x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Napoli's Serie A title hopes ride on Edinson Cavani

The Uruguay striker is determined to break Diego Maradona's goal-scoring record at the club and challenge Juventus, writes Ian Hawkey.

Edinson Cavani, the Napoli striker, right, needs another 43 goals to go past Diego Maradona's record at the Serie A club. Carlo Hermann / AFP
Edinson Cavani, the Napoli striker, right, needs another 43 goals to go past Diego Maradona's record at the Serie A club. Carlo Hermann / AFP

In their last 55 competitive matches, Juventus have lost only once.

Invincible on their way to the last Serie A title, steadfast so far on their return to the Champions League, the one small blight on the reign of Antonio Conte, the coach who took over Juventus 16 months ago, is May's Coppa Italia final: Napoli 2, Juventus 0.

Although Juve would exert a modicum of revenge – Conte's team won 4-2 – when the clubs met again in the Italian Super Cup, the Old Lady can hold little doubt that the most vibrant current challenge to the throne comes from Naples.

Juventus have seen little from either AC Milan or Inter Milan since August to cause trepidation, Conte's team have comfortably beaten Roma and by the time they play third-placed Lazio in a month's time, they will have a clearer idea about whether Lazio's bright start to the campaign has enough fuel to sustain itself.

Of Napoli's resources, the longer-term forecast is ominously strong. They are putting much of the energy into their league campaign that, 12 months ago, they injected into the Champions League and intend unleashing more of it on Juve in Turin on Saturday.

Napoli's involvement in the elite European competition meant they were compromised on too many Serie A weekends last season. Their attitude to the Europa League, where they now spend two Thursdays a month, is less committed.

Walter Mazzarri, the head coach, left out a raft of senior players for the 3-0 defeat against PSV Eindhoven, eager to preserve his team's position breathing down the neck of Juventus at the summit of the domestic game.

"We have learnt a lot from being in the Champions League," said Mazzarri, "and we are playing with great maturity now."

Although Napoli lost Ezequiel Lavezzi, the ingenious Argentine, from their formidable attacking roster in the transfer window - he moved to Paris Saint-Germain - they persuaded the striker Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik to stay and, with Goran Pandev, formerly of Lazio and Inter, in fine form, Lavezzi has scarcely been missed.

Cavani occupies his customary position at the top of Serie A's scoring chart, with six goals so far.

The Uruguayan has recently talked of his ambition to overtake Diego Maradona in the register of Napoli goalscorers. He needs another 43 on top of his 73 – in two and a bit seasons so far – to get there. It indicates he intends a long stay. He knows he would need to be part of a title-winning team to become even half as feted among Neapolitans as Maradona still is.

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