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Juventus' remarkable turnaround can reach its peak against Napoli

Juventus' season reached its nadir against Napoli in the fall, but on Saturday it can swing all the way back around to its highest point.

Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

When last Juventus met Napoli, in a heated match in Naples back in September, they were at a decided low point. They sat 13th in table and had only a tiny points cushion above the relegation zone, and had won just a single match in Serie A all season. When Napoli beat them 2-1 on that Saturday evening, all bianconeri fans could do was hang their heads and trudge on. After that day, though, something changed for Juventus -- something that propelled them to what stands as a 14-match winning streak heading into this weekend's crucial match against Napoli.

This time Juventus and the partenopei face off in Turin, and their standing is rather different -- instead of fighting over the lower reaches of the table, Juventus trail first-place Napoli by just two points, making this match not just the next phase of a fast-developing rivalry, but a match that should prove vital to the Serie A title race.

What's changed for Juventus in that time? How did they go from a team that couldn't get out of first gear to a team that's been nigh-unstoppable for months?

It didn't happen overnight. Juventus won two of their next three matches, but drew the match in between the wins and lost another right after that. They'd shown definite progress after losing to Napoli, but "progress" wasn't quite "quality" just yet. Then things finally started to click, and the dominant run they're currently enjoying began.

The biggest change has been simply Juventus getting healthy, especially in midfield. Sami Khedira started the season with an injury that kept him out for a number of weeks, and Claudio Marchisio was hurt almost as the first whistle blew. Getting that pair of midfielders back, as well as getting several defenders healthy again, helped Juventus restore their depth and get back to playing how they wanted to play -- instead of relying on more limited backups trying to play roles they're not comfortable with, which ends up with Paul Pogba trying to do everything himself and getting frustrated.

Speaking of Pogba, giving him his freedom back has also helped Juventus immensely. When he was having to spend much of his time defending and then trying to drive play, it left him too predictable and too easy to knock off-kilter. Having Marchisio and Khedira in the midfield with him gives Juventus two more quality bodies who play well with Pogba and with each other. With that balance and fluidity restored, the French phenom was able to get back to doing what he does best -- disrupting play, exploiting gaps in the opposing midfield, and making himself a gigantic nuisance to whatever poor team Juventus were smacking down that day.

Pogba's form hitting an upswing allowed manager Max Allegri to free up another player -- newcomer Paulo Dybala. The Argentine forward was brought in from Palermo over the summer at great cost, but early in the season when Juventus were struggling it was hard for Allegri to find a role for him. A struggling and frustrated team doesn't make for an easy time bedding in a new and tricky player, especially when he doesn't play quite like any other player Juventus already had. Even comparisons to the departed Carlos Tevez never really fit -- both are tricky Argentine strikers, yes, but the ways that they're tricky were different enough that Allegri couldn't just plug Dybala into Tevez's old role up front and stop thinking about it.

When Dybala did get chances to play, though, he slowly started to force Allegri's hand. He was often one of Juventus' most impressive players whenever he stepped onto the pitch, and eventually Allegri had no choice but to find a way to keep Dybala in the starting line up on a permanent basis. Eventually, once Pogba had gotten back to his usual barnstorming self, Dybala was given the freedom to work as he saw fit, floating between the lines and exploiting the extra attention to Pogba whenever the opportunity presented itself. That punishment comes in the form of Dybala scoring wonderful goals himself -- 13 so far this season -- and in his surprising creative talents, putting him among the league leaders in assists so far this season.

Perhaps most importantly, though, Juventus got their attitude back. Early in the season, Juventus didn't have much of a point to prove -- they had just won their fourth straight scudetto title in Serie A after all, so they came into matches assuming that things would stay the same as they'd been for the last four years. It turned out that injuries on top of a lot of summer turnover in the roster on top of a much-improved league meant they couldn't just walk through matches, and after a couple months' worth of getting their collective nose bloodied, Juventus got up off the mat and started punching back like the bianconeri of old.

Now Juventus are showing their grinta again -- the grit and determination and edge that is so valued in Italian football -- and it's paid off in a big way. They've shot up the table like they were strapped to a rocket, and if they win on Saturday, they won't only avenge perhaps their most gut-wrenching loss of the season. They'll finally have completed their comeback and returned to the place that Juventus and their fans have always felt that they've belonged: on top of Serie A.