Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini believes victory over Napoli on Sunday would ‘end the title race’ in Serie A and be ‘the final knockout’.
Juve travel to the San Paolo 13 points clear of Napoli at the Serie A summit, and Chiellini admitted he could not see any of the Old Lady’s rivals catch up with them, providing they beat the Partenopei.
“We still had some waste from Madrid in our heads and legs against Bologna,” the 34-year-old told Sky Sport Italia.
“You always pay the price for Champions League matches and we have another important one coming up, but we had to give an impression of solidity and we did that.
“Obviously we weren’t fluid, but it was difficult. We picked three important points and got over a heavy defeat.
“On Sunday we have another big game against a team who, in recent years, have made us sweat and then we’ll have plenty of time to prepare for the second leg against Atletico.
“We must give it a little thought every day, but it mustn’t burden us. Napoli will play to restart the title race and prove they’re at least as strong as we are.
“We want to end the title race and show we’re not top by chance. It’ll be a more open Napoli-Juventus because both teams will be up for it.
“I remember so many of their strikers, without forgetting Hamsik’s runs. I’ve won a few times in Naples, especially in recent years.
“It’s a clash that brings me luck. One year I scored an important goal after three months out. We drew 1-1 with my goal and then increased our lead the following Sunday.
“I remember that match and that of last year: it wasn’t a beautiful match but an important one. It’s always a difficult clash and one for the treble.
“Over the years we’ve made the most of our characteristics. A perfect alchemy was created to help the team.
“I’m happy that Barzagli has returned to the group. I’m convinced he can help us in the final three months of the season.
“He’s a person who, both inside and out, is very important and can still help us as a starter or as a substitute. I’ve seen only a few defenders like him in years gone by.
“I have a lot of respect for Hamsik. Like me, he’s lived a life with only one colour. He didn’t just play for Napoli but after Brescia, he made history at his club so I respect him a lot.
“He made an important decision. Maybe I wasn’t expecting him to leave this early but when these things happen, you must have the courage to make a decision, even in mid-season, and it must be accepted and respected.
“Ancelotti knows how to deal with these situations and manage them in the best way. I’ve always rated him highly for his philosophy and approach to football and life, and he’s reaping the fruits of his labour in Naples.
“It wasn’t easy to follow Sarri, but he’s giving them a new identity with more or less the same players.
“Napoli deserve to be in the position they’re in. We’re doing something extraordinary, but we mustn’t think it’s over.
“Clearly a victory at the San Paolo would be the final knockout.”
Chiellini was then asked how the match would impact on the Bianconeri’s Champions League last-16 second leg against Atletico Madrid.
“I don’t know about the win, but our performance will be important for Atletico Madrid,” he replied.
“Sometimes you can put in a great performance and lose the game with a single mistake, or you can win by playing badly.
“Right now we need a good performance and I’m convinced the team will do well. After that, the result will depend on incidents.
“We’ll be facing a team who have great players and are complete. Our lead is important. Whoever says it isn’t is crazy.
“I didn’t expect it, also because we dropped points in games that we shouldn’t have, but the path we’ve taken has been extraordinary and our 13-point lead is more our doing than the faults of others.
“The League aside, this game means a lot to both us and them with regards to showing our strength.”