It may only be Round 8 of Serie A, but Saturday's match between Juventus and Napoli has already been billed as a fight for the scudetto. This might be a bit of an exaggeration -- after all, both Lazio and Inter Milan sit just four points behind the leaders. One slip, and either of those sides will have a foot in the door.
The trouble is, neither Napoli or Juve have slipped. Not only are they both unbeaten, as everyone knows, but they've barely conceded goals. Napoli have let in just three, Juventus follow with four. Considering the fact that both their defenses can make supporters quiver in terror, this is fairly impressive.
Of course, the two sides both boast of the best offenses in the league. Here the Old Lady has the edge, having scored 17 goals already, while Napoli has 14. The partenopei are more dependent on one source for those goals, however, and Edinson Cavani has already notched six this season. Andrea Pirlo and Sebastian Giovinco each have three for Juve, Fabio Quagliarella and Mirko Vucinic each have two, and Alessandro Matri one -- clearly, this is not a side overly reliant on its strikers.
Interestingly enough, for this match, both sides might have one significant weak spot. No, Napoli supporters, Andrea Pirlo will not be missing. Sorry for getting your hopes up like that. No, for Juventus, it's Gianluigi Buffon who might be out of action. He picked up a thigh strain while on international duty, which kept him out of Italy's match against Denmark. It's still uncertain whether he'll be in goal on Saturday. Although backup keeper Marco Storari is more than adequate, he's no San Gigi -- and sometimes, there's just comfort in a name. Comfort and acrobatic stunts.
But the home side may not need to fret too much. Somehow, Napoli managed to misplace their star player -- or perhaps it was Uruguay that did the misplacing. Cavani's flight out of South America was delayed, meaning he'll be with his side for just one training session before the big game. Napoli suffered no harm after the last international break, beating Parma 3-1, but with such a big match ahead, even the smallest details matter.
Even if Cavani was at perfect fitness and Buffon was missing from goal, Juventus would still be favored to win this match. Their midfield is excellent and orchestrated by the nearly infallible Pirlo. Goals, as has been mentioned, could come from almost anywhere. If the bianconeri frustrate the visitors, as they almost certainly will, Napoli will likely give away fouls in locations that lead to goals.
All in all, the outlook doesn't look good for Napoli. But this is a side that's capitalized on the element of surprise over the past few seasons. When their counter-attack is clicking, the partenopei are one of the best in the world at the maneuver. Add to that the fact that Marek Hamsik has come into the spotlight to shine this season, Lorenzo Insigne is just waiting in the wings for his chance to dazzle, and Salvatore Aronica has been relegated to the bench. If any side in Serie A can put a stop to Juve's unbeaten run, this is the one.
Match Date/Time: Saturday, October 20 at 6 p.m. local time, 12 noon ET
Venue: Juventus Stadium, Turin
TV: BeIN Sport (USA); Premium Calcio, Sky Calcio 1 (Italy); RAI Internazionale