MATCH ANALYSIS by Adam Digby
Encounters between Napoli and Juventus need very little adding in order for them to boil over. History shows that over the years the clubs simply do not meet without there being fireworks and, thanks to the fact they occupy the two top spots in Serie A, there was more than just pride at stake on Friday evening. Add in the imagery and memories evoked by the return to Naples of a certain Diego Armando Maradona, the bad blood left over from the Italian Super Cup and the constant pressure on the match officials and the Stadio San Paolo was primed to explode.
With six points separating the teams before kickoff, the implications of this match were clear for Antonio Conte’s men; win and Nike can begin to figure out where the tricolore will fit on next year’s shirt design, lose and the Partenopei would be right back in the race with eleven rounds remaining. Winless under the shadow of Vesuvio since back in September 2000, the coach played his strongest hand, aided by the knowledge that the Champions League second leg against Celtic is not until Wednesday.
However, he was robbed of Kwadwo Asamoah after an incident with the team bus as it arrived in the southern city. Pelted with eggs, rocks and anything else the locals could find, the window closest to the Ghanaian was smashed leaving him in no condition to start the game. That loss was offset by the return of Giorgio Chiellini, back in the lineup after a lengthy layoff while Sebastian Giovinco and Mirko Vucinic were preferred in attack.
The game started at breathtaking pace with chances at either end before the Juventus took the lead, surprisingly with a goal from a corner. Recent weeks have seen countless opportunities wasted but Chiellini would show just what he brings to the team, towering over Miguel Britos to head the visitors in front with a superbly taken goal thanks to yet another Andrea Pirlo assist.
What followed was something of a mini onslaught from the Bianconeri as they looked to increase their advantage and kill the game. An Arturo Vidal cross saw Vucinic narrowly miss before the same duo combined again, this time the Chilean rolling the ball to the unmarked striker who once again found a way to miss when scoring was by far the easier option.
Gökhan Inler and Britos then clashed heads, leaving the latter unconscious on the turf and sickening everyone who saw it. Eventually he would come round, playing on but later discovering the incident had left him with a fractured jaw! The game continued in the same pattern; Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli snuffing out Edinson Cavani at one end while the frustrating Vucinic found yet more ways to squander chances including some wonderful defending to deny Giovinco a goal.
Inler would equalize just before the break with a long distance shot which Gigi Buffon had no chance of stopping as it deflected off Leo Bonucci. Chiellini and Cavani then clashed at a corner, with the Uruguayan extremely lucky to remain on the field after he retaliated to some shirt and hair pulling by elbowing the defender in the face. It was an ugly incident but one which perhaps showed how difficult playing against this defence is, Cavani’s frustration clear as he lashed out.
The second half would be a much cagier affair as neither team wanted to lose the point they held but Buffon had to be at his best to deny a string of Napoli chances. The game certainly lived up to its billing and the stalemate undoubtedly favours Juventus as the season races towards a conclusion, one which seems certain to have a number of twists remaining but the Old Lady remains in the driving seat.
LE PAGELLE by Adam Digby
Gianluigi Buffon 6.5 - Superb throughout, particularly the second half when Napoli pressed for a winner. Was well protected early on and clearly not at fault for the goal.
Barzagli 6.5 - Solid as ever in defence, helping Chiellini to nullify the threat of Cavani in an excellent defensive showing but was guilty of wasting possession on a number of occasions, his pass completion rate of 76% falling way below his season average of 89.9%.
Bonucci 6.0 - Did as well as his defensive teammates but loses a half mark for the Inler goal. Unlike Barzagli his passing was as on song as usual, while he made a number of vital clearances and blocked two shots that may have troubled Buffon.
Chiellini 8.0 - An absolute monster. Often guilty of rushing back from injury and causing himself and the team problems, Chiellini timed this one perfectly. Scored a great opening goal before putting Cavani in his pocket for the entire game, frustrating him completely.
Lichtsteiner 6.0 - Defended well against the threat of Zuniga down the Juve right which limited his own attacking involvement. His crossing was poor but without the aerial threat of Matri in the box it is hard to criticise him in that regard.
Vidal 6.5 - Tireless as ever. Four tackles, four interceptions and two superb chances created only to see Vucinic waste them. Faded in the second half and looked tired, a huge factor in Napoli’s increased attacking threat.
Pirlo 6.0 - A great assist to Chiellini was the bright spot of his performance, one which was subdued in comparison to what we are used to seeing from the bearded genius. Made just 47 passes and was patrolled well by Napoli’s midfield.
Marchisio 7.0 - Another of those games where the casual observer will wonder why he receives such praise yet to witness him win back the ball just seconds after being flagged offside shows those of us paying attention just how great he is. The man is literally everywhere as rumours he has a twin brother remain unconfirmed…
Padoin s.v. - Played just a few seconds.
Pelsuso 6.0 - Struggled to contain Maggio, gave away a number of silly fouls including one right on the edge of his own box but managed to press forward a few times and trouble Napoli. However this is yet another match which increases the reputation of Asamoah at left wingback.
Vucinic 4.5 - Juve’s worst player by far and, at times, Napoli’s best defender! An annoying and irritating display from a player with a reputation for deciding these huge games. Held the ball up well in the first half but, for a Juventus striker that is simply not enough.
Pogba s.v. - Given no time to impact the game
Giovinco 5.5 - Much like Vucinic he did the off the ball stuff well, made some good contributions to the buildup but was providing nowhere near the required level of threat to scare the Napoli defence.
Matri 6.0 - Probably deserved to start given his recent form and looked threatening despite the lack of chances which came his way.
Antonio Conte 6.5 - Controlled the game and deserved much more from the excellent first half. The team tired in the second period and he must look closely at the fitness of Vidal in particular. Perhaps made a mistake in his attacking choices but undoubtedly held Matri back with Celtic in mind.
ANALYSIS WRAP-UP by Adam Digby
Juventus dominated the first half thanks to the fierce determination to retain and win back the ball, pressing their opponents who had no answer for such energy. As always seems to be the case with this Juventus, better finishing would have seen them in clear control long before Inler’s shot skimmed off Bonucci.
However, huge credit must also go to Mazzarri for the way his side responded. After the break their pace, allied with a clearly fatigued Juventus midfield combined to see the home side improve dramatically and by the end probably deserve to share the points.
It was good to see Cavani and Chiellini swap shirts at the final whistle, clearly leaving their battle between the white lines but Antonio Conte was in no mood to do the same. He used his post match press conference to quite rightly lambast the Corriere dello Sport for their blatant campaigning to avoid Nicola Rizzoli refereeing this match and also call upon his players to complete the challenges ahead.
There is no more time for fun and games or slip-ups. If we do well, then we’ll get there, but if we don’t then it’s only right that someone else finishes first. That’s why we have to keep our heads down.
This season the Champions League has to be taken into account and it takes away energy, both physical and psychological. I appealed to the team to stay on point, as we need everyone from here to the end.
So a thrilling game which undoubtedly lived up to its much hyped pre-match build up. The title race remains as it was, Juve six points clear but with Napoli now needing others to help them if they are to overhaul la vecchia Signora. Juventus return to Turin to await the arrival of Celtic as the Champions League resumes. A place in the Quarter Finals awaits.
ANTONIO CONTE IL NOSTRO CAPITANO!
Napoli 1-1 Juventus – All Goals plus Highlights Video