Napoli, Juventus in showdown

Juventus’ unexpect­ed entry into the Serie A title discussion will undergo its toughest test yet today when the league’s form team travel to runaway lead­ers Napoli.

Seven points back in second, Juve have bounced back from an atrocious start to the campaign to emerge as one of the two leading candidates to stop Napoli’s charge to their first Scudetto since the days of Diego Maradona.

Dumped out of the Champi­ons League in humiliating fashion and embroiled in a serious finan­cial scandal, Coach Massimiliano Allegri has led his often stodgy team to eight straight league wins either side of the World Cup.

That improbable run of vic­tories has come while prosecutors breathe down the club’s neck over alleged false accounting and player transfer irregularities.

Even more impressively Juve have not conceded a single goal during their winning streak, and are now beginning to get key players back.

Star striker Dusan Vlahovic is still out injured but both Ark­adiusz Milik and Moise Kean have proven more than capable replacements and whoever starts up front could be flanked by flying wingmen Federico Chiesa and Angel Di Maria.

Chiesa came off the bench and set up Danilo’s winner against Udinese on Saturday which even­tually secured Juve second place on goal difference ahead of cham­pions AC Milan, the last team to score against the Old Lady back in October.

Juve have conceded just seven goals in 17 matches but today come up against the league’s most powerful attack in Napoli and Victor Osimhen, top scorer with 10 goals, in front of a packed and rowdy Stadio Maradona.

Napoli have won all but one of their home games this season, a draw with Lecce the only blot on their record, scoring in all 11 matches in Serie A and the Cham­pions League.

Luciano Spalletti also has a full squad to pick from, and knows his team are guaranteed top spot come the season’s halfway mark the following weekend thanks to their win at Sampdoria and Milan letting slip a two-goal against Roma in the space of five mad minutes on Sunday.

On Saturday, Milan travel to promoted Lecce who are 10 points above the relegation zone and gave Atalanta and Lazio bloody noses in their last two home fixtures.

Inter Milan are 10 points behind Napoli and host revitalised Verona who have picked up four points from their two games under new coach Marco Zaf­faroni after drawing with Monza and scraping past second-tier outfit Parma in the Italian Cup on Tuesday.

His knee injury nightmare fi­nally coming to an end, Chiesa is set for a place in Allegri’s starting XI for the first time in just over a year after a series of promising outings from the bench.

The Italy forward has played just 126 minutes since tearing the cruciate ligament in his left knee at Roma last January but has made an impact each time and already has two assists to his name. —AFP

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