Juventus host Napoli in a fight for domestic dominance

Posted by Mina Rzouki

After attempting to slay one dragon, Juventus are back to face their biggest rivals for the title on Sunday evening: Rafa Benitez's Napoli. A match worth 623 million euros, according to Tuttosport, "corresponding to the costs derived from the explosion of the reactor in Fukushima" they write. Well then, it better be a worthy spectacle.

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Arguably Serie A's two strongest sides, both Napoli and Juventus have been built to compete both in Europe and domestically. They boast experience, strength in depth and tacticians able to make the difference. More importantly, they are the two clubs making the money and spending it wisely in a bid to relaunch the name of Serie A.

While we will inevitably compare and contrast the quality within each side, this match will be seen as a chance to compare Argentine players Carlos Tevez with Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain. Both are considered leaders within their respective clubs, but with such different styles of play, it's difficult to conclude who has proved to be the better buy.

Higuain is a number 9, capable of working the channels with a phenomenal work and conversation rate. He works tirelessly for the squad, pressing centre-backs, pushing forward and troubling opposing defences. While he is the focus of the attack, he plays a key part in securing the defence. His consistent hunger at the top and the encouragement he gives to those around him help push the side forward and allow Napoli to adopt a high centre of gravity and remain compact and secure. He steals the ball in advantageous positions and then attempts to strike. With the opponent struggling to get rid of him, they in turn suffer in playing the ball out from the attack.

Tevez is a more creative forward, one capable of a lethal finish but better able to construct exciting passages of play and assisting his teammates. His vision and individual skill has made all the difference while he has immediately grasped onto Antonio Conte's style of play and developed an understanding with those around him. At times, like against Real Madrid in Turin, he would benefit from more intelligent runs, but as Conte's consistent starter, he's rarely disappointed in the final third, partaking in practically every offensive move.

Yet this game is not only about its two target men but about arguably the two best sides in Serie A. Always an exciting and competitive fixture, Conte has stoked the fire further when he opted to issue a warning, "I hope that Benitez realises this year that if he doesn't win the Scudetto, he'll have achieved nothing."

While teams are certainly judged by the results they manage, we cannot say that Benitez has not achieved anything. Since 2004 Napoli have played with a three-man back-line and focused on similar tactics, wisely picking coaches that can continue playing a certain style of play to ensure a philosophy. Benitez's arrival marked a departure from the usual Neapolitan style of football as he looks to create a side willing to take the initiative and produce performances worthy of European trophies.

They may still be fond of reactive tactics and counter-attacking play but the Spaniard has constructed a good quality side that can both dominate or retaliate. Better in possession and stronger defensively, the marked improvement in the quality of their game is largely down to tactical discipline and a more ruthless mentality.

The coach has also seamlessly integrated his new arrivals over the summer while the development of a certain Lorenzo Insigne is a thing of beauty. Previously selfish with the ball, too fond of dribbling and not always capable of the right decision despite his audacious skill, Benitez has turned him into a wise forward capable of quick releases, endless mobility and overwhelming movements.

This squad can attack via the wings, through intricate movements in the box or even score from long distance shots. In fact, 10 of their goals have arrived from long strikes due to the capability of a certain Marek Hamsik and Gokhan Inler who used to manage the same at Udinese as well.

Of course, they do have their weaknesses and struggle against sides with pace and quick movements. With a slow centre-back duo, they are prone to being caught out of position. If Juventus were to increase the tempo and quicken the passes going forward, then Napoli will suffer.

It is also imperative that the Bianconeri pay extra attention to their defensive duties in the wide areas while remaining calm in their own attempts to play out from defence, regardless of how much pressure they will suffer from Higuain.

Unfortunately, with Martin Caceres away on international duty, Stephan Lichtsteiner still absent and Giorgio Chiellini injured, Juventus will have to play a 3-5-2 formation, a tactical shape Conte insists is being played due to necessity and not desire.

Whatever the formation deployed, it's important the Bianconeri achieve a win at home as they have yet to win against a big club, whether that be Real Madrid, Fiorentina or Inter. A win against Benitez's side will ensure confidence and give Juve the three points they need to get that bit closer to rediscovering their domestic dominance.


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