One of the oldest tenants of war is "know thy enemy." Well, Napoli might not be at war, but on Saturday against Juventus it might feel like a war. With serious title implications at hand, there's a lot of eyeballs on this game and a lot to know about what we're going to see.
With that in mind, we decided it would be a good idea to know as much as we possibly could about the game before it happens. As we do when such things arise, we decided to gain some of that knowledge by talking to our peers, in this case the venerable -- or some such thing -- Danny Penza, managing editor of fellow SB Nation blog Black & White & Read All Over and whom you should follow on Twitter. What do they cover? Well, if you guessed Juventus, you would be right.
Anyways, Danny was kind enough to answer a few questions, and we answered a few of his own. You should read that, but wait until you've read what he had to say.
* * *
The Siren's Song: Paulo Dybala has been something of a revelation this season for Juventus after coming over from Palermo. What's made his transition and explosive growth so fast?
Black & White & Read All Over: First and foremost, he’s incredibly talented, so that’s always going to help you. Plus, for such a young age, Dybala is incredibly poised. Whenever he speaks, you just get the sense that he has the right kind of temperament to not just do well at a big club, but fulfill that amount of talent because of the head he has on his shoulders.
But I think the biggest thing was Max Allegri managing him and integrating Dybala into a full-time starting role a lot like he did with Álvaro Morata the season before. While it didn’t take as long for Dybala to become a regular, Allegri didn’t just throw him to the wolves right out of the gate. There was always going to be pressure for Dybala to produce because of the huge transfer fee that Juve shelled out to get him. Maybe the early-season goals Dybala scored when Juve were struggling forced Allegri to speed up the process a little bit, but you always got the sense that when he did become a full-time starter, it was going to stay like that.
And, you know what, it has. It’s a credit to not only Allegri for managing one of the best young talents in the game right now correctly, but also to Dybala for being such a freaking badass.
TSS: When last we met, Napoli beat Juventus as the bianconeri's last stumble of their bad start to the season. What has Juventus done to get things turned around since then?
BWRAO: It sounds kinda ironic right now, but Juventus got healthy. Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira were able to get into the lineup after their respective preseason injury troubles were over and done with, allowing Allegri to use a complete midfield for the first time all season. It helped Juve get right offensively, but it also helped the defense, which is now the best statistically in Serie A.
Then you have players like Dybala and Paul Pogba finding a pretty rich vein of form to really add a new dynamic to the team we hadn’t been seeing in the first four or six weeks of the season. We all know how electric Pogba can be when he’s on form, and a good of his performances over the last few months have been truly special. And when you have the hottest striker in the league not named Gonzalo Higuain on your rosters leading the way offensively, your team is going to have a chance to do some really good things.
TSS: How worried are you about the shakeups necessary because of Juventus' recent rash of injuries in defense and midfield?
BWRAO: If Juventus didn’t have an incredibly deep squad, I’d be more worried. But, the way it stands now, Allegri will probably be fielding a lot of the same players from the last few weeks, it will just be in a different kind of formation than a 3-5-2. Yes, it will suck not to have Giorgio Chiellini on the field, but it’s not like Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci are huge steps backwards in terms of quality. And it will no unfortunate to not have Mario Mandzukic pairing with Dybala up top, but Morata has been able to end his scoring slump with a pair of braces a couple of games back.
I guess it’s just taken away a lot of the options Allegri had a couple of weeks ago. Thank God for Juve’s squad depth or else I’d be in a much grumpier mood heading into the weekend.
TSS: How badly do you think Juventus need a win in this game for their title hopes?
BWRAO: I don’t think a loss would kill Juventus’ title shots, but it would obviously make things a little tougher than they were entering the game. That’s easy to figure out. Juventus have the chance to get into first place with their 15th straight win — something that didn’t seem possible when Juve were slogging through August and September.
That’s also easy to figure out. Allegri and the players have preached patience all season long — whether it’s after the first two weeks of the season or the first two months. There would be no better way to punctuate this rise up the table than to win a game, at home, against your closest competition.
TSS: Dabbing, pokemon hair, and neverending transfer rumors. What's next for Paul Pogba?
BWRAO: Total world domination? I don’t know. Whether he’s in a Juve jersey until the summer or for another five years, you know he’s going to have fun along the way. He’s 22 years old and loving life right now. I don’t blame him for any of the wild haircuts he’s shown off lately.