Feature Photo: Andrea Di Marco/ANSA via AP
The Campionato has found a ruler already, and it is – surprise, surprise – once again Massimiliano Allegri and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus. The Zebras extinguished their most likely challenger, coming from behind to topple Napoli 3-1 in the match clou of Serie A Round 7 and widening their lead over them to six points.
Juve thus increased their perfect run to eight wins in a row this season, breaking a club record that has stood since the 1930-31 season. One more record crushed and an even better start for the Bianconeri than in any of previous seven seasons – we all know how those ended.
Under these circumstances, it is hard to imagine the Scudetto embarking on a path that leads anywhere other than Turin at the season’s end – especially now that it has been trodden by CR7 (there was no goal for the Portuguese ace yesterday, but a magnificent performance which saw him contribute to all three of Juventus’ goals).
The only flaw in a triumphal afternoon for the Bianconeri was the sudden resignation of their CEO Giuseppe Marotta. In a post-match press conference, he announced that he will step down after seven years at the helm of the club he helped on the road to its fantastic title-winning streak. Marotta did not clarify whether parting ways with the Old Lady was his decision, or that of the club.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli courageously tried to resist, and might even have been successful, had they maintained the same grit shown in the first 20 minutes, and had Mario Rui not been on a mission to cripple Miralem Pjanic. Twice the Portuguese knocked Juve’s midfielder down with the same vicious tackle, and twice he was shown a yellow card by referee Luca Banti, which ultimately resulted in his expulsion in the 57th minute.
With Juventus already leading 2-1 thanks to a brace by Mario Mandzukic, the Partenopei attempted one last desperate assault, before conceding the third goal to Leonardo Bonucci. Forced to play with only ten men for more than 30 minutes, they couldn’t have given much more. Still, Carletto Ancelotti will not be happy with only the early flare that brought his side the lead. The Neapolitans have much to work on if they intend to obstruct the great black and white dreadnought, or if they plan to make it past their infernal Champions League group.
Napoli’s struggles were exemplified by their full backs yesterday, with Elsaid Hysaj ridiculed by Ronaldo’s cross that Mandzukic converted in Juve’s equalizer, and Rui embarassed even before his insane persecution of Pjanic. The new summer signings – the likes of Simone Verdi, Fabian Ruiz, and Kévin Malcuit – are still yet to make an impact among the Azzurri lines, where the only visible change in Napoli’s line-up is currently the absence of a solid midfielder like Jorginho…
Nonetheless, Piotr Zielinski’s long distance shot just five minutes into the match showed that the visitors had no intention of playing the role of sacrificial lamb. Zielinksi’s shot rattled Wojciech Szczesny’s right-hand post, which suddenly stirred the torpid Allianz Stadium supporters who had been largely caught by surprise by Napoli’s rampant start.
After an attempt by Ronaldo to pay Napoli back in the same vain, forcing David Ospina to dirty his gloves, the Partenopei found the lead through Dries Mertens – who regained a spot among the starting eleven in Ancelotti’s 4-4-2. The Belgian completed a move that originated from Leonardo Bonucci, Juve’s Figliol Prodigo having been anticipated by Allan Marques, and José Callejon offering Mertens an easy chance to put the ball into an empty net.
Juventus’ prompt reaction lay at the feet of CR7. In the 25th minute, the Genius of Madeira planted his flag on Napoli’s right flank, feigned his marker Hysaj two – then three – times, and delivered a cross that Marione Mandzukic only had to slot past Napoli’s Colombian goalkeeper to draw the score level.
From then on, the five-time Ballon d’Or’s gigantic shadow remained cast over the match. Two minutes later, he won a free kick. He spread his legs, rolled up his shorts – and everybody knows that when Ronaldo rolls up his shorts it means trouble – and fired a screamer that severely tested Ospina’s reflexes, before Napoli’s defense frantically cleared the ball. In the 39th minute, Kalidou Koulibaly – the match-winner in the last confrontation between the two sides – had to concede a yellow card to stop him.
Paulo Dybala, missing-in-action in Juventus’ sensational start to the season, showed himself around Ospina’s area for the first time in the 43rd minute, but his finish was all but memorable. Still, La Joya made his mark on the game three minutes after the break, leading a counter-attack that resulted in the Bianconeri’s second goal.
CR7 received Dybala’s pass before taking on Ospina again, then hitting the post which provided Mandzukic – all alone on the opposite side – another chance to convert with a tap-in from no distance. When Rui was sent off less than 10 minutes later, Ancelotti’s boat risked sinking. The coach from Reggiolo put a Band-Aid on the wound already inflicted by pulling out Zielinski and Mertens and replacing them with the fresh legs of Kévin Malcuit and Arkadiusz Milik.
The next chance for Napoli fell to the feet of José Callejon – but the Spaniard wasted it delivering a feeble, central shot for Szczesny’s comfortable save. That was the last attempt by the Neapolitan side, which eventually capitulated again in the 75th minute. This time, Ronaldo deflected a corner from the right-hand side, and gave Leonardo Bonucci the easiest opportunity to score with his right foot.
The rest of the game only served the purpose of pleasing football statistians: Ronaldo continued his battle with Ospina, because three assists were simply not enough, and he looked keen to score one for himself too. Allegri allowed Mandzukic a standing ovation from his supporters, pulling him out with just a few minutes to go as Juventus peacefully wound the game down as their attention start to turn their upcoming Champions League match versus Young Boys. Scant chance that Marotta’s resignation will shake their granitic stability.
September 29, 2018 – Serie A 2018-19 Round 7
SCORERS: 10′ Mertens (N), 26′ Mandzukic (J), 49′ Mandzukic (J), 76′ Bonucci (J)
|JUVENTUS (4-3-3): Szczesny; Cancelo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Emre Can (61’ Bentancur), Pjanic, Matuidi; Dybala (64’ Bernardeschi), Mandzukic (84’ Cuadrado), Cristiano Ronaldo (Perin, Pinsoglio, Benatia, Barzagli, Rugani, Kean) Coach: Allegri|
|NAPOLI (4-4-2): Ospina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Callejon, Allan, Hamsik (69’ Ruiz), Zielinski (61’ Malcuit); Insigne, Mertens (61’ Milik) (Karnezis, D’Andrea, Maksimovic, Luperto, Rog, Diawara, Verdi, Ounas) Coach: Ancelotti|
REFEREE: Mr. Banti from Livorno
NOTES: Attendance: 39252; Yellow Cards: Cancelo, Bonucci, Alex Sandro (J), Koulibaly, Insigne, Hysaj (N); Red Card: Mario Rui (N)