By 90Min
December 01, 2017

Passions will be high in Naples on Friday night as unbeaten Napoli face the latest test of their Scudetto aspirations, as reigning Serie A winners of the last six years Juventus visit Stadio San Paolo.

The Partonopei have won 12 out of 14 league games this campaign and sit two points ahead of Inter Milan in second spot. The Bianconeri lurk a further two points behind Luciano Spalletti's men and the hosts will know anything but a win could allow their rivals back into the title picture - not least Juve.

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Napoli, for many, are title winners in the making this season but as the visitors make the trip to southern Italy, Juventus bring with them a huge psychological advantage having sat on the Italian football throne since 2012.

Should Maurizio Sarri's men beat the Old Lady on Friday evening, Napoli will be seven points clear of their famed Turin rivals and start dreaming of their first league title in what is now approaching three decades back in 1990.

Juventus have won just twice in Naples since the turn of the millennium, and the San Paolo is set to be a pressure-cooker atmosphere in the City of the Sun this weekend. Here is all you need to know ahead of the clash at Stadio San Paolo.


Classic Encounter

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In what is arguably the most memorable meeting between the two in recent memory, six goals were shared in a 3-3 thriller almost six years to the day in November 2011, as Juventus came from two goals down in the final 18 minutes to snatch a point in Naples.

After skipper Marek Hamsik had missed a early penalty for the hosts, the Slovakian then gave Napoli a 23rd-minute lead before Goran Pandev extended the home advantage four minutes before the break.

Alessio Matri scored for Juventus three minutes into the second period, but after Macedonian Pandev had added his second of the night in the 68th minute, the result seemed a foregone conclusion. 

Two goals in the closing stages from Marcelo Estigarribia and Simone Pepe however leveled the scores, as the both sides shared the spoils in a pulsating encounter at the San Paolo.


Key Battle


Dries Mertens vs Mehdi Benatia

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In the continued absence of Giorgio Chiellini, Juventus' back line has been tested to its' fullest in recent weeks, despite reservations over the veteran Italian's dwindling form this term.

Without him however - as the visitors are set to be - this Friday, Mehdi Benatia has seized his chance with both hands but his litmus test will come in Naples against the red-hot Dries Mertens.


Benatia has been a bit-part player in Max Allegri's set-up since the Moroccan arrived from Bayern Munich last July, having played just 19 times for the Italian - 12 of them initially on loan from Bavaria.


The 30-year-old helped his side shut out Crotone over the weekend and will deputise once more, but the sterner test of Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon and in particular Mertens now awaits.


The Belgian has grown into one of the most lethal finishers in Europe since his switch from the left wing into an out-and-out striking role, and has netted 13 goals this season, adding six assists along the way.


Should Benatia impress this weekend, he could be set for more regular starting berth in Turin.


Team News

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Napoli's only absentees are long-term ones. Full-back Faouzi Ghoulam remains out until at least February of next year with a cruciate ligament injury, whilst forward Arkadiusz Milik is also out until March with a knee injury.

Sarri could name a unchanged lineup, playing a 4-3-3 system.

As documented Chiellini's absence is a major headache for the visitors, but not the only one. Full-back Stephan Lichtsteiner is a major doubt with a thigh problem, whilst winger Juan Cuadrado is also set to miss out with a groin injury. Matteo Di Sciglio could therefore play as right wing-back, having come on in place of Lichtsteiner at the weekend.

Gonzalo Higuain further adds to Allegri's woes, with the Argentine named in the travelling squad but rated as 50/50 to take part.


Potential Napoli Starting Lineup: Reina; Maggio, Chiriches, Koulibaly, Hysaj; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik; Callejon, Mertens, Insigne

Potential Juventus Starting Lineup: Buffon; Benatia, Howedes, Barzagli; Alex Sandro, Matuidi, Marchisio, De Sciglio; Dybala, Costa, Mandzukic


Prediction

This game promises much in Naples, as the pretenders to the throne attempt to take the first big step to removing Juventus from their perch this weekend.

Both sides' front three are wildly attacking in their approach, but its is in the midfield where this clash could be won.

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Napoli's only two defeats this season in all competitions have come against Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League - perhaps the only side the boast a similarly dynamic offensive unit across the continent.

Occasionally when attack meets attack, both sides can cancel each other out but this will surely not be such a occurrence here. Both sides will score but with the hosts side still riding on a wave of expectation and with an unbeaten league record, could just shade it.

 Prediction: Napoli 2-1 Juventus

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