Heading into Sunday night, Juventus versus Napoli was a lot more than just a clash of the titans. It’s a rapidly growing rivalry, what with both sides’ drastic improvements over the last three years.
When Juventus won their first Scudetto under manager Antonio Conte, Napoli was just one season removed from a third place finish in Serie A, and were competing in the Champions League for the first time since the Diego Maradona era. The Partenopei ended up concluding the 2011/12 season in fifth place, but narrowly missed out on the top three.
2012/13 was a far superior campaign for both sides, as Juventus won back-to-back Scudetti, and Napoli were runners-up to the Bianconeri. However, Walter Mazzarri ended up departing for Inter, with president Aurelio De Laurentiis replacing the former Sampdoria boss with Champions League winner Rafa Benitez.
Now the two clubs are neck and neck. Both are genuine title contenders, and were level on points entering their encounter. Not much separates the two clubs.
The only glaring difference is the recent meetings against one another. Other than the 2011/12 Coppa Italia final, where the Azzurri ended The Old Lady’s unbeaten streak in all competitions, it’s been a Juve-dominated match-up over the last two years.
The 3-3 draw in Naples back in November 2011 was the Neapolitans best opportunity to record a win in Serie A, but they let a 3-1 lead slip. Juve then confidently defeated them 3-0 in Turin, then came the Supercoppa Italiana, which needed extra time to decide a winner in August 2012. A Christian Maggio own goal and a Mirko Vucinic strike clinched the 4-2 victory in Beijing for the champions.
Up until October 20th, 2012, Napoli were dangerously creeping up behind Juventus for the league lead, but a 2-0 home win eased the nerves of the Bianconeri faithful. The 1-1 draw back in February all but ended the southerners’ title hopes, and even though they earned a point, they were thoroughly outplayed.
However, there was some newfound optimism within the squad and their supporters. Rafa Benitez brings an impressive resume to the table, unlike the “provincial” CV of Mazzarri, according to his critics. If any coach had a chance of victory over the holders, it’s the Spaniard, especially with a plethora of attacking talent at his disposal.
Juventus started the match with a high intensity and came close to opening the scoring with just 45 seconds on the clock, Pogba was denied by a fully-stretched Pepe Reina.
From the resulting corner, the hosts took the lead. Mauricio Isla’s shot was deflected into the path of Fernando Llorente, via Carlos Tevez, who tapped home the opener from close range. Replays showed the Spanish striker was just offside, but the decision stood regardless.
Leonardo Bonucci should have doubled the lead inside 10 minutes, but his header was brilliantly parried by the former Liverpool goalkeeper.
Napoli failed to test the Juve goal until the 20th minute. Lorenzo Insigne fired straight at Gianluigi Buffon, followed by a Gonzalo Higuain chance after he shook off Angelo Ogbonna, but couldn’t get his effort on target.
Insigne continued to threaten for the visitors. Some quick footwork fooled Andrea Barzagli inside the penalty area, but his shot curled wide, and then the Italian international skimmed the roof of the net from range.
Benitez’s side started with a greater tempo after the restart and were awarded a free-kick just outside the box. Buffon was forced into a save from Insigne as a result.
The pressure continued to build inside Juve’s half, and shortly after the hour mark, Pablo Armero’s cross fell to an unmarked Marek Hamsik at the back post. However, his half-volley hit the side netting. Moments later, Arturo Vidal hit the side netting as well from a similar position to that of Hamsik.
With around 15 minutes remaining, the Bianconeri essentially clinched the victory by scoring their second of the game. Gokhan Inler conceded a free kick from around 25 yards away from goal for grappling with Tevez. Andrea Pirlo capitalized with wonderfully struck free kick that arrowed into the roof of the net.
Insigne had a glorious chance to bring Napoli right back into contention but his powerful shot was acrobatically saved by the strong wrist of Buffon.
Paul Pogba added the hammer blow as he flicked up the ball on the edge of the box, unleashing a beautifully struck volley that rattled in off the post to make it 3-0 for the hosts.
The only blemish on a clinical Juventus performance was Ogbonna’s dismissal for two bookable offences. The first was for blocking Reina as the Spanish keeper was trying to launch a quick counter attack and the second was for pulling back Dries Mertens.
Thanks to the win, Juventus are now just a point behind league leaders Roma while simultaneously moving three points clear of Napoli. So ends another chapter of this fascinating duel, but despite another victory for the black and white, there’s a sense that Benitez is already plotting his revenge for March 30th.
Watch the highlights here:
Other Talking Points
- Obviously for Juventus to be a point behind Roma, the Giallorossi had to have dropped points to Sassuolo. They did just that as they drew 1-1 thanks to Domenico Berardi’s stoppage time strike. The Juve-owned striker pounced with less than 30 seconds left to shatter La Maggica’s hearts as they have now gone consecutive matches without a win.
- AC Milan drew 0-0 to Chievo at the Bentegodi on Sunday afternoon. The Rossoneri’s struggles continue as they have 13 points from 12 games, which has them 10th in the table. The saving grace is that Milan were one point better off at this point last season, but with the turmoil surrounding every facet of this team, one has to wonder if they can recover as quickly as they did last year.
- Fiorentina took advantage of Hellas Verona’s defeat to leapfrog them in the table. The Viola were 2-1 winners over lowly Sampdoria at home. The Tuscans are now fifth, just four points behind Napoli for third.
- The club directly above them, Inter, kept pace with the rest of their opponents as they defeated Livorno 2-0 on Saturday. They’re just three points behind the top three following the victory.
- Genoa continue to surge under Gian Piero Gasperini. Hellas Verona succumbed to a 2-0 loss at the hands of the Rossoblu, who are now seventh in the table. Who would’ve thought that they would be challenging for Europe at this stage?
Catania 1-0 Udinese; Atalanta 2-1 Bologna; Cagliari 2-1 Torino; Parma 1-1 Lazio