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Napoli feeling the pressure at the top of Serie A

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By Football Italiano

Thursday 08 March 2018

The shadow of Juventus is starting to loom ever larger over the shoulder of Napoli. The two sides have been leading the title charge from the front for much of the campaign, opening up a seemingly unassailable gap in points between themselves and the chasing pack led by Roma, Lazio and Inter.

Matchday 27 in Serie A brought the mouth-watering prospect of the top four teams in direct confrontation, as first place Napoli hosted third placed Roma, while Juventus in second travelled away to Lazio in fourth spot. If ever there was a time when the superb form of the two leaders could finally be tested and maybe even broken, this was perhaps it.

Having won the last six consecutive titles, inevitably, Juventus are Serie A betting favourites at 4/9 odds for a seventh league triumph in a row. The ‘Old Lady’ may have enjoyed a patriarchal dominance over recent years, but heading into matchday 27, Napoli had a four-point advantage at the top of the table thanks to a phenomenal ten-match winning streak in Serie A. Everything suggested that at long last, Gli Azzurri could break the Turin side’s domestic stranglehold.

Not since Diego Maradona wore their famous blue shirt have Napoli won the Italian league title. The passionate Neapolitan fans have endearing memories of the 1989-90 title triumph, and their Argentine messiah has achieved a legendary status in the city, still revered as a god-like figure to this day. Only in recent years have Napoli come close to achieving that feat again, and perhaps never more so than during the current 2017-18 campaign.

Following the 0-5 away romp at Cagliari in their previous fixture, Napoli were expected to continue their winning ways against a Roma side who endured a disastrous end to 2017, and an equally poor start to 2018. However, the visitors clearly hadn’t read the script before their visit to Stadio San Paolo on Saturday March 3rd.

When Lorenzo Insigne gave Napoli an early 6th minute lead, the home fans might have been forgiven for thinking their side might coast to another three points. Less than a moment later, Cengiz Ünder brought celebrations to a halt with the equaliser for Roma. Towering Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko struck a brace of goals either side of half-time and the hosts were falling apart. A fourth for the visitors by Diego Perotti only added insult to injury, before Dries Mertens scored little more than a consolation as his side fell to a humiliating 2-4 home defeat.

Just a few hours prior to that encounter, Juventus had travelled to the Italian capital for their earlier kick-off against Lazio, who akin to their city rivals, had endured a poor run of form in 2018. Nevertheless, Lazio provided stiff opposition for their visitors in a game with limited scoring chances, mostly due to the key battles fought in midfield and the stubborn defensive resolve of the home side. In the end, the ‘Old Lady’ needed the assistance of ‘Lady Luck’ to take the three points, with Paulo Dybala scoring a priceless winner two minutes into stoppage time.

The final run of fixtures will now be a genuine test of resolve for Napoli, as they seek a first Serie A title in almost three decades. The question now is whether they’ll bounce back stronger from their disappointing defeat against Roma, or buckle under the pressure, with Juventus quite literally breathing down their necks. The two sides meet towards the end of April in what could prove to be a title decider at the Allianz Stadium in Turin.

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