09.02.2016 16:30 - in: Serie A S

      Buffon: "We must make experience count"

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      Gianluigi Buffon predicts a battle between experience and enthusiasm at Juventus Stadium on Saturday night for the visit of leaders Napoli

      There is an old adage in football that the league’s most important fixtures can sometimes fall too early in a season and catch teams off guard or before they have a chance to reach peak condition and form. After all, as the campaign passes its midway point it is then that the race for the Scudetto truly hots up and clashes with direct title rivals double in importance.

      Gianluigi Buffon is one such man to give credence to this received wisdom as the Bianconeri veteran sat down with the Sky cameras this afternoon to preview Saturday’s top of the table clash with league leaders Napoli.

      Pointing to last September’s encounter at the Stadio San Paolo as a case in point, Buffon believes that while both sides were far from their respective peaks that night, this weekend’s blockbuster meeting in Turin will see Serie A’s most in-form sides clash in one of the most eagerly awaited matches of the season so far. 

      Taking into account the experience of his colleagues, the intensity and energy of Maurizio Sarri’s visitors and the importance of the fixture for the fate of the league title, the Juve captain predicts an unmissable night of action at the home of the champions.

      “Neither side were the finished product the last time we met at the start of the season.  This time though, I think we are in for an exciting game not only for the fixture’s importance but also for the quality of the players on show in both squads,” he began.

      “We have to make our experience count on Saturday night and use it to negate Napoli’s intensity and enthusiasm. 

      "After a long spell out of the limelight, they are back at the top of the table and they fully deserve it.

      “Should Napoli win at the weekend, they will open up a sizable lead over us with just thirteen games to play while for us it will cap off our magical run in style and give us a huge boost for the rest of the campaign.” 

      Yet the relative league positions of the Bianconeri and the Partenopei is just one of a host of intriguing sub-plots to be played out under the Juventus Stadium lights.

      The engaging personal duel between compatriots and fellow in-form frontmen Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain aside, Saturday’s encounter will also pit the league’s most prolific attack against its strongest defence.

      For Buffon, while the statistics show that the backline is best when it comes to deciding league titles, both Juve and Napoli owe their lofty positions to the form of two extraordinary striking talents.

      “In 90 per cent of cases, conceding the fewest goals wins you the title, particularly in Italy. We are in the other 10 per cent at the moment seeing as we are still in second place behind Napoli but there are 14 matches to remedy that and give credence to the statistics.

      “As for the other end of the field, both sides can count on two very different but nonetheless extraordinary talents in the form of Higuain and Dybala. Higuain is at a more advanced stage of his career and a true finisher, a real number 9. 

      “Paulo on the other hand likes to play between the lines and link with the midfield. Either way, he is an immense talent who frighteningly will only improve the older he gets.”

      Taking a step back and putting individual duels and big match hype to one side, the legendary stopper rounded off proceedings with a characteristic dose of perspective.

      After a poor start to the season and widespread dismissal of his team’s championship hopes, Buffon concluded that whatever happens on Saturday, Juventus must never be written off.

      “Winning the title would be a real dream given the way we started the season and how far we have come in the last few months.

      “I make a habit of not paying much attention to paper talk but after our tough start to the campaign, a good number of critics had written us off, and with good reason from their point of view.

      “What they did not reckon with however was the spirit and resilience of this team, which has been such a key part in our sustained success of the last few years.”

      Where last September’s meeting with Napoli came too early, this one now could not come any sooner. 

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