PRE MATCH: JUVENTUS VS NAPOLI

After many appeals by Napoli, this match will finally be replayed. After their first league meeting of the season was postponed amid controversial circumstances, enduring rivals Juventus and Napoli now finally clash in Turin on Wednesday.


With the spoils shared from their two previous meetings this season - following Juve's Supercoppa Italiana triumph, the Partenopei picked up a 1-0 home win in February - the sides are locked together on points and are fighting it out for a Champions League place.


As bitter rivals from either side of the North-South divide, Serie A heavyweights Juventus and Napoli, convene for a third and final time this term, the fallout from the last-minute postponement of this fixture's original date in the autumn continues to resonate.


Back in October, the first scheduled meeting between the pair was controversially canceled at short notice after Napoli failed to turn up when their entire squad was placed in quarantine by Neapolitan health authorities.

Amid confusion and contention, Gennaro Gattuso's team did not travel to Turin's Allianz Stadium after two positive COVID-19 tests in the camp and were subsequently handed a 3-0 loss by the league. Having since won a reprieve following their third appeal against the decision, that 'result' was voided by the CONI (Italian Olympic Committee) and the penalty of a point's deduction was also revoked.


For opponents who share a fractious past relationship that reached a quarrelsome crescendo during the days of Diego Maradona, this was just the latest chapter in a deep-seated rivalry - one which is set to resume on the pitch this week, with potential consequences for either team's hopes of Champions League football next term.


Juventus come into the game in a period of underwhelming form and struggling coach Andrea Pirlo even admitted that his team were "predictable" during Saturday's draw with troubled rivals Torino in the Derby Della Mole.


Though the Bianconeri battled back to salvage a 2-2 draw at the weekend, their previous defeat to modest Benevento and painful Champions League exit at the hands of Porto have highlighted the many shortcomings of Pirlo's side.


Following their inability to turn 71% of possession and a tally of 22 shots at goal into all three points versus Torino, inconsistent Juve is now fourth in the standings - level with Napoli.

From hereon in, Pirlo will have the benefit of a full week to prepare for upcoming games - something which appears to have helped Inter streak clear at the top, as the Milan side look set to break their nine-year ownership of the Scudetto - so will have more time to embed his ambitious plans for flexible and innovative football.


Many, though, have speculated that despite receiving the backing of the club hierarchy, the former midfield maestro's days in the dugout are numbered.


Certainly, a defeat on Wednesday would see his men fall outside the top four with just nine games remaining and further escalate the pressure on his shoulders - with former boss Max Allegri apparently waiting in the wings.


In preparation for their long-anticipated trek north to Turin, Napoli came through a second-half scare in their dramatic 4-3 win over relegation-haunted Crotone on Saturday.


Napoli's impressive run of form has now seen them accumulate 16 points from a possible 18 in Serie A and propelled them back into the race for a place among the European elite next season.


Following a resilient 1-0 victory at his beloved Milan, Gattuso's side secured another fine away victory over Roma just before the international break. Now, though, the Campanian club is faced with what has traditionally been the toughest trip in Italian football, to meet Juventus.


Nonetheless, confidence is sky-high in the camp ahead of the game, which comes in a fortnight when Napoli must also take on leaders Inter and fellow top-four contenders Lazio - a period which is set to decide the future of their colorful head coach.

Final Analysis and Prediction:


As Andrea Pirlo clings onto his first job at the elite level, he meets a contemporary from his playing days who also have found management particularly challenging. Both may well be heading for an exit in the coming weeks, but first, their sides can serve up an entertaining third course this season of one of Calcio's most intense rivalries.


The visitors' formidable attacking unit is almost at full strength now and will prove hard to resist - even for Juve's experienced defense - but the outgoing Scudetto holders can hit back with goals of their own, as the top-four race goes to the wire.


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