Juventus vs. Napoli: Back The Old Lady to Triumph in Serie A Battle

by 24USATVApril 7, 2021, 8 p.m. 20
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Neither Juventus nor Napoli is likely to catch Inter Milan for the Serie A crown this season, but the top-four race in Italy has heated up in recent weeks.

While the Champions League kicks off Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET, there’s no better appetizer than Juventus hosting Napoli in a make-up game from early in the season. The Italian sides are tied on 56 points, meaning the winner of this match could leap ahead of Atalanta and into third place in the table.

The analytics community has been waiting for this season to happen to Juventus, where the Old Lady would underperform its underlying numbers and finally regress to the pack in the Italian top flight.

The past few seasons, Juventus survived off the over-performance of expected goals and held on for league titles. This year, things are different. Juventus is running under its numbers, and is actually underrated in the market for the first time in years.

I’ve shown value on the Old Lady much more than I would typically on a big public team and frontrunner like Juventus.

For example, Juventus has taken one point from its last six games, but it has been very unlucky in those affairs. The club won on xG via an 1.8-0.3 margin against Benevento, but suffered a 1-0 defeat.

The Old Lady had a 2.2-0.8 xG edge against Torino, but settled for a 2-2 draw. The narrative is asking what’s wrong with Juventus, but the answer isn’t much at all.

Once again, I’m backing Juventus to get all three points in this home fixture. Juventus won’t have center backs Merih Demiral or Leonardo Bonucci due to COVID-19 protocols, but it has two able replacements in Matthijs de Ligt and Georgio Chiellini to slide into the lineup.

Juventus should be able to shut down Napoli’s counterattacks pretty effectively. It has the best Serie A defense by almost three xGA in the advanced metric.

Napoli manager Gennaro Gattuso was on the hot seat, as his side was tumbling down the table. It was also easily knocked out of Coppa Italia by Atalanta, plus it was bounced from Europa League play by mid-table Spanish side Granada.

However, the Partenopei has turned in much improved results and performances since then to put themselves firmly in the top-four race. With AC Milan slipping up, it’s a four-team battle for the final three Champions League spots next season.

In its last six league matches, Napoli has won five and drawn once. The club had 11 xG versus just 6.5 xGA in that span. Napoli averages the most shots in the division per match, but they don’t tend to be high-quality chances.

The problem with this approach against Juventus is that the Old Lady has been most vulnerable to direct attacks, conceding bigger chances through the counter. There’s no doubt Gattuso will set up to hit its foe on the counter away from home, but his side will face resistance due to the fact Juventus doesn’t allow the kind of progressive carries Napoli will need to execute its style.

Napoli has one of the world’s best center backs in dealing with crosses in Kalidou Koulibaly, which will help it keep Juventus out of dangerous areas.

Koluibaly and Kostas Manolas are a major reason Napoli has one of the lowest pressing rates in Serie A, yet allows very few passes to be completed in its penalty area. Napoli will let passes be played into its final third, but doesn’t allow many to be completed inside the box.

Again, I show value on Juventus in this spot and like it to take all three points in this match. Napoli’s attack will have plenty of trouble generating big scoring chances, and will be stuck seeing its counters break down.

My projections have Juventus at -140 odds on the money line, which I’d play the Old Lady at -125 or better.

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