In a very entertaining encounter in which they come twice from behind, Juventus beat Napoli 4-2 Saturday and lifted the Supercoppa Italiana in Beijing. A well-deserved victory in which all the demons of last May’s Coppa Italia defeat were laid to rest, as the “Bird’s Nest” (Beijing National Stadium’s nickname) observed the Bianconeri’s legendary resilience (la Juve non molla mai!) at overcoming the only side to beat them last season.
MATCH ANALYSIS (by Marco Pantanella)
There were no great surprises as far as the starting line-up was concerned, with Antonio Conte (replaced by Massimo Carrera on the Juve bench) opting to deploy the same 3-5-2 system first tried against the Partenopei back in November 2011. Making their first official starts since completing summer moves were Lúcio, Asamoah and Giovinco, while Alessandro Matri was preferred over Mirko Vucinic to partner the Azzurri international up front. On the other end, Mazzarri opted to play Britos in the back line and pushed Pandev (in place of Lavezzi, now at PSG) in support of Cavani. Both sides played the same tactics: a 3-man defence and 2 forwards (though Pandev started slightly deeper compared to Giovinco).
Those who predicted an evenly contested encounter were proven right, as both sides toiled to enjoy any significant spells of possession in the opening fifteen minutes, despite Juve looking the more likely to inflict damage. Indeed Matri (set up by Giovinco), Pirlo, and Asamoah all came moderately close to pulling the trigger successfully, but saw their shots go wide or get deflected.
Yet, as is often the case in soccer with one team dominating but failing to score, Napoli opened the lead on their first chance of the match. On the counter-attack, Edinson Cavani (fresh from returning from a disappointing Olympic campaign with Uruguay at London 2012, and electing to not go on holiday in order to play in this game) slipped behind Juve’s 3-man defence (three tall and physical, but not very fast players) with a run that started from inside his own half (!), and raced through to the Juventus goal. Buffon stood firm, performing a minor miracle prevent the Uruguayan frontman from rounding him at the first attempt, but was unable to block the follow-up, which flashed past him into the net. 1-0 Napoli.
As the Bianconeri attempted to raise an immediate response, Buffon was again called into action: a poor throw-in by Asamoah gifted the ball back to Napoli, resulting eventually in a Pandev firmly-hit attempt at the keeper’s near post. Thankfully Gigi was vigilant. Kwadwo Asamoah would be fairly quick to redeem himself however, a moment of magic that announced his arrival at Juve in style! There appeared to be little danger for Napoli when Vidal swung in a cross from the right-hand side, if only the Ghanaian midfielder had not executed a spectacular, first-time volley that flew directly past inside the left post past De Sanctis. 1-1!
Yet there was to be one further twist in an intriguing first half, when Goran Pandev capitalized on a Bonucci error to cut inwards from the left flank. The Macedonian forward closed in on the target before clipping a delicate finish over the head of Buffon (and scoring his 7th goal against Juventus… here’s another Sergio Pellissier in the making) sending the Partenopei into the break with a 2-1 advantage.
Carrera/Conte opted to take instant action during the half-time interval, introducing Mirko Vucinic in place of an inefficient Matri. The change almost reaped immediate rewards, with the Montenegrin gathering a pass from Pirlo before rattling the woodwork just four minutes into the second half, then repeating himself as he rounded the goalkeeper a few minutes later, only to see his finish scrambled clear by Paolo Cannavaro right on the line! In between, a well-struck Pirlo free kick had forced De Sanctis to a sprawling save. Juventus were pressing for an equalizer!
Artwork by Fabrizio Rosellini
And shortly after, they found it! In the 72nd minute, Fernandez upended Vucinic in the penalty area and referee Mazzoleni (after denying them twice in the match already) finally pointed to the spot. Arturo Vidal stepped up to send De Sanctis the wrong way from the spot, paving the way for an epic finale in the looming 30 minutes of extra time.
It seemed as if the pendulum had begun to swing in the Bianconeri’s favour, even more so when Pandev was given his marching orders for insulting the linesman with five minutes remaining. And worse was to come for Mazzarri’s men, as one foul too many also saw Zuniga sent for an early bath mere seconds before the start of extra time. Napoli certainly paid for the over-physical, over-fouling tactic which seemed to be the only way they had found to stop Juventus in midfield.
With a clear numerical advantage, the Bianconeri probed for the lead and brought further cheer to the hoards of Chinese Black & White supporters when Christian Maggio diverted Pirlo’s cross past his own goalkeeper in the 97th minute. Mirko Vucinic then secured a two-goal cushion five minutes later, collecting Marchisio’s genius blind-pass to steer the ball comfortably past De Sanctis. 4-2 Juve and game over.
Despite having further opportunities to increase their lead, Juventus played out the remaining fifteen minutes before Mazzoleni’s final whistle brought the end to an absorbing 120 minutes of football. The first trophy of the 2012-12 season is Juve’s!!
LE PAGELLE (by Aaron Giambattista)
Buffon 6.5 – Could do little about either Napoli goal. On the first, he made a fantastic stop on Cavani, only for the Uruguayan to score on the rebound. Made himself big for Pandev, but the Macedonian lobbed him brilliantly.
Lúcio 5.5 – Looked slow and always a step behind. Napoli shrugged him off too easily too many times. Hopefully it’s just a case of pre-season preparation lag, but with Cáceres and Chiellini returning to health, one has to wonder how much Lúcio will get to play this season.
