Serie A leadership, winning runs at stake in Juve-Napoli clash
MILAN (Reuters) - It is hard to believe that when they met for the first time this season, Napoli were 12th in Serie A and Juventus 13th with only a win apiece in their first five matches.
On Saturday, they meet again with Serie A leadership at stake and both teams looking unstoppable.
Leaders Napoli, aiming to win their first Serie A title since the Diego Maradona-inspired team in 1990, visit the Juventus stadium with a two-point advantage over the defending champions, who are chasing a fifth successive scudetto.
After a slow start, Juventus have won their 14 league matches, a club record, and Napoli their last eight. The match also pits the best attack in the league, with Napoli having scored 53 goals in 24 games, against the best defence, with Juventus have only conceded 15.
There is now an eight-point gap between Juventus and Fiorentina, who host Inter Milan in a third-versus-fourth clash on Sunday.
Juventus have managed to rebuild their team after a turbulent close season in which they lost playmaker Andrea Pirlo, box-to-box midfielder Arturo Vidal and leading scorer Carlos Tevez.
Meanwhile, at Napoli, coach Maurizio Sarri, a former banking consultant who uses drones to film his team's training sessions, has revitalised an expensive side which struggled to fulfill their potential under predecessor Rafael Benitez.
The match also pits Napoli's prolific striker Gonzalo Higuain against his fellow Argentine Paulo Dybala, the latest off the South Americans' extraordinary production line of world class forwards.
Although he often stomps grumpily around the pitch looking as if he is carrying the world on the shoulders, Higuain has blasted 24 goals while Dybala is second highest scorer with 13.
"Higuain is at a more advanced stage of his career and a true finisher, a real number nine," said Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
"Paulo on the other hand likes to play between the lines and link with the midfield. Either way, he is an immense talent who frighteningly will only improve the older he gets."
Buffon predicted that Juve's defensive strength, rather than their opponents' attacking prowess, could be the key to the title race. "In 90 per cent of cases, conceding the fewest goals wins you the title, particularly in Italy," he said.
"We are in the other 10 per cent at the moment seeing as we are still in second place behind Napoli but there are 14 matches to remedy that and give credence to the statistics.
"After our tough start to the campaign, a good number of critics had written us off, and with good reason from their point of view," added the 38-year-old, who is in his 15th season at the club.
"What they did not reckon with however was the spirit and resilience of this team, which has been such a key part in our sustained success of the last few years."
(Reporting by Brian Homewood; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)