A mere four days after their last Serie A game of 2014, Napoli play Juventus 2,500 miles away from the peninsula in Doha, Qatar, in the 27th version of the Italian Supercup. In comparison to the Vesuviani, the Old Lady is no stranger to this highly prestigious game, the showdown between the Italian Cup winners and the Scudetto holders, after winning six of the record 10 she has played in since its inception back in 1986. Meanwhile for Napoli it will be their third attempt, all of them against Juve. There was a legendary 5-1 win in 1990 and a fiery 4-2 defeat in 2012.
Yet neither of those games will have a bearing on this one with both teams showing certain weaknesses over the last few league matches. Juve, despite being league leaders, endured a frustrating three successive draws before beating Cagliari away 3-1, while Napoli claimed their first win in five matcheswith a 2-0 against basement club Parma.
More than anything the game should prove a battle between Coaches and tactics, so Napoli will have to be at their very best to negate Juve’s most recent system, a4-4-1-1. Their Coach Massimiliano Allegri has introduced a variation of a basic 4-4-2, with Carlos Tevez dropping into an advanced midfield role at times, which seems to give the team a new look and replicates the high-intensity game practiced under Coach Antonio Conte.
On the other hand Napoli Coach Rafa Benitez will use his regular 4-3-2-1 while trying to outmaneuver his opposite number. One thing he certainly needs to outwit is Juve’s ultra-strong midfield, inspired by the unique Andrea Pirlo. This of course does not mean he must put all his eggs in one basket and only worry about the Metronome. If you put a man on Pirlo it leaves more space for his midfield colleagues Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal, who invariably dictate central midfield anyway. In the end it would probably make more sense for Benitez if he could stifle any and all the space in midfield rather than one particular player.
Yet even if they get past the midfield there are still Stephan Lichtsteiner, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Patrice Evra to bypass, a defence that has only conceded seven goals this season.
It is here where Benitez really needs to earn his corn. One way round it could possibly be by using his pacey wingers,Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon to their best effect, two players who can both beat their man and score. If this is the case Napoli need to stand off Juventus, invite them in, but always be ready for a lightning quick counter-attack when either Lichtsteiner or Evra move up field to join their forwards.
Theoretically this should leave spaces behind them with just the three defenders to be out-numbered by Napoli’s four-man attack. Then if the extra man manages to find himself free in the area, he only has the ‘keeper to beat. However, with Gianluigi Buffon ‘only’ is another problem.
Although the Bianconeri number one is still Serie A’s best ‘keeper, recently he has been guilty of misplacing the ball when punching out under pressure. And with Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain a specialist inside ten yards, there just might be something in it for Napoli. However, talking about it and doing it are two different things and above all Buffon has 10 clean sheets.
In spite of that if Napoli do pressure the defence en masse without delay, it means that the Juve midfielders will be pressured to help out their defenders, which again leaves more space to exploit. And with Allegri’s system only employing two in central midfield and with Napoli having three in that area, on paper, they should be able to control the central zone.
Yet to put it simply once again, Juve do not lose many games, whichever tactics are used against them, plus they are the league’s top scorers. All in all Napoli have a tough task in front of them and Benitez will need to utilize all the tradecraft that has seen him win almost a dozen trophies, while his team need to be at their very best to lift the cup.
In the end regardless of the result both Napoli and Juve will go all out to make it a spectacle worthy of the best of Serie A. Hopefully with stars like Higuain and his fellow countryman Carlos Tevez at the sharp end, the game should end 2014 on a high.
See the latest Serie A predictions and betting tips with Eurotips.co.uk