Juventus and Napoli are likely going to be the top contenders in Serie A’s new season, and yesterday both teams began their run in the domestic league in the exact same way: a convincing three-goal victory against their unfortunate opponents.
And they did so by showing as little as possible of the results of their calciomercato campaign, preferring to rely on a solid structure built in the past seasons and their key players: Gianluigi Buffon and Paulo Dybala for the Old Lady, Arkadiusz Milik and Lorenzo Insigne for the Neapolitan side.
For the 6-in-a-row Scudetto holders, recent times had been troubled. The unexpected debacle in the Champions League final against Real Madrid opened a serious breach in the team’s confidence, which this Summer also had to suffer top class defender Leonardo Bonucci’s transfer to direct rival AC Milan. For the first time in a few years, Juventus did not seem invincible to their domestic contenders for the Italian title as the season start approached. Two weeks ago, a shocking last minute defeat against Lazio in the Italian Supercup match could not but confirm such impression.
Still, in the inaugural game of Serie A 2017-18, held at its newly-renamed Allianz Stadium home ground, Juventus trashed Cagliari 3-0, in a match that had little to offer, except for the very first occurrence in Italy of a penalty assigned by video assistant technology. 39 minutes into the game, referee Fabio Maresca asked for VAR assistance to examine a contact between Bianconeri’s defender Alex Sandro and Cagliari striker Duje Cop. He decided to award a penalty, which Cagliari’s Diego Farias wasted by delivering a weak shot in Buffon’s hands.
Three goals from its top attackers – Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala, and Gonzalo Higuain – got the job done for coach Massimiliano Allegri, whom eventually also gave new arrivals Douglas Costa and Blaise Matuidi the chance to make their Serie A debut.
Napoli approached their first league test with quite a different mood that their Northern rivals. The Partenopei were coming from last Wednesday’s thrilling 2-0 victory against Nice in a Champions League playoff game. One of the most solid and experienced team in Serie A, Maurizio Sarri’s squad has almost not changed at all during this summer transfer market.
A few changes in the lineup since Wednesday didn’t prevent Napoli from easily conquering arch-rival Verona’s home ground. Lorenzo Insigne served two assist, one for Milik and one for left back Faouzi Ghoulam, after an own goal by Samuel Souprayen had given Napoli the lead. Verona’s defensive line and Brazilian goalkeeper Nicolas made it all easier for the blue side. A late goal by former Serie B top striker Giampaolo Pazzini made the defeat less bitter for the Scaligeri.
Juventus called, and Napoli answered loud and clear. But both teams did their job in such an easy way, that the message after these first two games of Serie A 2017-18 looks clear: The gap between Italian football powerhouses and the so-called minor teams is far from reducing.