A week and a half ago, every neutral Serie A fan was talking about Napoli potentially extending their lead at the top of the table to 7 points…
At that point, Napoli had won 10 consecutive Serie A matches, the longest winning streak in the history of the club. They were facing Roma at the San Paolo in the Saturday posticipo. The Giallorossi entered that match in poor form, winning just 3 of their previous 10 domestic matches.
In the match scheduled directly before that Napoli-Roma clash, second-place Juventus was traveling to the Olimpico to face Lazio. The Biancocelesti had been the kryptonite for Juve in recent meetings, beating them in the Super Coppa Final in August and then again at Allianz Stadium in October.
As Lazio-Juventus neared its conclusion, the scoreline showed 0-0 and it appeared that Juve would drop a crucial two points in the race for the Scudetto. Then, Paulo Dybala pulled a rabbit out of his hat, as the whole sequence seemingly played out in slow motion for the Napoli supporters who were watching. Stoppage time goal. Lazio– 0 Juventus– 1.
After that devastating finish, Napoli stepped onto the field for their match against Roma carrying a huge weight on their backs. Less than an hour before, they were in a position to extend their lead at the top of the table. Now, anything less than a win and they would be letting Juventus right back into the race. It was a cruel, sudden shift in fortune.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Napoli could not regain their composure and put in the effort needed to earn points. Despite scoring on a deflected strike from Lorenzo Insigne in the 6th minute, they gave the lead away one minute later, as a shot from Cengiz Under took an unlucky flick off the leg of Mario Rui into the net. The rest of the match belonged to Roma, and the final score was 4-2 in their favor.
The Scudetto lead was trimmed to just one point, with Juventus also holding a game in hand.
This past weekend the situation got even worse for Napoli. Once again, Juventus took the field first (home to Udinese), and once again they kept a clean sheet and took all 3 points. In the Sunday posticipo, Napoli and Inter battled to a 0-0 draw. Two more points lost for the Partenopei.
So in a span of eight days, Napoli went from +4 at the top of the table to -1, and Juventus still hold that all-important game in hand, which will be made up on Wednesday against Atalanta.
While the path to the Scudetto has now become much more difficult for Napoli, the race is far from over:
For one thing, they still have a head-to-head clash with Juventus at the Allianz Stadium coming up next month. With the current run of form for Juventus, that match is likely a must-win for Napoli, and a chance for a crucial 3 points gained.
While a road match against the dominant Italian club might be a troublesome thought, keep in mind that Napoli have been incredible away from the San Paolo this season. So far in 2017-18, the Partenopei have 12 wins and 2 draws in 14 Serie A away matches. That gives them 38 of a possible 42 points when they travel to other stadiums, the most in the league. That impressive run of form away from the San Paolo is the main reason we are even still talking about a Scudetto race at this point.
Also in Napoli’s favor are the additional obligations of Juventus coming up. As hard as it was to watch, Juve moving on the Champions League was a massive win for Napoli, as it gives the Bianconeri less time and attention to devote to their Serie A opponents. The Champions League Quarterfinal draw will take place on Friday, but we already know that Juventus will be playing four matches (2 CL and 2 Serie A) between April 3rd and April 15th.
If Juve continue to progress in the Champions League (that’s hard for me to even write), they would play the two legs of the Semifinals during the last week of April and first week of May.
And don’t forget, Juventus also has that midweek match to make up this week (which will be no easy task against Atalanta) and the Coppa Italia final against Milan, which will be played just four days before they take on Roma in a Serie A match in May. That’s a lot of action to endure in a short period of time.
Napoli, for better or worse, gave away their chances at European competitions to focus on the Scudetto. This is what Sarri has been preparing his team for all along. We don’t have to deal with any outside distractions. We don’t have to deal with the Coppa Italia. We don’t have to deal with midweek obligations (other than one Serie A match against Udinese in April).
The last two Napoli matches have not been pretty, especially considering how high they were flying during the winning streak. But hope is not lost. The schedule eases up for a few weeks, so Napoli should be able to return to their old form.
More importantly, there will still be opportunities to gain points on Juventus. And when those times come, Napoli must be ready to pounce.
By Pete Winter Follow @pwinter7