In truth, the Bianconeri were surprisingly poor and simply never got going against a Napoli side that enjoyed an ultimately comfortable victory. Gianluigi Buffon had already been called into action to keep the scores level several times before Jose Callejon finally put his team in the lead, and the visitors had not tested Pepe Reina at all by the time Dries Mertens wrapped up the victory late on.
Napoli got off to the stronger start as they immediately put their surprisingly nervy-looking opponents under pressure. Buffon was responsible for keeping his side in the game with a fine save from an early corner, but almost undid his work by spilling the next one. Marek Hamsik eventually fired the loose ball home, after Gonzalo Higuain saw his shot blocked, but the Slovakian was correctly judged to be offside.
Buffon was again called to deny Hamsik for a second time, but as Napoli's dominance waned it looked like they would soon be regretting their profligacy. No such luck for Juventus - in a stadium they have not emerged victorious from for 14 years, Napoli soon took the lead regardless. Hamsik and Lorenzo Insigne combined well to tee up Callejon and, although the Spaniard appeared to be marginally offside, he still got in ahead of the Juventus defence to fire his side into the lead and send the San Paolo wild with delight.
Juventus were almost in an even worse situation after half-time when Higuain appeared to be pulled down when through on goal with the last kick of the first half, but the referee chose to ignore the incident and Leonardo Bonucci escaped without punishment.
An open start to the second half promised much, but Juventus could simply not get going and Reina remained virtually untested in goal. Indeed, Juventus again had to rely on Buffon to keep them in the game after he made another superb save to deny Faouzi Ghoulam after the left-back fired in a vicious free-kick. An overhead kick from Pablo Osvaldo was about as close as Juventus could get to testing Reina, but the effort was still off-target.
Juventus' usual fluency simply wasn't there, and Antonio Conte could only react with mostly like-for-like substitutions. Mauricio Isla was involved plenty after he replaced Kwadwo Asamoah, but lacked in end product. Claudio Marchisio was as anonymous as the man he replaced, Paul Pogba, and although Mirko Vucinic almost created an equaliser by finding a fine through-ball for Isla, he too was thereafter marginalised.
As the second half wore on, Juventus could not get back into the game, and Mertens finished them off with his first touch after replacing Hamsik, completing a fine counter-attack to seal the win and the three points for Napoli. In the grand scheme of things, it is a result which changes little, but Juventus' rigidity and inflexibility proved to be their downfall. Nine times out of 10 they can simply overpower teams, but the lack of a plan B has cost them on occasion, and this result will do more to reinforce that belief.
- Sports & Recreation
- Jose Callejon
- Gianluigi Buffon
- Dries Mertens
- Marek Hamsik
- Pepe Reina