Juventus-Napoli: The Serie A Title Is On the Line

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As far as Europe’s major leagues are concerned, there is little question as to the biggest game of the weekend, with the title race in Serie A — Italy’s top league — up for grabs as Juventus (+115) host Napoli (+290) at 2:45 p.m. ET Sunday.

The race appeared all but over leading into this week, but things turned on their head Wednesday when Juventus traveled to face Crotone, a side in a relegation battle. The league leaders could only manage a point, while Napoli’s win over Udinese — twice coming from behind to pick up all three points — moved the Partenopei back to within four points of the six-time defending champions.

With the top two coming to blows in Turin on Sunday, an away win would ensure that Napoli’s hopes of ending Juventus’ dominance in Italy’s top flight are revived. The hosts, meanwhile, know that a draw would be enough to keep their closest challengers at arm’s length, and the Old Lady are unlikely to spring out of their shape too often as a result.

Napoli are, after all, one of the best sides in Europe at using the ball to draw their opponents out of position. Juventus will be happy to approach this massive game as if they were the away side, sitting deep and waiting for any chances on the counter.

The man they will look to take any such chances is one who relishes these fixtures more than any other. Napoli fans’ ire for former striker Gonzalo Higuain is only strengthened with every goal the Argentine scores against them, and he certainly enjoys sticking it to his old squad, given his poor relationship with club president Aurelio De Laurentiis.

The 30-year-old scored the match winner when these sides met earlier in the season and is always the center of attention when the two come to blows. With five goals in as many appearances against Napoli since switching clubs, Higuain is the obvious candidate for a bet on an anytime goal-scorer, and a barren run of six matches without finding the net has seen his odds rise to 2.50 (+150) — a great price given his desire to prove a point and propensity to haunt his old employers.

It’s certainly the case that if Juventus can get a goal, they will be confident of seeing the game out or, at the very least, claiming a point that would undoubtedly suit Max Allegri’s side. Their title form has once again been built upon defensive solidity after all, particularly at the Allianz Stadium, where they have allowed just one league goal over their last nine matches. Ironically, the lone goal was scored by an ex-player of their own in Leonardo Bonucci, a far less predictable goal-scorer than Higuain this weekend.

Napoli have struggled to reach their free-flowing, free-scoring best on the road, too, drawing each of their last three away from home and scoring just once in that time to surrender the lead in the title race to The Old Lady. Indeed, seven of the visitors’ last eight away games in all competitions have seen under 2.5 goals, and Napoli have scored one goal or fewer in eight of their last 12 matches outside of Naples, compared to two or more in seven of their last 12 at the San Paolo.

With that in mind, another tight, low-scoring affair looks very likely despite the enviable firepower on either side. That’s been the case in three of their last four league meetings, and with this particular encounter set to be even more intense, we’re unlikely to see too many goals, with odds of 1.73 (-137) with Betfair on under 2.5 tempting enough for me here.

Napoli have been kept quiet away from home by the stronger sides in the division in general, with fewer than two goals scored between the sides in four of their five trips to top-eight teams thus far. If Juventus can do the same, they would take a huge leap to a remarkable seventh successive Scudetto.

Top Photo: Juventus players celebrate.