Juventus showed that they are still not full after six titles in a row last night, as they beat Napoli 1-0 with a gol dell’ex by Gonzalo Higuain. Maurizio Sarri and his squad conceded their first seasonal defeat, and saw the Bianconeri coming closer at -1 point from their leadership. It was not a great match to watch, with Juventus finding again that impenetrable defense that had made their recent fortune, and Napoli appearing less brilliant than usual.
The San Paolo Stadium experienced the most bitter come back as Gonzalo Higuain scored once again – this is the fifth time – against his former side. The man whom the Partenopei fans used to idolize no longer than two seasons ago, the one who was not even supposed to play last night, was indeed there, ready to make the best out of an assist by Paulo Dybala for the decisive goal.
Gonzalo Higuain is the added value for Juventus’ renewed Scudetto ambitions. Remember September? Massimiliano Allegri’s defense shaking, El Pipita far from his top shape, and gloomily relegated on the bench. Well, this is all gone, with the 90 million man adding the 9th notch in his seasonal scoring tally, and rubbing more salt into the wounds of a Neapolitan fan base that has all but forgiven his moving to Turin.
A booming San Paolo Stadium didn’t give him any break: Since the pre-match warm up, every single time Higuain touched the ball, he was bombarded with booing and insults. The Argentinian striker replied with irony. Right after scoring, he put a hand to his hear, then pointed at the stands, pretending he was looking for somebody. It was likely Napoli President Aurelio De Laurentiis, whom – according to Higuain’s side of the story – was the reason for his parting from the Neapolitan colors.
The first time that Gonzalo Higuain scored against his former club, he did not celebrate as a sign of respect. Last night, it was a different ball game. He made the point very clear only three minutes into the match, when his first shot from a tight angle forced Juan Manuel Reina to start his work shift early.
On the 12th minute, a masterful counterattack gave Juventus the decisive lead. Even if El Pipita was the one to book his name on the scorecard, full credit to Douglas Costa and Paulo Dybala who made that possible. The Brazilian winger recovered a ball in his defensive third, to promptly serve La Joya. Dybala cut through Napoli’s midfield, and produced a sharp pass for the Argentinian to knife-stab his former teammates again. A perfect ripartenza, as Arrigo Sacchi would call it.
With 70 minutes still to play, there was plenty of time to turn the tables. But Juventus contained Napoli’s reaction by playing a waiting game, and preventing their usual ball possession from turning into anything constructive. Maurizio Sarri’s side backs, Mario Rui and Elseid Hysaj, failed to provide new solutions from the flanks, whereas midfielder Jorginho recorded an impressive number of missed passes. With José Callejon and a nervous Dries Mertens well-contained by Juventus’ center backs, Lorenzo Insigne was the only one to call Gianluigi Buffon to duty. The 39-year-old captain was always ready to answer, but didn’t have to go over the top to keep his sheet clean.
On the other hand, Juventus were the ones to come closer to score again, when a close-range shot by Blaise Matuidi was miraculously deflected by Pepe Reina. Massimiliano Allegri made full score despite having to renounce to Mario Mandzukic, and found unexpected support from many of his second lines, his latest bet being the recovery of Milan outcast defender Mattia De Sciglio.
The 25-year-old right back, a marginal presence so far, made it to the starting lineup for the second time in a row, and passed the San Paolo test with ease. On the other side of the defensive line, Kwadwoh Asamoah collected another positive cap, making the battle with Alex Sandro for the left back spot an interesting one.
An old cliché in modern football says that good substitutes make the difference in the long run, and that may prove even truer as Napoli evidenced again their problem of panchina corta (“short bench”) last night. Mario Rui on the left flank is still not worth Faouzi Ghoulam, and when those three on the front line have a bad day, there are no fresh forces to replace them. Maurizio Sarri’s perfect machine is starting to show some flaws.
The Partenopei need some changes, and definitely a new stylist. You don’t want to see them wearing again a black-and-white outfit for a home match against the most renown black-and-whites!
December 1, 2017 – Serie A 2017-18 Round 15
SCORER: 12’ Higuain
|NAPOLI (4-3-3): Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Mario Rui (75′ Maggio); Allan (67′ Zielinski), Jorginho, Hamsik; Callejon, Mertens, Insigne (75’ Ounas). (Rafael, Sepe, Scarf, Giaccherini, Leandrinho, Maksimovic, Chiriches, Rog, Diawara) Coach: Sarri|
|JUVENTUS (4-2-3-1): Buffon; De Sciglio (82′ Barzagli), Benatia, Chiellini, Asamoah; Khedira (66′ Marchisio), Pjanic; Douglas Costa (79′ Cuadrado), Dybala, Matuidi; Higuain. (Pinsoglio, Szczesny, Alex Sandro, Rugani, Sturaro, Bentancur, Bernardeschi) Coach: Allegri|
REFEREE: Mr. Orsato from Vicenza
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Mertens, Mario Rui (N), Chiellini (J); Extra Time: 2’ 1st Half, 4’ 2nd Half.
Feature Photo: www.ilbianconero.com