MILAN (Reuters) – Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti is convinced his team can still compete with dominant Juventus — although it may not be this season.
Thirteen points clear at the top of Serie A, Juventus visit second-placed Napoli for what over the last few seasons has become the outstanding Serie A fixture and, more often than not, a top-of-the-table clash.
Juve’s lead is so commanding that even a Napoli win is unlikely to knock them off course for an eighth successive title, something which may have taken some of the sting out of the bitter north-south rivalry which surrounds the fixture.
The Turin side will also have more than half an eye on the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Atletico Madrid 10 days later when they will try to overturn a 2-0 deficit.
They may also be without Serie A top-scorer Cristiano Ronaldo who suffered a knock on his left ankle in Sunday’s 1-0 win over Bologna.
“The table doesn’t lie, it is partly to Juve’s credit and partly due to our failings,” Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti told Il Stampa on Thursday.
“Juventus will come here to wrap up the Scudetto race by exploiting their characteristics: solid defence, counterattack, competitive spirit, speed. There are no secrets between these two teams.”
Even so, it promises to be a fascinating match, not least because Napoli still have to chance to stop Juventus repeating their feat of 2011-12 when they won the title unbeaten.
It is also an intriguing test for Ancelotti who has gradually rebuilt the side he inherited from Maurizio Sarri last May.
Napoli can still produce the fluid game which was a hallmark of Sarri but Ancelotti’s approach is less dogmatic.
He has been more willing than Sarri to give younger players such as Kevin Malcuit, Fabian Ruiz, Adam Ounas and Piotr Zielinski a run in the team and keener to vary Napoli’s tactics — their defence, in particular, has improved noticeably.
The team which starts on Sunday may have only four or five survivors from the side who won 1-0 in Turin in April — the last time Juventus lost a Serie A match.
As Ancelotti pointed out, Napoli have not done badly this season, winning 17 out of 25 league games, but simply have not been able to keep up with the relentless pace set by Juventus, who have dropped only six points.
He compared Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis to Silvio Berlusconi who was AC Milan’s owner when Ancelotti enjoyed a successful spell there between 2001 and 2009.
“De Laurentiis is similar to Berlusconi in that he runs the company like a big family. And I feel like one of the family,” he said.
“Winning at Napoli is an unfulfilled wish and, sooner of later, it will happen. I am sure about that.”
(Reporting by Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond)