Even though 20 points separated them, Juventus and Napoli were both desperate for a win. Over the last couple of years, the Partenopei have resurged. They almost automatically qualify for the Champions League and boast one of the best squads in Serie A. Meanwhile, Juve are the top dogs once again and will always feel threatened by the Southerners.
This is especially true when playing at the San Paolo. Juve always struggle there and it’s been the location of some terrific matches. The 3-3 draw back in 2011 is one of the most memorable. Napoli nearly ended the Bianconeri’s undefeated streak a few months into manager Antonio Conte’s reign.
Even with the massive point gap, it was still an important game for both sides. Juve were riding a 22 game unbeaten streak, while Napoli had lost just twice in the new year. It was a clash between two of the most in-form teams in Italy.
Napoli started the game brightly with a fast tempo and the first chance fell to Jose Callejon, but was thwarted by a great reaction save from Gianluigi Buffon six minutes in. The resulting corner was worked short and the cross was poorly cleared by Buffon which eventually fell to Marek Hamsik to put into the net, however, he was rightfully flagged offside.
Just three minutes later another well worked Napoli move was again stopped by Buffon. Henrique’s pullback was well met by Hamsik from around six yards out but Buffon was able to tip the resulting shot over the bar. It took up until the 25th minute for Juventus to record their first opportunity of the match when Stephan Lichtsteiner met a shot without any real conviction. Pepe Reina was able to easily save it.
Napoli responded well as an Insigne cross evaded Gonzalo Higuain and fell to Callejon, whose powerful strike from the edge of the box was saved by Buffon to deny the Spaniard. Finally, the deadlock was deservedly broken in the 36th minute when the Spaniard was able to beat Buffon, converting an Insigne cross from close range after getting round the back of Kwadwo Asamoah.
An optimistic Pablo Osvaldo bicycle kick and a long shot from Giorgio Chiellini were all that Juventus could reply with as the half drew to a close. It was Napoli who started the better of the two sides in the second half once again. Insigne’s cross from the left just evaded the head of Hamsik and was calmly collected by Buffon.
Napoli continued to build and Buffon was made to work yet again in the 60th minute when he pushed Faouzi Ghoulam’s shot onto the top of the bar. Juventus failed to press Napoli during the half until second half substitute Mirko Vucinic shot wide minutes after coming on with twenty minutes remaining. Vucinic then nearly set up a chance for Claudio Marchisio with a misdirected header but it just looped over the onrushing Italian as the game entered the final stages.
Substitute Dries Mertens delivered the hammer blow late in the match. The Belgian latched onto Goran Pandev’s long ball and finished from the angle ferociously to wrap up the points.
The end result meant Juventus lost only their second game of the season, the first being a 4-2 loss back on October 20th versus Fiorentina.
Watch the highlights here:
Other Talking Points
- Roma took advantage of Juve’s slip up and won 2-0 at Sassuolo on Sunday afternoon. Mattia Destro bagged his fourth goal in as many games, which is the first time in his career that he’s accomplished the feat.
- Hellas Verona finally won after losing their last four. They defeated Genoa 3-0, but it may be too little, too late in the race for a Europa League spot.
- Fiorentina dropped points once again, tying Sampdoria 0-0. They’re now 12 points back of third place Napoli, with Inter just three back of them for fourth.
- AC Milan won convincingly 3-0 at home to Chievo in Kaka’s 300th match in a Rossoneri shirt. He scored a brace, but rumours are circulating that he won’t accept the option on his contract to stay at the club for another year. He’s linked to a move to MLS and Orlando City.
- Livorno salvaged a draw after trailing 2-0 against Inter. It’s a massive point as they’re now another tie away from escaping the relegation zone.
- Catania fell 1-0 to Udinese thanks to an Antonio Di Natale strike. The Rossazzurri are almost guaranteed to go down, but remain six points away from safety.
- Parma had maintained a 17 game unbeaten streak, but have now lost back-to-back matches. Their latest result is a 3-2 defeat to lowly Lazio.
Other results: Bologna 0-2 Atalanta; Torino 2-1 Cagliari