Damiani: Pogba or Higuain to settle Juventus v Napoli clash

The ex-winger tipped a massive clash as part of a trio of ex-Bianconeri and Partenopei players to weigh in on Saturday’s potentially decisive Scudetto clash

Oscar Damiani believes star men Paul Pogba and Gonzalo Higuain possess the quality to decide this weekend’s crunch clash between his former clubs Juventus and Napoli.

Napoli lead the way in Serie A, sitting two points ahead of reigning champions Juventus at the summit with the holders recovering from a bad start to their title defence to lead the chasing pack in second place thanks to a club-record run of 14 consecutive league wins.

France international midfielder Pogba has been an influential performer during that sequence and will look to extend the streak at Juventus Stadium, although Argentina striker Higuain will have other ideas after scoring 24 goals in 24 matches to storm to the top of the Serie A scoring charts.

And Damiani, who was part of the Juventus side that won Serie A in 1974/75, predicts what is set to be a mammoth clash will be decided by either of the league’s two standout players.

“This match will be decided by one single moment of talent,” he told Omnisport.

“Despite having different characteristics, Juventus and Napoli are on the same level. Not to mention anyone in particular, but [Gonzalo] Higuain on one side and [Paul] Pogba on the other could be decisive.

“Pogba has already been instrumental in the past against Napoli, and Higuain is the top scorer and a great champion. It will be a great game, there will be lots of goals and the fans will be happy.”

Massimo Mauro, who ended a four-year stint at Juventus to join Napoli in 1989, believes Higuain is the key ingredient that offsets the defensive frailties shown on occasions by Maurizio Sarri’s men.

“If Napoli were to win the league, it would be the first time a team that didn’t boast the best defence would have won the title,” Mauro added. “But Napoli have Higuain, an impressive striker who has been scoring one goal every match on average.

“That’s something that has never happened in Serie A. It could happen that Napoli – even without the best defence but with a brilliant Higuain could win the title. There will be balance until the end, until the last two weeks.”

Nevertheless, Jose Altafini – a Juventus team-mate of Damiani’s following an acclaimed spell with Napoli – thinks the title-winning know-how of Massimiliano Allegri’s squad could be enough to get them over the line.

“Juventus have a lot of experience. They know what it means to always play for the highest stakes,” the former striker concluded. “They won four league titles in a row and reached a Champions League final [last season].

“They are calmer than Napoli. The cooler team will win.”

'Napoli are not all about Higuain' – Allegri

The Juventus coach has stressed that his side’s upcoming opponents have much more to their game than just the Argentine’s goals

Massimiliano Allegri has stressed that Juventus cannot afford to focus solely on Gonzalo Higuain when they take on Napoli on Saturday.

The Argentina international has already netted 24 goals in as many Serie A appearances this term, firing Napoli to the top of the table.

With second-placed Juventus preparing to host the league leaders on Saturday, Allegri is expecting a tough battle.

“Napoli are not all about Higuain,” the Juventus coach said at a news conference. “Higuain’s having the best season of his career, but it’s not just him we’ll have to look out for.

“They have the league’s second-best defence and have scored more goals than any other team.

“Napoli are in great form and playing well. It will be a great game from a tactical and technical point of view. We’ll need to be controlled in our approach and put in a great performance.

“Saturday’s game won’t decide this year’s Scudetto. After tomorrow night there will still be 39 points up for grabs. We lost the first game against Napoli 2-1 due to two errors, but we had our chances to earn a draw.

“We need to get used to dealing with these kinds of games. We have a fair few of them coming up from tomorrow onwards. Winning a fifth consecutive title would see this Juventus side go down in history.”

'Phenomenon' Higuain is the perfect finisher – Maccarone

The 36-year-old has hailed his fellow striker’s abilities in front of goal, though feels former boss Maurizio Sarri has his work cut out for him against a revitalised Juve side


GOALEXCLUSIVE  


Empoli striker Massimo Maccarone has weighed in on the upcoming top-of-the-table clash between Juventus and Napoli, claiming the latter have “the perfect finisher” in the form of Gonzalo Higuain.

The match has been stylised as Juve’s defence versus the Partenopei’s attack, but the 36-year-old feels that singling out sections of each team for praise is misguided.

“It’s restrictive,” Maccarone told Goal. “Napoli’s strength, other than the phenomenon of Higuain, comes from organisation across all departments.

“If team-mates don’t put you in a position to score, even the best striker will struggle. But Higuain is the best finisher for this team.

“Juventus have more individuality, you can’t just say they have a strong defence – just look at the attacking quality!

“Juve defend well because their players have spent a lot of time together, but they’re far more than just a defensive team.”

 
Maurizio Sarri has overseen Napoli’s rise to the top of Serie A since his arrival from Empoli, Maccarone’s current team, and the striker said that he knew his former boss would flourish if they players listened to his ideas.

“He has the full support of the squad,” he added. “That doesn’t always happen at top teams, but it seems the players are listening to what Sarri has to say and the results are evidence of that.

“I think he has a group of players who are doing their best to get it right, who have understood that by playing in a certain way you can achieve great things.

“And when results follow, players are happy.”

On the result, Maccarone was careful not to come off the fence, but feels that his former boss’ methodology can lead his new side to victory against the reigning champions.

“They are two very strong teams,” he went on. “When we faced Juventus at home it was not the team as they are now, but they have shown with their recent recovery that they have an incredible winning mentality as well as a very large squad.

“Napoli’s is not so big, but having said that and knowing the ideas of Sarri well, I am sure that they can go to Turin to attack and to win.”

