a"

Did we already forget that Callejon wireless penalty?

How about that Mertens volleyball? eh?

Already complaining about the ref and it isn't even match-day yet...
on the 21st April, 2018 at 11:36am
get the ref excuses in early, in case they lose, then if they win, say they did it against the odds, that is a win win stance right there. I have seen Napoli get a few desc ions go their way this year. Juventus midfield is so poor at present, thank God staruro is missing playing him the other night did not help Juventus at all.
on the 21st April, 2018 at 9:19am
Damn that juve all they do is win and win and win and win and win and win hahahahaha
on the 20th April, 2018 at 11:22pm
Nope its just never lol also at that fool below, yup and have no choice but to watch juve win for a 7th yr in a row lol what a bunch of trolling losers. Same whine different article. Over and over jeez fi dont you get tired of this its damaging your already poor reputation even more lol. Troll along weirdos.
on the 20th April, 2018 at 11:21pm
I don’t think Napoli will win. Maybe 0-0, 1-0, 2-1 game. If Napoli does win they prolly go on to lose or draw remaining games,and let Juve off the hook for a 3rd time as they win scudetto again...by 1 point.
More importantly I’m focusing attention and positive energy to Roma,they really need to beat Liverpool and get to CL final. Whether it be Real or Bayern they’ll need a miracle to win that...but that would help take place of Italy’s World Cup absence.
on the 20th April, 2018 at 9:53pm
With Juventus fan boy Rocchi officiating it's over before it's started - you couldn't make it up lol!!
on the 20th April, 2018 at 8:58pm
Sarri's system which is labelled beautiful football is good only for kids who play football at backyard , it doesn't feed people bread : consequently no trophies at the end of season... which is a beautiful gift to Juventus. come on ADL , Juve's turnover is not an alibi. When you fight for the scudetto even you are very well armed at physical , technical , tactical and psychological levels ,or you'd better have a team competing in Baseball , american football , hockey or Basket ball .
on the 20th April, 2018 at 8:30pm
no ,i'm not conceding defeat .. it's just tough to beat a squad when they have the ref in their pocket. they get all the calls in serie a .. that's why it was so refreshing to see them on the other end of it in the champions league... they went insane after the call because they aren't used to getting calls against them ..they are used to getting the calls !! Real Madrid took a page right out of juve's playbook !!
on the 20th April, 2018 at 7:02pm
Napoli1426, are you already conceding defeat?
on the 20th April, 2018 at 6:27pm
Napoli 1 - 2 Juve

Hamsik cries.

Insigne tries to look angry.

Sarri says they only want 2nd place anyway.
on the 20th April, 2018 at 2:23pm
Winning one games does not make you a legend lol damn right we are in a castle and where are you inferior peasants lol give us a break we just had cakir and oliver lol either way at the end of it all napoli is still utter crap.
on the 20th April, 2018 at 1:47pm
PSG vs. AS Monaco 7:1
Juve vs. Napoli ... : ..
on the 20th April, 2018 at 1:47pm
Napoli can do it .. but it's going to be tough .. they are away and Juve has their personal referee Rocchi doing the match.. it amazes me that Serie a would select him to ref the match .. Rocchi is a bigger Juve fan than Giuseppe Marotta
on the 20th April, 2018 at 12:56pm
Hopefully Napoli do it, this Juve domination is getting a bit embarrassing.

They'll probably need to win, despite Juve having a few tough ties away after this.

We'll see if they have the metal to do it.
on the 20th April, 2018 at 10:16am
It would be 4th domestic double this season, not 3rd.
on the 20th April, 2018 at 8:25am
JUVE WILL BE AT HOME ..I CANNOT SEE NAPOLI WINNING HONESLTY ..A DRAW WOULD BE MORE REALISTIC THEN WHEN JUVE COME TO THE MEAZZA WE WOULD HELP TAKE POINTS OFF THEM...THATS THE ONLY WAY I SEE IT CUS THIS NAPOLI SIDE HAS FAILED WHEN IT MATTERED MOST.
on the 20th April, 2018 at 8:02am
Time to take down the tyrant in his castle once and for all.
on the 20th April, 2018 at 7:48am
It's deffo NOW for Juventus!

COME ON YOU BIANCONERI

Viva la Juve!

Forzaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
on the 20th April, 2018 at 5:27am
Please Napoli, prove you can take that next step and beat this mob in their own house.
Winning this game would for sure make legends of this team and Sarri. The confidence from a win this weekend, no amount of money could buy.

My prediction; 2-0 Juventus.
on the 20th April, 2018 at 3:22am

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