Juve-Napoli, What a Show! Koulibaly’s Own Goal Resolved It

As lights faded down at the Allianz Stadium on Saturday night, football fans from both Juventus and Napoli must have spent a few minutes recollecting the whirlwind of emotions they went through and putting them back in order. A game like this has no loser, and can legitimately claim a spot in the Serie A’s Hall of Fame, as well as among both side supporters’ remarkable memories – sweet or bitter that they might be.   

The scorecard ultimately read 4-3 in favor of the home Bianconeri, which caught their second win in a row and climbed – just for a change – to the top of the Serie A table with the authority of the strongest, and the favor of the fate. Napoli did contribute to the show, however. They left Turin empty-handed, but with the confidence they can play a bigger role in the Scudetto chase this year, if they fix one or two things back in defense…

Juventus initially forced their way past their most dangerous contenders, gained a three-goal lead, then incredibly wasted it in the space of 15 minutes. Napoli went to hell, came back, then plummeted in despair again as a most thrilling match was resolved in an absurdly mocking way: An incredible own goal by Kalidou Koulibaly during stoppage time.

It was a game with a thousand stories and a thousand faces. The bewildered face of Dutch starlet Matthijs De Ligt, who paid a high price to inexperience in his first Serie A test, and appeared guilty in all three of Napoli’s goals. The relieved, fairy-tale face of Carlo Ancelotti’s right back Giovanni Di Lorenzo, who suddenly became the likely hero of the match as he scored Napoli’s temporary 3-3, after Cristiano Ronaldo had driven him insane for 80 minutes.

Above all, the incredulous face of Kalidou Koulibaly as he realized that – and probably didn’t realize how – he had frustrated his side’s comeback efforts with a tragicomic clearance attempt that put the ball into his own net.

Two years ago, the granitic Senegalese defender had been the protagonist in one of Napoli’s most enthusiastic wins in their recent history, right in this same stadium, scoring a goal that for a while (just for a little while…) had put Juventus’ claim over yet another Scudetto in discussion. Football gives, football takes. Cruelly, sometimes.

Kalidou Koulibaly’s incredible own goal during extra time frustrated Napoli’s efforts. The Partenopei had managed to come back from a 0-3 gap to Juventus…

But aside from Koulibaly’s own goal, an imponderable variable which looked like a bizarre whim of the gods of calcio, the match at the Allianz Stadium left Carlo Ancelotti with many indications. Carletto will have much to work on his defense, where the arrival of Kostas Manolas doesn’t seem to have had his positive effect yet. The Partenopei conceded seven goals in just two games, and neither Giovanni Di Lorenzo nor Faouzi Ghoulam (he was substituted by Mario Rui after just 45 minutes – not the best replacement possible, if you ask…) are providing appropriate coverage on the side lines.

In the “pros” column of his notebook, Carletto can however record the strong impact of Hirving Lozano. The Mexican slung himself into the game after half time and put the Partenopei back on track once the white-and-black tornado had passed and left them in pieces.

Juventus’ new trainer Maurizio Sarri must also have asked himself a few questions while watching the game remotely as he keep recovering from pneumonia. Most importantly, how could the Bianconeri turn off the light and waste a triple lead after such a dominating first part of the match. It doesn’t happen very often to see Juventus lose control of a game, even for a small portion of it.

Matthijs De Ligt’s staggering start was a surprise, but likely just an entrance toll paid to inexperience as he set foot on a Serie A pitch for the first time – surely Napoli were not the softest possible test. Gonzalo Higuain’s performance, on the other hand, was the most positive note among the home ranks. When he faces his former Partenopei teammates, El Pipita often gives the best of himself (remember what he did two seasons ago?). The goal he scored on Saturday reminded of his best days, and perhaps will help proving that keeping him despite his terrible last season was a good idea for Juventus.

Higuain found a place in Sarri’s second-in-command Giovanni Martusciello’s lineup for the second time in a row, confirming that most likely he has overtaken Paulo Dybala in Juventus strikers’ order of preference. Martusciello’s only change versus his winning opener in Parma was due to Giorgio Chiellini’s knee injury. Juve’s captain is expected to be out of play for a few months, and was replaced by the 80-million-euro Dutch youngster – with the effects that we highlighted above.

Carlo Ancelotti was also conservative in his formation, deploying Faouzi Ghoulam in place of Mario Rui on the left back side, only to change his mind after the first 45 minutes.

Giovanni Di Lorenzo scored the third goal for Napoli, anticipating – among others – a confused Matthijs De Ligt. The Dutchman paid a heavy tool to inexperience in his first Serie A match…

Cristiano Ronaldo ignited the match with a tunnel to Giovanni Di Lorenzo in the 9th minute that set the Allianz Stadium on fire. It was a bitter appetizer for the 26-year-old, who would suffer CR7’s accelerations for the whole game, and see Juventus building up the actions that lead to their three goals all from his side.

The first clear chance was for the Partenopei, however, as Lorenzo Insigne served Allan Marques for the Brazilian to unleash a powerful shot: Wojciech Szczesny answered like champions do. One minute later, Mattia De Sciglio was forced to raise white flag due to an injury, and Martusciello replaced him with former Manchester City international Danilo.

