WEDNESDAY night sees old rivals Napoli and Juventus lock horns in the Coppa Italia final. Jack Lambden (@_JackL_) sets the scene and shares his best bets.
Napoli vs Juventus | Wednesday 17th June 2020, 20:00 | BT Sport
Juventus and Napoli will go head-to-head in Rome to win the first ever Coppa Italia final to be played behind closed doors with the regular league season restarting this coming weekend.
Both teams edged through their tense semi-final affairs against rivals AC and Inter Milan just days ago to set-up this intriguing encounter which pits Maurizio Sarri against his former employers.
The backdrop to the game has been set alight by Napoli owner Auerlio De Larentiis's comments that Sarri “betrayed” him when he left for Chelsea “for the money” but it is all part of the politics which tends to dominate Italian football
When Sarri was in charge of Napoli, his team ran Juve very close to the Serie A title in 2017-18, finishing on a record 91 points only for their rivals to register 95 of their own points to pip Sarri and company to first place. When you're not winning the league title despite winning that many games, it's perhaps little wonder that Sarri wanted a new challenge where the prospect of trophies was more viable and that's where Chelsea came in.
Although Sarri's relationship with Chelsea ultimately never worked, he was able to win his first ever trophy as manager in the form of the Europa League
. Whether you enjoy watching his football or not, you couldn't help but be pleased for the 61 year-old when he was admiring his medal with a smile to himself as his players celebrated to his side.
It was a reminder that, no matter Larentiis's comments, money can't really replace those moments, particularly for a man that had waited nearly 30 years to get his hands on silverware.
Much like his time with Chelsea however, Juve and the experienced coach are struggling to click. Despite sitting pretty at the top of Serie A and looking destined for yet another league crowning, the dominance that we've seen in years gone by seems to have wilted and the current crop of players are certainly seen as less of a threat on the European front as Juve sides from years gone by were.
Sarri's style of play is never particularly one to have you gripped but he has some wonderful players at his disposal and plenty of experience too which can only hold him in good stead heading into big matches like this one.
Buffon, Chiellini, Khedira and Higuaín all make up an impressive spine that have won everything there is to win in the game and will be working to help the next generation of stars (Mathijs de Ligt for example) become natural winners.
Reliance on Ronaldo
What has been difficult for fans of the Old Lady is how many games have been won by a single goal – 13 of the 20 league victories in total. While some would consider it a great quality to be winning when not totally dominating, it feels like a step back for many supporters particularly as there is such a heavy reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo to bail the team out of trouble when they are not at their best.
Ronaldo has scored 25 goals in 33 games in all competitions this season and despite now being 35, looks in the best physical shape of his career to keep on winning matches by himself.
The Portuguese forward is undoubtedly one of the greatest footballers in history, as 626 career goals goes to show, but his habit of being a big game player has been the hallmark of his time in the game.
Of the 29 major finals Ronaldo has played in, he has been on the winning side 20 times and I think he may just give Juve the edge here in a tight contest.
Ronnie is 13/10 to score anytime with Unibet
which I'm happy to get onside. He uncharacteristically missed a penalty in the semi final second leg against Milan on Friday night so I think he will be very determined to avenge that and find the net here to help his team win the cup.
Despite Juve losing their most recent game against Napoli, Ronaldo scored that day and with the fact he is taking nearly six shots per-game on average, it's worth a one point stake.
Enforced break halts Napoli's upturn
Napoli meanwhile are also basking in the glory of a star man of their own as Dries Mertens became the club's record goalscorer in midweek, surpassing Marek Hamsik and the great Diego Maradona on the way.
Mertens and his teammates are, by their high standards, having a poor season as reflected by their 6th place in the current league standings. The damage was done during a run from October to January when the team picked up just one win in twelve, a period in which Carlo Ancelotti was sacked and replaced with former hard man player Gennaro Gattuso.
Gattuso's start to life in Naples was tough but the aforementioned victory over Wednesday's cup final opponents back on 26th January started a run of six Serie A wins in seven which has the team looking up again rather than over their shoulders. The break in play therefore came at the wrong time for Gattuso and his players (as if it came at the right time for anyone) so they'll be desperately hoping they can pick up where they left off and win the club's first trophy for six years.
There's a sense that the Blues had rediscovered some form of identity before the suspension which had been missing for so long but, like their rivals, it may just be that an experienced squad needs new names adding to it over the summer to give it a fresh impetuous in terms of style and substance on the pitch.
I was looking to back Juventus here with unders on the goal lines but there isn't too much value in place, particularly as it wouldn't surprise me to see this go to extra-time and maybe penalties. At the time of writing, Juve to lift the trophy and Under 4 Goals is 20/21 with Bet365
but it's just a lean from me and I'll stick with backing Ronaldo to turn up on the big stage again and win another final from the front.
Napoli v Juventus – Cristiano Ronaldo to score anytime (13/10 Unibet)