Bonucci 5.0 – Too far up the field on Cavani’s 1st goal, dispossessed rather clumsily by Pandev on the 2nd, and his indecision almost costing Juve a third as he waited for Buffon to pick up a trailing ball and allowed Cavani to sneak in and go for the shot. Some rather inconsistent long balls as well, so all in all a very very shaky performance by Bonny. But we can forgive him: he’s been through Hell on Earth with this nasty Calcioscommesse business and no doubt he’s still a bit shaken psychologically.
Barzagli 5.5 – Though he was the better of the three-man Juve backline, Barzagli’s performance shows he’s behind in preparation as well. His man-marking was below his typical impeccable standards, as he lost his man a bit too often.
Lichtsteiner 6.5 – Like his first few months at Juventus. Stormed down the flank with fury, unbeaten in defense and great in attack. Proof that he potentially can play as a right wingback in a 3-5-2, even against a defensive side.
(89′) Padoin 6 – None of us at JK rated Padoin particularly high in our season-ending pagelle, but you gotta admit the man has heart… and a lot of energy. In this pre-season, he’s also had a knack of delivering assists, and his Saturday performance was in the same vein: quality.
Vidal 6.0 – Was completely anonymous in the first half. In the second, the Chilean got more involved with good tackling and more movement. Scored a nice penalty to equalize the match.
Pirlo 6.0 – “Bearded” Andrea has yet to return to his typical high levels. He had a few good passes here and there, but wasn’t as dynamic, inventive, or consistent as we expect him to be.
Marchisio 6.0 – The rest of the Nazionale players were physically behind preparations, and Claudio was no different. Was a step behind Napoli players in much of the game, though he had a fanastic assist for Vucinic’s goal.
Asamoah 7.0 – The new Juventus recruit showed all the qualities we lauded in our “Benvenuto alla Juventus” piece. Tough in tackling, skilled in dribbling, he showed that he’s far more than a defensive midfielder. Scored an absolutely brilliant goal, firing in a screamer of a left-footed volley past Morgan De Sanctis.
Matri 5.0 – In the first half, Napoli’s defense was rough and suffocating. Matri had little support, as Giovinco was frequently fouled outside of the box, and Marchisio nor Vidal made their trademark runs into the box. A poor display for Ale32.
(46′) Vucinic 6.5 – Veni, Vidi, Vuci. An extra spark in technical quality, and just what Giovinco needed as a striking partner in this game. Mirko might have dribbled himself straight into an opponent a time or two, but his ball control, distribution, and presence in the box considerably improved Juve in the 2nd half. He earned the P.K. for Vidal’s 2-2, and capped a very good performance with the 4-2 goal. Bravo Mirko!
Giovinco 6.5 – Lively and quick in his first official match back at Juventus. Great touches, flicks, and turns. Napoli’s defense tried to keep him out, but he got several Azzurri players booked and won many vital set pieces. A bright start for La Formica Atomica!
(117′) Giaccherini s.v.
Carrera 6.5 – Ok, so he’s not Antonio Conte. Clearly. But from all the yelling he did from the touchline, even when his team was up 4-2 and playing against a 9-man Napoli side, it was almost hard to tell the difference! Undoubtedly a few of the tactical switches were discussed pre-match, but Carrera/Conte got all of them right. And big Kudos to Massimo for dedicating the victory to Antonio! Let’s hope this Calcioscommesse BS is over very soon with the appellate court.
ANALYSIS WRAP-UP (by Aaron Giambattista)
Juventus traveled to China to make a statement, in light of the turbulent off-season. Napoli has been something of a hoodoo for the Bianconeri in the last 4-5 years, and their counter-attacking style was perfectly content to see the Bianconeri dominate possession.
Walter Mazzarri said his team would win in China with “beautiful playing.” A counter-attacking side can be attractive and entertaining, but Mazzari’s Napoli showed all the ugly aspects of their formation and calcio. The Azzurri committed an extraordinary amount of fouls, had a player sent off for swearing at the referee, did not attend the award ceremony (on the orders of classless president Aurelio De Laurentiis), and then had the gall to complain about the match.
Juventus, on the other hand, went about things in lo Stile Juve. With Massimo Carrera on the sidelines, the boys put in a mixed display, but ultimately one that Conte will be pleased with. The team dominated possession, breaking down a stubborn opponent who resorted to negative football, and never gave up despite trailing.
The team delivered a statement. Antonio Conte has been suspended for 10 months, though the squad played to his style. The media has undermined Juve’s strength all summer, yet the club picked up its 2nd trophy only 3 months after the last one. Whether Conte is on the touchline or not, this is a new Juventus. And it cannot be easily stopped.
As Claudio Zuliani would say…
Vincere è l’unica cosa che… Conte!
|GOALSCORERS: 27′ Cavani (N), 37′ Asamoah (J), 41′ Pandev (N), 73′ pen. Vidal (J), 97′ Maggio o.g. (J), 101′ Vucinic (J)|
|JUVENTUS (3-5-2): Buffon – Lúcio, Bonucci, Barzagli – Lichtsteiner (89′ Padoin), Marchisio, Pirlo, Vidal, Asamoah – Giovinco (117′ Giaccherini), Matri (46′ Vucinic). COACH: Carrera.
(UNUSED SUBSTITUTES: Storari, De Ceglie, Marrone, Quagliarella).
|NAPOLI (3-5-1-1): De Sanctis – Campagnaro, P.Cannavaro (62′ Fernandez), Britos – Maggio, Behrami, Inler (90′ Dossena), Hamsik (68′ Gargano), Zuniga – Pandev – Cavani. COACH: Mazzarri.|
(UNUSED SUBSTITUTES: Rosati, Aronica, Vargas, L.Insigne).