All eyes on Higuain as Juve host Napoli

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

MI­LAN:

The fall­out from Gon­zalo Higuain’s move to Ju­ven­tus has not set­tled over the bay of Naples, and the Turin giants host Napoli to­day in a Serie A siz­zler that could see Roma go top. Higuain’s record 36 league goals for Napoli last sea­son gave the en­tire city a rea­son to cheer af­ter the south­ern­ers fell out of con­tention late in the ti­tle race.

Then, the Ar­gentina in­ter­na­tional moved to ri­vals Ju­ven­tus in an Ital­ian record trans­fer worth 90 mil­lion euros ($98 mil­lion), prompt­ing a fan back­lash in Naples that is un­likely to set­tle at least un­til Mau­r­izio Sarri’s men host Ju­ven­tus at the San Paolo on April 2. From en­joy­ing the kind of adoration re­served for the likes of the leg­endary Diego Maradona, who steered Napoli to their sole league ti­tles in 1987 and 1990, Higuain be­came a pariah overnight.

In the birth­place of the “Margherita”, piz­zas with Higuain’s ef­figy were re­placed by one-euro piz­zas-sold at a knock-down price if he suf­fered an in­jury with Ju­ven­tus. Higuain has so far avoided that fate, hit­ting six goals in 10 out­ings amid what has been a mit­i­gated start for the cham­pi­ons. Juve, bid­ding for a record sixth con­sec­u­tive ti­tle this sea­son, sit top with a two-point lead on Roma, who are away to Em­poli on Sun­day. Napoli are in third, a fur­ther two points be­hind.

From idol to be­trayer

How Higuain will re­act, if and when he scores against the club where he was idol­ized, re­mains to be seen. He re­port­edly told a fan in mid­week he would “score a dou­ble”. Napoli pres­i­dent Aure­lio De Lau­ren­tiis, who said Higuain “be­trayed” the club, re­sponded: “When he said he wanted to score a dou­ble he didnt’ say it ma­li­ciously. “It’s just a sign of re­spect for a team (Napoli) that has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing dan­ger­ous.”

Sarri has Napoli play­ing arguably the most ex­cit­ing foot­ball in Italy, but af­ter los­ing Higuain they are also with­out his re­place­ment, Arek Mi­lik. The Poland striker, who made a pro­lific start af­ter he was bought from Ajax in the sum­mer, is side­lined at least un­til Jan­uary af­ter suf­fer­ing a knee lig­a­ment in­jury. With Ju­ven­tus striker Paulo Dy­bala also side­lined with in­jury, Higuain will part­ner Mario Mandzu­kic. The Croat hit his maiden goal of the sea­son in a 4-1 win over Sam­p­do­ria mid­week, while Higuain is look­ing to hit the net for the first time since scor­ing a brace against Udi­nese on Oc­to­ber 2.

Juve de­fender Gior­gio Chiellini joked Higuain’s re­cent lean spell was be­cause: “He’s sav­ing his goals for Napoli.” But Juve coach Mas­si­m­il­iano Al­le­gri liked what he saw in mid­week: “Both of them still have im­prove­ments to make, but they re­ally worked well to­gether.” While a Ju­ven­tus win would set Napoli adrift by seven points, a shock win in Turin would see Roma go top-if the “Gial­lorossi” ac­count for an em­bat­tled Em­poli side that has one win and two goals from 10 out­ings.

Roma travel to the Carlo Castel­lani buoyed af­ter a 3-1 away win at Sas­suolo, where Bos­nia striker Edin Dzeko hit a brace to take his league-lead­ing tally to 10 in nine ap­pear­ances. Coach Lu­ciano Spal­letti said the Ju­ven­tus v Napoli game: “Will have its say, it’s a very im­por­tant game.” He will be with­out util­ity back Alessan­dro Florenzi, who is out for at least four months af­ter rup­tur­ing the cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment in his left knee.

Else­where, AC Mi­lan, fourth at five points adrift, host lowly Pescara look­ing to make amends for crash­ing 3-0 at Genoa in mid­week. Em­bat­tled city ri­vals In­ter face a tough away trip to Sam­p­do­ria four days af­ter Mauro Icardi fired a brace, in­clud­ing a late win­ner, past Torino and Eng­land ‘keeper Joe Hart to se­cure a pre­cious 2-1 San Siro win. —AFP

TURIN: Ju­ven­tus’ Gon­zalo Higuain, right, kicks the ball past Sam­p­do­ria’s Luca Ci­garini dur­ing a Serie A soc­cer match be­tween Ju­ven­tus and Sam­p­do­ria at the Ju­ven­tus sta­dium. —AFP

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