If last weekend wasn’t the end of a Scudetto push for Napoli, this past Friday may have finally been the end.
In front of a sold out and bouncing San Paolo along the Italian peninsula, the Partenopei drew Serie A leaders Juventus 1-1. In truth, the visitors could’ve put the match to sleep, and it appeared that was going to be the case early on. Just ten minutes in, Giorgio Chiellini, making his first start since going down with a calf injury late last year, struck the back of the net with his thumping header from an Andrea Pirlo cross. Napoli manager Walter Mazzarri then advanced Marek Hamsik and told Edinson Cavani along with Goran Pandev to spread out wide so the Slovakian could make more dangerous runs towards the Juve penalty area.
This gave the northerners ample chances on the counter. Mirko Vucinic had two clear cut opportunities to double the lead, but botched them. Sebastian Giovinco and Arturo Vidal then provided the striker with a couple of more attempts, but again, he couldn’t score. It could’ve been at least 3-0 before the half hour mark.
Just before the half, The Old Lady and her supporters were adamant that Edinson Cavani should’ve been sent off for an elbow on Giorgio Chiellini. Replays showed that the Italian international grabbed Cavani’s long, dark locks of hair when battling for the ball. Some say it should’ve been a booking for Chiellini and a red for the Uruguayan forward.
In the end, it was Cavani who got the yellow and Chiellini was unscathed, but Juventus supporters would’ve preferred the former. Azzurri fans were content with referee Daniele Orsato’s decision and they’d be thrilled with what happened next. Gokhan Inler, who was playing poorly all game, did what he does best, and found the back of the net from distance in the 43rd minute.
Mazzarri then decided to switch to a 4-3-3. He took off Miguel Britos, who broke his jaw after a collision in the first interval with Inler, and put on Blerim Dzemaili, changing to a four man defence. The move was intended to give more balance to the team who wanted to play, but they still looked confused. When they finally got over their fear, Napoli attacked with more confidence and Gianluigi Buffon was called upon to turn a shot from Hamsik away for a corner. Juve defended for a few risky minutes as the ball bobbled around in the six-yard box. As the teams spread out the chances came thick and fast. Vucinic tried to make himself dangerous from outside the area once again, but Morgan De Sanctis managed to parry the ball away.
Napoli, with Insigne coming on for Pandev, grew in confidence and after Cavani glanced his header towards the centre, had a terrific opportunity. Hamsik unleashed a left-footed torpedo, Buffon managed to scramble it clear and Dzemaili with an open goal could only send the ball wide.
That would be all that she wrote, as Juventus maintained their six point gap at the top. On the flip side, if AC Milan were to win their match on Saturday (more on that later), they’d only be five back of the Neapolitans.
The Scudetto race isn’t mathematically over, but from what transpired in Naples, it’s as good as finished. Time for the European spots to be decided.
Other matches and talking points:
- Traveling Juventus fans were reportedly subjected to significant abuse from Napoli’s supporters. Rumours of feces and urine being thrown at them have surfaced, but haven’t been confirmed.
- Italy’s resurgent club, AC Milan, continued their climb up the table. They did indeed win their match against Lazio at the San Siro, rising to third place. Giampaolo Pazzini struck twice and Kevin Prince Boateng added another in a 3-0 victory. Antonio Candreva was sent off in the 17th minute following a tackle on Stephan El Shaarawy. Replays showed that Andre Diaz was in proximity of the 20-year-old forward, but referee Nicola Rizzoli’s mind was made up after a long thought process.
- Roma made it eleven unbeaten at home to Genoa in domestic play following a 3-1 triumph. Francesco Totti buried a penalty on 17 minutes, which was his 225th career league goal, tying Gunnar Nordhal for second on the all-time scorers chart. He’s now 49 away from Silvio Piola’s record. At 36 years old with his ability to finish, Totti may be able to eclipse that mark.
- When Totti scored his first ever goal in Serie A, Alessio Romagnoli wasn’t even born. That didn’t stop him from becoming the youngest player to get onto the scoresheet in the league this season.
- Down in Sicily, a monumental comeback took place. Inter hadn’t won away from home since November when they ended Juventus’ 49 game undefeated streak, that run of futility ended on Sunday afternoon. After going 2-0 down inside 20 minutes to Catania, the visitors emerged 3-2 victors. Nerazzurri boss Andrea Stramaccioni brought on Rodrigo Palacio at the start of the second half, who ultimately decided the match. He scored the tying and decisive marker along with providing the assist for Ricky Alvarez at 2-1. They move up to fourth, level on points with Lazio, and one behind their city rivals.
- Pescara and Udinese facing off wouldn’t normally be a match to watch out for, but it was on Sunday. Antonio Di Natale finally earned his 150th league goal after going six games without reaching the milestone. Udinese stay ninth, five back of a European place, while Pescara are now at the foot of the table. They’re five points away from safety with eleven matches to play.
- What else is new? Mauro Icardi got another one for Sampdoria in a 1-0 win at home to a struggling Parma side. That’s the Argentine’s ninth of the season and his eighth in nine games.
Other results: Torino 0-0 Palermo; Bologna 3-0 Cagliari; Fiorentina 2-1 Chievo; Siena 0-2 Atalanta