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Juventus vs. Napoli: rationality be damned

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After eleven league matches and four Champions League rounds, it is Napoli that look slightly better than Juventus. But that objective approach doesn't help take the edge off the trip to Turin.

Claudio Villa

On the surface, this match doesn't look so worrying. Juventus and Napoli are almost dead even in the standings. Both have lost once: Napoli to table-toppers AS Roma; Juventus to sixth-place Fiorentina. Both have a single draw: Inter Milan held the Old Lady; Sassuolo took points from Napoli.

And, looking at it objectively, Napoli just might have the advantage. The only partenopei loss came to the unbeaten Roma, who were perfect at the time. The match was moved ahead, forcing Napoli to use a makeshift starting XI to compensate for players unable to make it back from the international break. They were also missing Gonzalo Higuaín. Napoli were also already thinking about the upcoming must-win against Marseille. Roma, meanwhile, were fresh as a daisy and with no serious injury concerns.

As for Juventus, they too can claim that their loss was down to, in part, their minds being on the midweek match against Real Madrid. They can blame a lack of Arturo Vidal, as the Chilean was late returning due to partying with his national side. But the fact remains that Old Lady held on to a 2-0 lead until 65 minutes had passed, only to wind up losing 4-2.

Napoli, too, might hold a tiny edge when it comes to strength of the schedule. Juventus have yet to face Roma, while the partenopei still haven't met up with their old friends Walter Mazzarri and Inter. Juve have had to deal with Hellas Verona, but Napoli have not -- but since it was in Turin and not in Verona, the fierceness of the competition is slightly neutralized. The bianconeri beat Milan at home, but it was Napoli that dispensed with them at the San Siro. And while both played in Florence, Juventus dropped their lead while Napoli held on for a win, despite being outplayed by the viola.

Last season, the narrative was all about Juve's mental strength, their toughness, their belief. And we've seen them come back -- a quick response against Inter for the draw, a comeback win secured by halftime against Verona. But this season, we've also seen the Old Lady crumble just a bit. It took an own goal from Chievo Verona -- as well as some dubious offside decisions -- for Juventus to get that win. Milan very nearly made a game of it with a late goal in Turin. Galatasaray came back to nick a point in Champions League play. And, of course, there was the infamous Giuseppe Rossi thumping.

In fact, after 11 rounds, it's Napoli that hold the better goal difference, with 24 scored and 8 conceded. Juventus have allowed 10 and scored 23. They're slightly better on the road than Juve and are currently sitting a slot above in the table. So why, why, why does this match feel so terrifying?

Perhaps it's because Napoli, too, have been caught out, particularly recently. Although the attack is magnificent (seriously, where did this José Callejón kid come from, anyway?) nothing was really done to shore up the back line. Sure, Raúl Albiol was brought in to replace Hugo Campagnaro, but nothing else was done to bolster it. With Paolo Cannavaro set to go to the place with the white padded walls, and Miguel Britos being broken, and Camilo Zúñiga being broken as well, and Christian Maggio having finally aged, well, it's certain: Napoli could've done with some defensive reinforcements. And no, an emergency buy of Anthony Réveillère does not qualify.

The partenopei still have an impressive defensive record, but they've been crumbling as of late, particularly on set pieces. Catania scored a goal, for goodness sake. Marseille scored three (yes, over two matches, but the point still stands). And now Napoli must face Carlos Tévez. And Paul Pogba. And...gulp...Andrea Pirlo and his free kicks.

Even if reason shows that Napoli have a slight edge, and even if this side is unlikely to completely fall apart, the terror remains. This is Juventus. In the 148 times Napoli have faced them in all competitions, Napoli have won just 31 times -- and only 8 times in Turin. Leaving aside the Coppa triumph (which was pretty amazing, considering it was during Juve's unbeaten season), Napoli haven't beaten Juventus since January 2011. Which may not have been all that long ago, but with recent 2-0 and 3-0 losses in Turin, and 2-2 and 3-3 draws in Naples, it sure seems like forever.

You can put it down on paper that Napoli aren't really the weaker side. You can show the flaws in the bianconeri team. You can talk up the Napoli attack. But when it comes down to it, this match isn't on paper. Rationality doesn't factor in. And that's what makes it truly terrifying.