Italian football fans are being treated to one of the most captivating title races in recent memory as Napoli bid to finally end Juventus’ dominance. The Old Lady has claimed the last six consecutive Serie A titles, and these experienced players always seem to find a way to seize glory. But Napoli, who have frequently been the bridesmaids during Juventus’ glittering spell at the top, refuse to go away this season.
With 16 games to go, they hold a one-point lead over Juventus and have rediscovered form at just the right time. Maurizio Sarri’s men have won six on the bounce and are playing sumptuous football, so this one looks set to go to the wire.
The bookmakers understandably have Juventus as the slight favourites, given their recent domination in the league. But it is very close: Stan James is offering the best prices and it has evens on Juventus and 6/5 on Napoli. Others, including Ladbrokes, have both teams neck-and-neck at 5/6. That shows just how tight and tense this title race is.
Juventus have also won their last six games in a row and they have conceded just once in that time. Their defence has recovered from the loss of Leonardo Bonucci to AC Milan and it is firing on all cylinders once again, with Medhi Benatia impressing alongside Giorgio Chiellini. Juventus to win to nil has been an extremely profitable bet in recent weeks and it looks good at 4/5 with Ladbrokes, Coral and Bet Victor when they take on Sassuolo at the weekend.
Napoli also have an easy game to look forward to: they are up against bottom club Benevento and priced at just 1/5 to win it. To get any value on the game you have to go to -2 Asian handicap for Napoli, which is 28/29 with 188Bet and slightly less with other bookmakers. Benevento have been dreadful this season and come into the game after suffering back-to-back 3-0 defeats against Bologna and Torino, so Napoli’s formidable attack should allow them to cover that spread.
They have scored 28 times in 22 games this season and conceded just 14 goals, and would be even further clear were it not for a rocky patch of form in late November and early December. They have now got key players fit and well and they are in excellent form once more. They will arguably never have a better chance of winning the league.
Napoli benefited from having a settled squad at a time of great upheaval for all their key rivals at the start of the season, as the likes of Juventus, Roma and the Milan clubs embarked on ambitious rebuilding projects. Now they are 11 points clear of Lazio, 13 ahead of Inter, 16 ahead of Roma and 23 points clear of AC Milan. It is a two-horse race between Napoli and Juventus, and it will be fascinating to see who holds their nerve.
Inter are ambitious and will improve ahead of next season, while Milan are in a financial mess but could easily be sold to another wealthy benefactor. Meanwhile, Juventus will regroup and bolster their already strong squad. Now is the time for Napoli to win a first title since 1986-87, when they counted Diego Maradona among their ranks. But can they pull it off?
It will be close, but right now you would have to favour Juventus. They may trail by a point, but they have a lot more experience in their squad and have so many players that know how to get the team over the line in a title race. The Chiellinis, Barzaglis and Buffons are all seasoned pros and know how to get the job done, while they have outrageously talented forwards in Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain. The chance to double your money on backing the dominant Juventus to win a seventh title in a row is extremely tempting right about now.