Must beat Juventus tonight
1 March ~ Napoli and Juventus meet tonight in a "match of the season" that could virtually decide who wins Serie A. With 12 games to go Juventus have 58 points and Napoli 52. Juventus have been less consistent this term but Napoli have failed to take advantage of their slips. Including a 5-0 aggregate Europa League defeat to Viktoria Plzen, they have failed to score in four games. The way their goals are distributed tells you how different the sides are. Napoli have scored 46 with Edinson Cavani, Serie A's leading scorer so far, on 18 and Marek Hamsik on nine.
Cavani has not scored for 500 minutes and this is the main reason for Napoli's poor recent results. They have a good first 11 but their squad lacks depth compared to Juventus, as their Europa League results have shown.
You would need to go down to 18th place to find Juventus' leading scorers in Serie A – Sebastian Giovinco and Fabio Quagliarella, both on seven. Yet as a team they have scored 53 times, seven more than Napoli. They have two players on six, three on five and two on four. This paints a picture of a team in which the burdens are shared, whereas Napoli rely on the inspiration of one or two. It also means that no opposition can pinpoint one Juventus player to stop, because anyone might score and most of them have.
Despite having scored so freely, Juventus were still looking in January for a so-called "top player" to complete their attack, which is presumably why they signed Nicolas Anelka. But, unsurprisingly, as yet he has hardly played. So tonight, in what will no doubt be the kind of febrile atmosphere that only Napoli in Italy can produce – possibly with an official attendance that is way below the real numbers inside the stadium – the question will be whether Cavani can end his goal drought against a far from brilliant but solid Juventus. If he does not, the odds will be stacked against Napoli winning.
Those who do not want the championship to be virtually decided on March 1 must hope for a Napoli win. If they get it, they will have a chance because Juventus still have European commitments. For the visitors a draw would be fine because in the head-to-heads they would have four points to Napoli's one. With the rules currently operating in Italy, Napoli would have to take at least seven points more than Juventus in the last 11 games to win the title. Richard Mason