With only one point separating the top two in Italy, it’s fair to say that the Scudetto race is the closest it’s ever been this season. We’re so used to seeing Juventus cruising at the top of Serie A that it’s refreshing to see a new face at the top of the tree this time around. However, with an animal like Juventus hot on their tail, can Napoli hold out for the remainder of the season? Only time will tell…
Over the years the Old Lady has been imperious in Italy’s top flight, winning 6 straight Scudetti as well as a whole host of Copa Italia titles. Napoli, however, have often found themselves in the shadow of the Turin giants, which has created an ever-growing hunger to take back control of the title. Coming close in recent years – but eventually falling short in the latter stages of the season – has also served to twist the knife, contributing to a bitterness and frustration that’s been steadily growing in the Neapolitan city.
This exasperation was personified perfectly in Napoli’s 3-1 defeat to Udinese during the 2015/16 season, in a game when Napoli’s then-talisman Gonzalo Higuaín left the pitch kicking and screaming in the light of the dying embers of Napoli’s title challenge finally going out. Perhaps this frustration at not having title success with the Neapolitan side was the deciding factor in the Argentine making the switch to Juventus that following summer.
This season has been a different story. With 18 wins from 22 Napoli have finally found the winning mentality that is giving them a real chance of securing that elusive Scudetto title this time around. 13 goals from Dries Mertens in 21 league appearances this season, as well as impressive displays from the likes of winger Lorenzo Insigne, has meant that the Blue Tiger have found themselves in pole position throughout most of this season. Centre back Kalidou Koulibaly has even stated that “everyone is talking about the Scudetto”… “Even the porter at my apartment building every time he sees me. We hope that we get to live it, instead of just hearing other people talk about it for once.” The hope and excitement of the Neapolitan faithful is clearly palpable, and so Napoli should try to utilise this to help drive them on to title success.
Furthermore, it must be said that unlike previous seasons Juventus have seen key players leave the club, with the likes of Dani Alves leaving for PSG as well as Leonardo Bonucci moving to rival’s AC Milan, and, considering the exodus of these vital players, their Neapolitan rivals have begun to smell blood. Nevertheless, the Old Lady brought in attacking reinforcements in the form of Federico Bernardeschi from Fiorentina and Douglas Costa from Bayern Munich to act as a counterbalance to these defensive losses. Moreover, versatility and depth have always been a classic Juventus trademark, which could see them maintain more consistency than their Neapolitan rivals come the second half of the season.
When Maurizio Sarri spoke about the winter break he stated that he “would prefer to keep going”, which makes a lot a lot of sense considering Napoli’s extraordinary momentum so far this season. With the tide shifting Napoli’s way this year, it has to be said that this is certainly their best chance to claim their third ever title. However, the question remains as to whether they can maintain the high degree of consistency that they’ve shown in the opening half of the campaign, and whether Juventus’s winning experience will inevitably knock them off the top spot.
Main image credit: