Napoli has chance to reopen Serie A title race

ANDREW DAMPF AP Sports Writer Published:

ROME (AP) -- Napoli's match with Serie A leader Juventus on Friday could represent the last chance for the southern club to reopen the title race.

Juventus holds a six-point lead over Napoli and is closing in on its 28th Italian league title, but that could change depending on the result at San Paolo stadium in Naples.

The rivalry between the two clubs has grown especially tense over the past two seasons.

Napoli's victory in last year's Italian Cup final inflicted Juve's only loss last season. But Juventus exacted revenge with a comeback 4-2 extra-time win in the Italian Super Cup in Beijing in August, after which Napoli skipped the award ceremony.

Juventus won again in October, beating Napoli 2-0 with late goals from substitutes Martin Caceres and Paul Pogba.

"For two years now we've been playing with everything on the line that Italy has to offer," Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio said. "They are always extremely tough matches, like the Italian Cup final and especially the Super Cup."

Napoli hasn't won Serie A since Diego Maradona led the club to titles in 1987 and 1990, and the 1986 World Cup winner from Argentina made a surprise visit to Naples this week in an attempt to clear his name in a tax evasion case. He also had encouraging words for his former squad.

"With 12 rounds to go you can't say the season is decided," Maradona said. "Napoli needs to go after Juve, which is more solid and stronger than Napoli, but let's remember that Juve has to come play here in Napoli and we know they're not the same away from Turin. That's why I'm telling the players not to be afraid to win."

Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini is questionable with a swollen right ankle, perhaps opening up a spot for Federico Peluso on the left side of coach Antonio Conte's three-man defense.

"The match with Napoli is fundamental," Peluso said. "We can't think about our six-point lead. We've just got to think about ourselves. We know what our goal is and we want to reach it match by match. Tomorrow's match is definitely a game that will say a lot about the title race."

Mirko Vucinic and Sebastian Giovinco should line up in attack for Juve, which bounced back from a loss to Roma with a convincing 3-0 win over Siena last weekend.

Napoli has drawn its past three matches with just one goal scored and Edinson Cavani, who leads Serie A with 18 goals, has not found the target for four matches.

Since Ezequiel Lavezzi's departure to Paris Saint-Germain in the offseason, Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri has struggled to find a replacement in attack alongside Marek Hamsik and Cavani, although he seems set to use veteran Goran Pandev for this match over 21-year-old Lorenzo Insigne.

Pandev hasn't scored in 19 matches but he found the net twice against Juve in a 3-3 draw last season in Naples and also gave Napoli a momentary 2-1 lead in the Super Cup -- before being sent off for protests.

Also this weekend, third-place Lazio visits fourth-place AC Milan, which is coming off two emotional matches -- beating Barcelona 2-0 in the Champions League then drawing 1-1 with Inter in the Milan derby.

Lazio and eighth-place Roma are just seven points apart, leaving six clubs potentially fighting for third place and the final Champions League berth.

Fifth-place Inter visits seventh-place Catania without Japan fullback Yuto Nagatomo, who is out for 20 days after injuring his left knee in the derby.

Inter has been looking for a replacement for forward Diego Milito, who is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, but quickly gave up on John Carew after deciding the Norwegian striker was too out of form after bringing him in for a medical.

Also this weekend, it's: Torino vs. Palermo; Bologna vs. Cagliari; Fiorentina vs. Chievo Verona; Pescara vs. Udinese; Sampdoria vs. Parma; Siena vs. Atalanta; and Roma vs. Genoa.