In what is just the third match since the return of Italian football following a three-month stoppage due to the coronavirus outbreak, we have the first major final of the campaign as the top two from the previous two seasons — Juventus and Napoli — meet in the Coppa Italia final.
The match pits Juve boss Maurizio Sarri against his former club as he goes in search of his first trophy in Italian football. Meanwhile, for Napoli’s new coach, Gennaro Gattuso, it will be a second Coppa Italia final appearance in three years. However, he will be hoping to forget his first experience, as his AC Milan side were hammered 4-0 by Juve in 2018.
Both semifinal first legs were played before the shutdown, which saw Juve draw 1-1 at Milan and Napoli won 1-0 at Inter Milan. Sarri’s side qualified on away goals after Friday’s 0-0 draw at home, with Cristiano Ronaldo missing a penalty. However, the fact that their high-powered attack failed to score, despite playing against 10 men since the 16th minute, will be a concern. Napoli took a less stressful route to the final, finishing Inter with a 1-1 second-leg draw on Saturday to advance 2-1 on aggregate. In getting the vital goal, Dries Mertens made history by becoming Napoli’s all-time leading goal scorer with 122.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of Wednesday’s final — watch LIVE in the U.S. on ESPN, 3 p.m. ET — between Juventus and Napoli.
First things first: Is the Coppa Italia a big deal in Italy?
Juve’s domestic dominance has given the trophy more prestige among their rivals. Juve won the Coppa Italia for four consecutive seasons until the last campaign, when they were eliminated by eventual runners-up Atalanta in the quarterfinals. In the past, it perhaps didn’t have the individual status of, say, the English FA Cup, but with only two teams — Lazio and Milan — other than Juventus to have won a domestic trophy since 2014, any kind of success is celebrated.
For Juventus, it’s bottom of their priority list behind the Champions League and Serie A, while Lazio fans held street parties in Rome after they beat Atalanta in 2019. There was no open-top bus, but the trophy was paraded in front of their fans before the next league game against Bologna.
A change of tournament structure in 2007, which saw the previous campaign’s top eight only enter at the round of 16 stage, has given the big teams an easier route to the semifinals, but ultimately the interest levels depend on who wins it.
Are Juventus overwhelming favourites?
Juve come into this match top of Serie A, but with a real title race on their hands as Lazio are just a point behind, while Napoli’s league campaign has been nothing short of disastrous. Expected to mount a title challenge, Napoli sacked Carlo Ancelotti in December, and a slight upturn in form saw them rise to sixth — nine points off a Champions League spot, having played a game less than fourth-place Atalanta. But after three months without any kind of football, it’s difficult to tell what physical shape they or Juventus are really in.
Juve should be favourites, but in 2012, they won Serie A unbeaten in Antonio Conte’s first campaign in charge and lost the Coppa final to Napoli. Neither Juve nor Napoli looked particularly impressive in their returns to action, with both sides wrapping up narrow semifinal wins. Both Serie A meetings between the two sides were tight, with the home side winning by a single goal in each instance (Juve 4-3 Napoli in August, Napoli 2-1 Juve in January).
How’s Cristiano Ronaldo looking?
He wasn’t at his sharpest in Friday’s semifinal, second leg, hitting the post with a penalty and was generally dealt with quite comfortably by the Milan defence. However, it’s hard to imagine that, at 35, a three-month break hasn’t benefited him. Finals are Ronaldo’s territory, and he has the lure of adding a first Coppa Italia medal will drive him on.
It’s also worth noting that in his final Serie A match before the coronavirus-enforced break, a 2-0 win over Inter, was the first time he had failed to score after netting in a record-equalling 11 consecutive matches.
Will Hirving Lozano play for Napoli?
It’s unlikely, as he’s been disappointing for Napoli since joining from PSV Eindhoven. Although he did score against Juve on his debut, he netted just twice more in all competitions since the end of August and was an unused sub in both legs of the semifinal. Napoli signed Matteo Politano in January, and he is now ahead of Lozano in the pecking order.
What would victory mean to Napoli?
Napoli comfortably boast some of the most passionate supporters in Italy, and while they would welcome any kind of success, the Serie A title is the one they really want. They won the Coppa in 2012 and 2014; in 2012, Juve were a team just beginning their dynasty, meaning that a cup victory over this present, all-conquering side would mean a lot more.
The rivalry has only intensified in the past few seasons as Napoli emerged as Juve’s only genuine title rival in the past decade. It’s also worth noting that, despite a poor Serie A campaign that saw them finish eighth last season, Lazio won the 2019 Coppa Italia and have used that success as a springboard for their remarkable form in the 2019-20 campaign. In January, they beat Juve 3-1 to win the Italian Super Cup and have produced a confident and scintillating league campaign to challenge for the title.
But not that important for Juve?
As a one-off match, Juve’s fans would enjoy the victory, but it would certainly be classed a disappointment if this is the season’s high point.
For Juve, it’s more about their long-term strategy. Both Marcello Lippi and Massimiliano Allegri won the Serie A and Coppa Italia double in their first seasons in charge (albeit 20 years apart) and also made the Champions League final at the first attempt. Success breeds success, and Juve need to be hungry to win everything.
Where will the game be won and lost?
It will be about rising to the occasion for Napoli. It will be a more emotional game for them, but they need to use that in a positive sense and not be overwhelmed. For Juventus, they need to remain focused on their task at hand with the Serie A season — and title race — set to resume on Saturday.
Napoli will be without first-choice goalkeeper David Ospina, which presents highly-rated Italy international Alex Meret with an opportunity. Much was expected when Napoli signed Kostas Manolas to play alongside Kalidou Koulibaly, but the pair have struggled so far. An imposing display from Napoli’s centre-backs could nullify Juve’s attack. At the other end, Napoli will need to be clinical and take their chances when they come along.
Napoli 2-0 Juventus. Sarri just can’t get his side to click, and Napoli were hitting form before the break. Their desire in this competition will drive them on and Fabian Ruiz’s quality on the ball could prove the difference for Gattuso’s men, especially given how disjointed Juve’s link-up play looks in midfield.