Milan: Carlo Ancelotti faces his first big test of Napoli’s title ambitions this season as he heads north to his former club Juventus on Saturday in a top-of-the-table clash which could allow them to pull level with the champions.
Ancelotti’s side are three points behind Juventus who have a 100 per cent record after six games.
Ancelotti — who coached Juventus from 1999 to 2001 before leaving for AC Milan where he made his name during a trophy-laden eight years — took over from Maurizio Sarri at the end of last season.
And he has been stamping his mark on the post-Sarri team with just one defeat — a 3-0 loss to Sampdoria — in his first campaign in Italy since 2009.
“I chose to come to Napoli because of the passion in the city and the project of the club. We are trying to change something and it’s working pretty well,” said Ancelotti as the club target a first title since the days of Diego Maradona back in 1990.
Despite statistics favouring the champions, Napoli came out on top in the Allianz Stadium last April with a last-gasp Kalidou Koulibaly header ensuring a 1-0 win which threw the Scudetto title race open.
Juventus went on to win for the seventh straight year.
It will be the 145th meeting between the two sides, and 73rd in Turin, with the hosts having 44 wins, to just eight for Napoli.
“Head-to-head clashes are always complicated,” said Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri.
“This time there will be Ancelotti who has transmitted his great serenity to the team and everyone is benefiting. Yes, they are our rivals right now.”
Allegri believes Cristiano Ronaldo has found his place in the team, having scored three goals so far, and helping Paulo Dybala and Blaise Matuidi find the net against Bologna midweek.
“The more time these players spend together the better they get to know each other and improve their understanding,” said Allegri, ahead of next week’s Champions League game against Swiss club Young Boys which Ronaldo will miss after his controversial sending off against Valencia in Spain.
Ancelotti has been rotating his squad ahead of the Juventus game and next week’s Champions League clash against Liverpool with nine changes made for the 3-0 win midweek over Parma.
But he is counting on Lorenzo Insigne to continue his fine form with five goals this season.
“Insigne is in tremendous form and I think we need to make the most of that right now,” said Ancelotti.
“To be honest, I’ve given myself a real headache picking the line-up for Saturday, because those who played (Wednesday) proved they deserve it and so did those who played at the weekend.”
Saturday night derby fever hits Rome with As Roma and Lazio going head-to-head at the Stadio Olimpicio with contrasting fortunes.
Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio, who lost their opening two games to Juventus and Napoli, can head confidently into the game on a four-game league winning streak.
Roma, meanwhile, eased the pressure on under-fire coach Eusebio Di Francesco achieving their first three points in over a month with a 4-0 win against Frosinone.
Inter Milan head to Cagliari on Saturday ahead of next week’s Champions League game at PSV Eindhoven.
Coach Gennaro Gattuso is under pressure as AC Milan travel to Sassuolo chasing just their second win of the season after slumping to 13th after three consecutive stalemates.
Sassuolo are third, five points behind Juve.