Napoli – Juventus Throwback: When Cavani Demolished the Bianconeri

On January 9, 2011, Napoli demolished Juventus and found a new hero: Edinson Cavani. The Neapolitans are passionate people, easy to grow fond of their next football hero – better if coming from South America – and equally fast to forget him as soon as he proves to be just another bidone – an overhyped player.  

But with Edinson Cavani, on that night, it seemed different. Cavani had just destroyed the number one enemy of Napoli, the much-hatred Juventus, with a sensational hat-trick at the San Paolo Stadium. Three header goals to allow football fans in Naples to finally shout “We are back!!!” as they approached the second spot of the Serie A table after years of struggles in the second and even third divisions.

That was the Napoli of Malter Mazzarri, a hot-blooded Tuscan gaffer who was the perfect fit to clash with the volcanic President Aurelio De Laurentiis but stop right before the two would kill each other. It was a solid lineup built around the charismatic goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis, the experienced Paolo Cannavaro (the younger brother of the Ballon d’Or Fabio) at the back, and a formidable pair of assist providers in the names of Marek Marechiaro Hamsik and Ezequiel El Pocho Lavezzi.  

The cherry on top was him, Edinson Cavani from Salto, Uruguay. El Matador had landed in Naples the summer before, coming from a successful three-year stint in Palermo. Cavani did know a thing or two about scoring goals, having netted 34 out of 109 caps with the Rosanero. But nobody could expect what was coming.

In Naples, El Matador absolutely exploded and became known as the man of the hat-trick, a specialist in scoring a tripletta to his many unfortunate opponents. During his first season, he scored at least three goals in four separate occasions. In his three years with the Partenopei, he bagged at least one tripletta against Juventus, Milan and Inter, and never scored less than 23 goals in Serie A. He was a force of nature. And Juventus learned it the hard way.

That version of Juventus, if truth be told, was a team in search for its identity. Since coming back to Serie A after their shameful post-Calciopoli scandal relegation, the Bianconeri had been struggling to live up to their name.

Juve had changed four coaches in the past four seasons – an unprecedented round of revolving doors in Turin. Now sitting on the bench was Maurizio Delneri, the maker of the “Miracle of Chievo” a few years earlier. He would not last long.

The Bianconeri’s roster was a convoluted work in progress. On top of the eternal Alessandro Del Piero, the strikers were the Azzurri Fabio Quagliarella, Vincenzo Iaquinta, and even a by now aged Luca Toni. In midfield, Claudio Marchisio was setting the tempo alongside unexpressed talent Alberto Aquilani, while the wings were covered by the hard-working Simone Pepe and a blonde-haired Serbian midfielder named Milos Krasic who looked so much like Pavel Nedved but, as time would tell, was not exactly the same as the Czech legend.

Between the sticks, Gianlugi Buffon was still there but was so plagued by injuries that he ended up playing less than his backup Marco Storari that season. With Giorgio Chiellini slowly establishing himself as one of the top defenders in Italy, the transfer market had brought to Turin a no-nonsense 23-year-old center back named Leonardo Bonucci. In the winter calciomercato session, Matteo Barzagli would join from German side Wolfsburg. The BBC was in the making.

The managerial ranks were also going through some reshuffling. The new president Andrea Agnelli, by bringing in sports director Giuseppe Marotta from Sampdoria and technical director Fabio Paratici, was starting to plant the seeds of what would become a sensational domination.

All in all, Juventus were planning for the future, but their present was somewhat lackluster. That’s the condition they were in when they paid a visit to Napoli at the then San Paolo Stadium.

It was one of the few editions of this classic battle between the North and the South of Italy when the odds were in favor of the Southerners. The match would indeed live up to the predictions.

Twenty minutes into the game, with Napoli already pushing, Christian Maggio crossed from the right side and Cavani – all alone in the Juventus wasteland – had all the time in the world to clinically head the ball home, making it bounce on the turf before ending its run into the top left corner of Storari’s goal.

Juventus did try to react. After De Sanctis produced himself in some fine goalkeeping from an Amauri shot, Luca Toni saw a goal disallowed for charging the Neapolitan custodian.

It was a short illusion, though. On 26 minutes, Cavani received another cross in the box – this time from the left-hand side, courtesy of Andrea Dossena – and stood over poor Armand Traoré (how many Juventus fans will remember him?) to find the back of the net for the second time.

In the second period, El Matador completed his demonstration of heading skills with a spectacular diving header from a Marek Hamsik suggestion, wrapping what perhaps was his best night with the Partenopei colors – even though there were still many more to come.

There were still 35 minutes to play, and Napoli could have scored a few more, but Cavani himself – perhaps moved to pity by the Juventus impotence – decided to squander an Ezequiel Lavezzi pass on the counter, kicking the ball into Storari’s hands. Maybe it was because he was not served a header this time.

Thanks to this win, Napoli moved to the second spot in the Serie A table, just behind top-ranked Milan who would go on to win the title. The Partenopei would eventually be passed by Inter but ended the season with a remarkable third place. Juventus, on the other hand, collected a miserable seventh place and remained out of European competitions the following season. It sounds absurd even to only write it, considering that the next year the Bianconeri would enter their age of domination over the Italian top-flight.

…and Cavani?

Well, you know how these things go, right? Nothing is eternal in football. After two more seasons of goals and mutual love with the Azzurri, Edinson Cavani embarrassingly departed from Naples, phagocytized by Paris Saint-Germain in one of their usual bulimic transfer market campaigns. He still held his own pretty well in Paris, tallying his personal best of 49 seasonal goals in 2017/18.

But he would not be adored, or rather literally idolized, by a whole city anymore.   



January 9, 2011 – Serie A 2010-11 Round 19

SCORERS: 20′ Cavani, 26′ Cavani, 54′ Cavani

NAPOLI (3-4-2-1): De Sanctis; Grava, P. Cannavaro, Campagnaro; Maggio, Gargano, Pazienza, Dossena (68′ Aronica); Hamsik (78′ Yebda), Lavezzi; Cavani (80′ Sosa) (Iezzo, Vitale, Zuniga, Dumitru) Coach: Mazzarri

JUVENTUS (4-4-2): Storari; Grygera, Bonucci, Chiellini, Traorè (46′ Grosso); Krasic, Marchisio, Aquilani, Pepe (66′ Motta), Amauri (52′ Del Piero), Toni (Manninger, Giandonato, Legrottaglie, Gianneti) Coach: Delneri

REFEREE: Mr. Morganti from Ascoli Piceno
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Dossena, Hamsik (N), Traoré, Pepe (J)