April 19, 2018 / 1:34 PM / 3 months ago

Napoli shining once again ahead of Juve clash

FLORENCE, Italy (Reuters) - The only major European league with anything resembling a genuine title race reaches a potentially decisive moment on Sunday when leaders Juventus and second-placed Napoli clash with four points separating them in Serie A.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Serie A - Napoli vs Juventus - Stadio San Paolo, Naples, Italy - December 1, 2017 Napoli's Marek Hamsik and Dries Mertens look dejected after the match as Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini celebrate REUTERS/Ciro De Luca/File Photo

Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Paris St Germain have all won their respective leagues with several games to spare while Barcelona are runaway leaders in La Liga, leaving Serie A as the only real contest among the top five championships.

Even in Italy, however, a Juventus win would give them a seven-point lead with four matches to play, putting them on the brink of a seventh successive title.

A Napoli win, on the other hand, would throw the cat among the pigeons, especially as Juventus appear to have the more difficult run-in.

Napoli are the neutrals’ favourites, partly because they are outsiders and partly because of their adventurous style and the passing moves they weave through the opposition midfield.

The side had begun to look stale recently and scored only four goals in five matches before Wednesday’s game against Udinese when a 4-2 win convinced Maurizio Sarri that his team have rediscovered their spark.

“I’m happy because I’ve seen the team play well and they are shining again,” he said.

“We are a team whose philosophy is always to try and impose our style of play and we will try to do that in Turin as well,” he added.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Serie A - Napoli vs Juventus - Stadio San Paolo, Naples, Italy - December 1, 2017 Juventus’ Gonzalo Higuain scores their first goal REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo

“Of course, it will clearly be difficult against a strong team, in a very tough stadium, and they have one of the most complete teams in Europe. But we won’t change our philosophy.”

The chain-smoking coach has said he is not losing any sleep over Juventus and that Napoli had already achieved their main target for the season by qualifying for the Champions League.

“You must be mad if you think I go to bed every night thinking about Juventus,” he said.

After Sunday, Juventus still have tough matches away to Inter Milan and AS Roma and two straightforward-looking home games against Bologna and Verona.

Napoli’s trickiest match is away to Fiorentina and they also face Sampdoria away and Torino and Crotone at home.

Juventus at one point on Wednesday looked as if they were going to go nine points clear as they led 1-0 at Crotone, before being held 1-1, while Napoli trailed Udinese before winning.

But Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri was unflustered.

“A month and a half ago, I’d have happily taken a four-point advantage,” he said. “There are so many matches to play and Sunday will be a fantastic challenge.”

He also dismissed any suggestion that striker Gonzalo Higuain looked tired against Crotone.

“Everyone will be up to the challenge on Sunday,” he said. “I’m not worried. We know that if we win, we will be closer to the title and we have to fight for this.”

Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis

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