Juventus v Napoli, Coppa Italia, January 13, 2010
The Italian Cup is an unusually hot topic this week as the rumour mill spins into overdrive that should Napoli beat Juventus, coach Ciro Ferrara will be handed his P45 out of Turin at the full time whistle.
Without doubt Juve are in a funk. Out of the Champions League and virtually out of the Scudetto race too, the past two months have been tortuous for the Old Lady as they have struggled with six defeats in their last eight matches. In particular, Juve’s last three home matches have all ended in defeat as Bayern Munich (4-1), Catania (2-1) and AC Milan (3-0) have all left the Stadio Olimpico with the three points.
The Achilles heel of Juve’s recent downward spiral has been their consistently leaky defence. One clean sheet in their last nine outings in the league is woefully below-par, and making matters worse is the general acceptance that coach Ciro Ferrara has attempted to plug his porous backline, but he has failed to find the winning formula.
Against the Rossoneri, Ferrara fielded an extra defensive 4-4-1-1 formation specifically to aim for a morale boosting clean sheet. Unfortunately though that plan also went to pot, the Bianconeri only managing to reduce the match to a game of only seven shots – three of which ended up in the back of the Juve net. (21/20 to be over 2.5 goals in the match.)
Juve will again be without Momo Sissoko for the match with Napoli, who is on international duty in Angola, while Iaquinta, Camoranesi, Buffon and Trezeguet are all still missing with injury.
On those left standing, Giorgio Chiellini will need to continue his decent performances of late if Juve are to have any hope of keeping a clean sheet being the only Juve defender this season to have consistently performed on the pitch. On the other end of the spectrum, right back Zdenek Grygera will be aiming for a quick 180 in his own form having been repeatedly skinned by Ronaldinho last time out.
In midfield, Juve have also been remarkably weak in recent weeks. Felipe Melo barely resembles the midfield enforcer who lit up the Confederations Cup with Brazil, while his fellow countryman Diego remains a constant disappointment since his mega-money move from Werder last summer with the schemer well off the pace in Serie A. (Juve are 16/5 to win both halves.)
Without too many options in the attack, confidence-hit Amauri will be asked to lead theÂ front lineÂ for the hosts, while talisman Alessandro Del Piero could also be handed a starting berth with the legend still looking for his first goal of the season.
Like the yin and the yan, as Juve are slipping Napoli are rising fast. (Napoli are 10/1 to win both halves.) Equal with their cup opponents on 33 points in the league, Walter Mazzarri’s side now have a realistic expectation of breaking into the Champions League spots this season, and ironically that could hinder their chances against the black and whites on Wednesday.
According to local reports, Napoli, who desire league success above cup success, will allow a number of first team players a chance to gain some valuable rest by fielding a weaker team against Juventus. Mazzarri is more concerned about saving his best players for the clash against Palermo at the weekend, with Fabio Quagliarella and Marek Hamsik likely to be given the night off, while Ezequiel Lavezzi remains on the sidelines with injury.
In their absence, Austrian forward Erwin Hoffer could start alongside last weekend’s goalscoring hero against Samp, German Denis, in an unfamiliar Napoli attack. Elsewhere, Andrea Dossena could also make his debut for the Azzurri after his transfer from Liverpool.
The match could also prove a good opportunity for 23-year-old midfielder Luca Cigarini to shine. The 12 million euro signing has struggled to make an impression at his new club after moving from Atalanta last summer, having made just eight Serie A starts and six substitute appearances for Napoli.
With the match a straight-forward knockout, with the winner advancing to the quarter finals, Napoli’s lack of interest could offer a temporary band-aid for Juve before the impending guillotine falls on Ciro Ferrara’s head.
101predicts: Juventus 1 – Napoli 0 (15/2)
Full match odds here.