It took just 30 seconds for Juve’s new right-back to make himself a name in Serie A. Danilo finalized a lethal counterattack on the Bianconeri‘s part, making the best out of a service from the left by Douglas Costa to become the fastest foreign player to score after his entrance in the top Italian flight.

Juventus’ lead came out of the blue, right when Napoli were attacking more, and looked like an isolated episode in a high-paced, but balanced match. Three minutes later, however, Madama had already doubled its lead. Gonzalo Higuain caught a pass by Blaise Matuidi, left his marker Kalidou Koulibaly on his place, and fired the ball where Alex Meret could not reach it.

Napoli were dazed like a boxer stunned by a one-two combination, and in the 29th minute their goalkeeper had to save the day, parrying back a point-blank range shot by Sami Khedira, consequence of another offensive action originating from Juve’s left flank. Khedira tried again a few minutes later, once again ridiculing Napoli’s defense, but this time it was the crossbar to deny him a joy.

The Partenopei’s reaction lied in a couple of pointless long-range conclusions by an irritating Fabian Ruiz and a dive by Dries Mertens which didn’t fool referee Daniele Orsato. Lorenzo Insigne disappeared from the match after his initial assist to Allan Marques, and Carlo Ancelotti left him in the changing rooms after the break to give way to Hirving Lozano. Good move.

Gonzalo Higuain was the most pleasant surprise for Maurizio Sarri. El Pipita proved that keeping him despite his past poor season was probably a good idea for Juventus…

A dangerous right-foot shot by Dries Mertens in the 51st minute showed that the Azzurri were still alive, but it was just an illusion: Juventus answered straight away with a conclusion by Blaise Matuidi that called Alex Meret to work again.

Cristiano Ronaldo joined the party 10 minutes later, finalizing a combination with Blaise Matuidi and Douglas Costa from the center of the box, following the pattern seen in occasion of the first two goals. Ronaldo’s stamp on proceedings had a devastating effect on the visitors’ morale, and seemed to have ended the matter for Juventus. When Kostas Manolas converted with a header a cross by Mario Rui into Napoli’s 1-3, its purpose seemed to be only saving their pride.

But then, a different match started. Piotr Zielinski advanced on the left side and served a golden ball to Hirving Lozano: The former PSV Eindhoven star had only to tap it in from the center of the box to make it two for Napoli, and suddenly put everything back in discussion. Only three minutes earlier, the Partenopei were down by three goals, now they still had more than 20 to look for an equalizer.

Douglas Costa made clear that Juventus did not want to hear about it, with a violent shot deflected on the crossbar by Alex Meret’s providential hand. Paulo Dybala’s entrance in place of an exhausted Higuain confirmed that coach Martusciello wanted to go for the K.O.

Still, it was again Hirving Lozano to scare a white-and-black defensive line that found itself vulnerable for the first time in ages. Alex Sandro had to resort to a tactical foul that earned him a yellow card to stop the Mexican pixie. It turned to be a fatal mistake, as from the subsequent free-kick Giovanni Di Lorenzo found the winning tap-in from Jose’ Callejon’s service to complete the most incredible comeback.

With only 10 minutes to go and 6 goals in the scorecard, one would think that the gods of football had seen enough for one night. All wrong. Ask Kalidou Koulibaly. Ask what he had in mind during extra time, or what drove his foot as he tried to clear the ball away from a free-kick by Miralem Pjanic, and rather came up with a clumsy intervention that drove it right into his own goal.

We will probably never know, and while Juventus might have taken the three points, Saturday’s epic game at the Allianz Stadium left both coaches with many questions, and most football fans with the hope that this is going to be a pretty exciting Serie A edition.          


MATCH REPORT

August 31, 2019 – Serie A 2019-2020 Round 2
JUVENTUS-NAPOLI 4-3

SCORERS: 16′ Danilo (J), 19′ Higuain (J), 62′ Cristiano Ronaldo (J), 66′ Manolas (N), 68′ Lozano (N), 81′ Di Lorenzo (N), 92′ Koulibaly (N, o.g.)

JUVENTUS (4-3-3): Szczesny; De Sciglio (15′ Danilo), Bonucci, De Ligt, Alex Sandro; Khedira (60′ Emre Can), Pjanic, Matuidi; Douglas Costa, Higuain (76′ Dybala), Cristiano Ronaldo ( Buffon, Pinsoglio, Rabiot, Cuadrado, Bentancur, Rugani, Mandzukic, Demiral,  Bernardeschi) Coach: Martusciello (for indisposed Sarri)
NAPOLI (4-4-1-1): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Koulibaly, Ghoulam (46′ Mario Rui); Callejon, Allan (74′ Elmas), Zielinski, Insigne (46′ Lozano); Fabian Ruiz; Mertens (Karnezis, Ospina, Malcuit, Maksimovic, Younes, Verdi, Gaetano, Hysaj, Luperto) Coach: Ancelotti

REFEREE: Mr. Orsato from Schio
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Matuidi, Alex Sandro, Douglas Costa (J), Ghoulam, Di Lorenzo, Elmas (N); Extra Time: 1st Half 3′, 2nd Half 3′

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