Napoli 1 – 3 Juventus
Pogba 29 (J), Britos 64 (N), Caceres 69 (J), Vidal 94 (J)
Serie A – Week 18 [Sunday, 11th January – 19:45 GMT] – Stadio San Paolo
For most of this match it seemed Juve’s recent mild form may continue. 25 minutes in and while neither side was taking control, Juventus were hardly very inspiring. Then around the half hour mark a bit of magic happened: Paul Pogba remembered he was playing versus Napoli and scored a Pogboom. It wasn’t exactly indicative of Juve’s team play. But nonetheless the burst of brilliance had put Juve ahead.
Really though this was a sloppy game. Juve went through long stretches of poor passing, which surprisingly didn’t hurt them too badly. Juventus seemed to lack a cutting edge, as they had in recent draws versus Inter and Sampdoria. Napoli weren’t so great either, but they did enough to keep themselves in the game.
The second half whistle didn’t offer much of a change either, at least not at first. But then at the hour mark, Dries Mertens was subbed on for Marek Hamsik. Hamsik had been getting into space throughout the match but he was really failing to capitalize on each occasion. Mertens immediately made an impact, as his corner kick found Miguel Britos in Juve’s box. Britos slid the ball past Gianluigi Buffon and Napoli equalized. It seemed that this game would end like the derby d’Italia, or even the SuperCoppa.
Instead Juventus answered back five minutes later. Andrea Pirlo took a free kick, and Martin Caceres was free and scored once the ball was sent into the box. There is some dispute as to whether or not Caceres was offside, and it being Juve who scored, the screenshots of the goal will be heavily analyzed. Either way, it was a nice moment for Caceres’ return to the squad. Martin has a bit of a knack for scoring important goals, or at least goals in games where he returns from an absence. With Stephan Lichtsteiner’s attacking influence missed today, it was important for Caceres to make an impact offensively, even if it was via a set piece.
Of course, moments later Lichtsteiner came on for Caceres, and Juventus switched to a 3-5-2. While not very exciting, it probably preserved their 2-1 lead.
That was one controversial play, another came when Napoli had a scoring chance. Kalidou Koulibaly was near Gianluigi Buffon in the box, and the ball was sent in their general area. Buffon and Martin Caceres possibly bumped as Buffon jumped and came down with the ball. Towards the end of his fall, Buffon and Koulibaly bumped, and Koulibaly lightly rammed him – and used a bit of hands on Buffon’s jersey – as Buffon lost the ball. Koulibaly then finished the point blank opportunity but the goal was quickly called off for the foul. While some fans are complaining, the fact of the matter is that in the modern game the goalkeepers owns his box, and I can’t see how Koulibaly’s actions wouldn’t have been called a foul on any goal keeper.
Gonzalo Higuain and Duvan Zapata also had dangerously close scoring chances for Napoli later in the game. Higuain seemed set for a goal until his final effort was a bit too right. It was a very odd mistake from the otherwise class striker. Finally, with moments left in the game, Zapata had a bit of a dangerous break away and managed to outpace Juve’s centerbacks. Buffon came off his line and met Zapata just outside the 18 yard box, and Zapata went down. He was given a yellow card for simulation, and that was that.
Two minutes after that Arturo Vidal wrapped the game up. Napoli were attacking Juventus, desperate to tie the game. This resulted in a rare counter attack for Juventus, led by Alvaro Morata, Carlos Tevez, and Vidal. Morata took the ball through Napoli’s half on the left flank, and he crossed to Vidal who was a bit out of the 18 yard box. Vidal dribbled a bit and got a more central angle, and took his shot just before entering the box. There was nothing Rafael could do to stop it, and with a 3-1 scoreline the game was clinched.
After a bit of a disappointing run Juventus seem to be back on track. A 3-1 win versus Napoli is nice, especially to avenge the SuperCoppa. Plus, with Roma drawing in the Rome derby earlier that means Juventus are three points ahead of Roma in the Scudetto race. Juve face Verona twice in their next two games, once in Coppa Italia and once in Serie A. 2015 started with two intense games, but Juventus fared pretty well and now go into a relatively easier portion of their fixture list.
Man of the Match: Arturo Vidal
Flop of the Match: Fernando Llorente
Pass Accuracy: 80%
Shots on Target: 5
Total Shots: 8
Ball Possession: 52%
Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Albiol, Koulibaly, Britos; David Lopez, Gargano (Duvan Zapata 83); Callejon (Gabbiadini 72), Hamsik (Mertens 60), De Guzman; Higuain
Juventus: Buffon; Caceres (Ogbonna 79), Bonucci, Chiellini, Evra; Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba (Lichtsteiner 70); Vidal; Tevez, Llorente (Morata 74)