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Napoli v. Juventus: Dodging The Hammer

This will be a match that can either galvanize or dampen the rest of Napoli's season, and it's going to be a nail-biter all the way.

Valerio Pennicino

The biggest tie of matchday 31 of Serie A is one that's less decisive than Napoli fans may have hoped a few months ago. Still, this tie will go a long ways towards seeing whether or not Napoli have a shot at unseating Roma for second place, and a win would also go a long ways towards helping Napoli force Fiorentina out of the Champions League race for good.

Napoli v. Juventus:3/30/13 2045 CET, 1445 EST Stadio San PaoloNaples, Italy
Juggernaut Rising

If you follow Serie A football, then you don't need to hear the full schtick about Juventus. They've become the titan of Serie A since Antonio Conte showed up two and a half years ago, and stand poised to claim their third consecutive Serie A title while also pushing for a Europa League crown, the final for which happens to be getting held at their home stadium in Turin.

After a string of middling (for them) performances, Conte has tweaked his usual 3-5-2 formation a bit in order to address a few issues that were seeing the Old Lady leak goals. Andrea Pirlo had been struggling in transition, so opponents were starting to keep a speedy player near him to press off the ball and receive a long pass on the counter. In response, Conte has been shielding Pirlo a bit more with one of his box-to-box mids and keeping his wingbacks pulled back a little bit more than normal. This move seems to have fixed their issues, though at the cost of attacking output; Juve haven't scored more than two goals in a match since February 16th against Chievo.

Juventus have several players missing for this one, headlined by Carlos Tevez, who's suspended for yellow card accumulation. Andrea Barzagli, Angelo Ogbonna, Federico Peluso and Simone Pepe are all out injured, but Juve has the depth to live without them for the time being.

Standing On The Springboard

If the win over Catania was enough to stem the bleeding, a win over Juventus could serve to close the wound and give the rest of Napoli's campaign a bit of a blood transfusion. Of course, a loss would end any remote remaining hope of overtaking Roma for second place, so let's please not do that.

While Juve seem to have addressed their issues with Pirlo getting overrun in transition, it might be worth picking at that scab just to see what happens. Pulling Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon in a bit more central than normal and flooding that deep midfield zone with numbers could do a lot to give Napoli an advantage, especially with Martin Caceres looking shaky at the heart of Juve's back three recently. While normally that would represent a risk of getting exploited on the wings, Juve's use of just two wide players and having withdrawn those two recently makes it a much lower-risk proposition to consider.

While Camilo Zuniga didn't make the matchday squad like had been hoped, Napoli did receive a huge boost with the earlier-than-expected availability of Dries Mertens. It was thought that Mertens would miss two matches at minimum after spraining his ankle against Fiorentina, but apparently the Belgian will be available as a sub after missing just one match.

Projected lineups

Napoli (4-2-3-1): Reina; Reveillere, Fernandez, Albiol, Ghoulam; Jorginho, Inler; Callejon, Hamsik, Insigne; Higuain

Juventus (3-5-2): Buffon; Bonucci, Caceres, Chiellii; Lichtsteiner, Pogba, Pirlo, Vidal, Asamoah; Osvaldo, Llorente

At a glance

Juventus:1st; 26W 3D 1L; League Form WWWWW

Napoli: 3rd; 18W 7D 5L; League Form: WLWWD

Reverse fixture

Napoli seemed to forget what time the match started, leading to a painfully early goal for Fernando Llorente. Napoli wouldn't be able to find much of a way back in to the match until near the end of the first half, though they were able to dial up the pressure on Juventus considerably in the second half until a stunning Andrea Pirlo free kick doubled Juve's lead. If that hadn't already taken the wind out of Napoli's sails, a well-worked goal by Paul Pogba and assisted by Arturo Vidal was the gut punch that ended it all.

Watch it

The match will start Sunday at 8:45 PM CET/12:45 PM EST. Television coverage will be on Sky Calcio 1 in Italy, BT Sport 1 in the UK, and beIN Sports in America. Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, we'll have a match thread live here for discussion of the game at hand. You can also follow along with us live on Twitter.