Juventus or Napoli for the title? Superstars Dybala & Higuain face off in Scudetto showdown

Top of the table Napoli visit Turin in a Serie A showdown on Saturday evening with the form of two Argentinian hotshots likely to decide the outcome… and the title


GOALCOMMENT  


Gonzalo Higuain was out presumably to drown his sorrows after Argentina’s Copa America final penalty shootout defeat to Chile. He was back in Europe, and on the party island of Ibiza, arm-in-arm with national team colleague Ezequiel Lavezzi after leaving the legendary Pacha nightclub.

It was the bleary-eyed hours of the morning, with the sun rising, when holidaymakers in Ibiza are generally going to bed and not getting up. Higuain was approached in the street for a photo or an autograph but declined.

“You cannot even score penalties,” the man sniped after being denied his request – provoking an aggressive, even unnecessary response from Higuain. The striker had indeed missed his spot kick in the Santiago shootout – effectively handing the title to Chile – just as he had missed a penalty at 2-2 in the final Serie A game of the season against Lazio which would have qualified Napoli to the Champions League ahead of their opponents.

It all boiled over and Higuain couldn’t control himself; every second of the incident was captured humiliatingly on a smartphone camera. That he would rise to such an infantile jibe showed how much those missed chances were still playing on his mind. He was unable to ignore the taunting. 

“Delete the video or I’ll rip off your head,” he barked. It was a pretty undignified way to end a night and, indeed, a season.

Well, if Higuain’s inability to take chances was the reason for Argentina’s failure to win their first Copa since 1993 then his spectacular relaunch this season under coach Maurizio Sarri has put Napoli in with their best chance of winning an Italian league title since the heydey of Naples’s first true Argentinian hero – Diego Maradona. 

Higuain, who moved to Campania from Real Madrid in order to emulate the great playmaker, has scored an incredible 24 goals in 24 Serie A games this season. Also leading the race for the European Golden Shoe, he looks set to become the first man to break the 30-goal barrier in the Italian top division since Luca Toni in 2005-06. 

“Higuain is enjoying being the main man,” the former Inter striker Diego Forlan wrote in his column for The National this week. “If you go to training as a club’s main goalscorer, in-form and knowing you are going to play matches, that gives you a lift.”

Napoli travel to the Juventus Stadium this Saturday night with their Scudetto credentials on the line. Win and they go five points clear of a Juventus side who have won 14 Serie A matches in a row to go along with their four successive Serie A titles. Lose and they are leapfrogged by Italy’s most in-form team, who are not prone to slipping once in front. 

Napoli, naturally, have been trying to play down the significance of this tie but the mere thought of it must be making the hearts of the club’s fans skip a beat. They have not played as important a league match since 1990 despite Higuain’s attempts to pour cold water on it. 

“Juventus is not the most important game of the year, it is just one other match in this tournament,” Higuain told reporters following last week’s narrow win over Carpi. 

Juventus have risen imposingly up the standings since claiming only 12 points from their first 10 matches. A transitional season looked on the cards with the departures of Arturo Vidal, Carlos Tevez and Andrea Pirlo creating holes in the side that seemingly could not be filled. 

The man who took Tevez’s position and Pirlo’s number, however, has done more than anyone to put the Bianconeri right back in contention for the title. Paulo Dybala, the Argentinian signed for €32m from Palermo last summer, is second only to Higuain in the goalscoring standings in Serie A having graduated from under-utilised substitute to most important player in a matter of weeks. The 22-year-old has scored 13 times and registered a further eight assists in only 19 starts after winning over Allegri in the autumn. 

“They will be the stars of this match,” former Juventus striker Fabrizio Ravanelli told Goal this week. “They are two magnificent players. Higuain is deadly; a unique striker who sees the goal as well as anyone. He will be a constant danger.”

“Dybala has surprised me a lot in the first part of this season. He has a magic left foot and the numbers speak clearly for themselves: dribbling, wonderful assists for his team-mates, lots of goals and a great ability all across the pitch.”

It’s Italy’s best attack – Napoli have scored 53 times in the league – against Italy’s best defence with Juventus having conceded only once in their nine matches so far in 2016.

However, while Napoli will be at full strength with Higuain, Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon leading the threat, Juventus have been ripped apart by injuries. Sami Khedira and Mario Mandzukic were already ruled out and Martin Caceres and Giorgio Chiellini are the latest casualties.

Their absences mean Allegri is near certain to switch from the 3-5-2 which has brought about the Juventus resurgence to a four-man backline. That change, though, could well be counterbalanced by Napoli’s paltry record in Turin; they have never beaten Juve at their current home and lost 3-1 there last season. 

Nonetheless, Napoli will be emboldened by their 2-1 victory over the champions at San Paolo earlier this season – even if it came during Juventus’s crisis at the start of the season. That night, inevitably, Higuain was on target as was Insigne.

It’s one Argentine against another as Serie A’s only two remaining title contenders face off for first place. Fiorentina and Inter have fallen away allowing Napoli – the outsiders who have strung together a club-record eight league wins in a row – and Juve, the relentless juggernaut, to take over. It’s going to be some game in Turin on Saturday evening.

RUMOURS: Chelsea name Serie A star as their top target for the summer

The Premier League club wanted Gonzalo Higuain in January but their advances were rejected by the Napoli striker after being told he wasn’t guaranteed a starting role


Chelsea have made Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain their top target for the summer, according to The Daily Mirror.

The report claims that Chelsea wanted the Argentine during the January transfer window, but the striker rejected a move as he was not guaranteed to start ahead of Diego Costa.

Atletico Madrid have registered their interest in re-signing Costa at the end of the season, while Napoli value Higuain at £40 million.

Chelsea are desperate to bolster their attacking options, especially with Loic Remy potentially moving to China before the end of the month.



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