European Football

Higuain Napoli’s key as Juventus come up on the outside

HiguainNAPOLI’s impressive 4-2 win at Sampdoria cemented their position at the top of Serie A this past weekend, but Juventus secured an 11th successive victory to confirm that it is a two-horse race in Italy this season.

Napoli’s credentials are built on the goals of Gonzalo Higuain, who has now hit 21 in as many games. Italy’s winter champions invariably win the title at the end of the season, so the portents are good for Maurizio Sarri’s side.

Higuain is sure to be a transfer window target, either in January or at the end of the season. In the past, he was considered a second tier striker, but the Argentinian has become one of Europe’s hottest strikers in 2015-16 and he’s also nicely poised to create a few records in Italy.

When Higuain scores, Napoli rarely lose – only once this season (at Bologna) has he found the back of the net and Gli Azzurri have gone home pointless. What’s also impressive is that only one of his 21 goals has come from the penalty spot.

The French-born Argentina international has impressed people with his work rate as well as his goals this season. His coach, Sarri, believes him to be the best striker in the world at the moment and has said he wouldn’t swap him even for Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski. Apparently, he has a £77m escape clause in his contract, so if Chelsea, Arsenal or any other Premier League club want to lure him to England, the fee will be huge.

Napoli will want to hang on to him, though, at least through to the end of the season. Higuain may even score himself into the record books at his current hit rate. In both 2013-14 (Ciro Immobile of Torino) and 2014-15 (Mauro Icardi of Inter and Luca Toni of Verone) the top scorers all reached 22 goals. Higuain’s halfway total suggests that he can become the first 30-goal striker in Serie A since Luca Toni of Fiorentina in 2005-06.

Certainly, since leaving Real Madrid, Higuain has blossomed into a top-class forward. In Spain he was part of the rotation process and, unsurprisingly, in the shadow of the likes of Ronaldo. But his record at Real was good – 107 goals in 190 games. At Napoli he has netted 56 Serie A goals in 90, earning comparisons with compatriots who made their name in Italy such as Hernan Crespo and Gabriel Batistuta.

Napoli have their best chance since 1990 to win the scudetto. They have beaten Juventus (2-1 at home), Milan (4-0 away), Inter (2-1 home) and Fiorentina (2-1 home). Their credentials are there for all to see. But with Juve now breathing down their necks, Serie A could be very interesting in the coming weeks. The outcome of the title race may take another, crucial, twist when Juventus host Napoli on February 13.

Categories: European Football

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