So that was the Scudetto crossroads. Everyone survived without getting run over, although some ended up more bruised and battered than others. The gap at the top of the table is still six points, with Juventus technically able to count on a seven-point cushion thanks to a superior head-to-head record. Walter Mazzarri is still blind to Napoli’s faults and insisting everything will continue to go smoothly even if Edinson Cavani does not find the net. The papers are still full of controversy over refereeing decisions. Plus ca change...
It was certainly a battle at the San Paolo last night, of that there can be no doubt. Just ask Giorgio Chiellini and Cavani, who engaged in wrestling matches at every set piece that would make Celtic fans implode with indignant rage. Think Stephan Lichtsteiner shoving you with his chest is bad? Try hair-pulling and an elbow to the face. It’s remarkable that elbow from Cavani was spotted by the goal line assistant, yet only warranted a yellow card. It was about as blatant an elbow to the face as you can get. The slow-motion replays were stunning, as Chiello’s jowls were reshuffled into a new shape, looking more than ever like Robert De Niro in Raging Bull. For a man who has fractured his nose five times, I guess he’s mainly glad the elbow caught him on the cheek.
Some argue that if Chiellini’s spot of cat-fight cruelty had been seen just before that, he too would’ve risked a straight red or at least giving away a penalty. Maybe he was just jealous of Edi’s luxuriant locks... It was therefore a great relief to see the pair embrace at the final whistle and exchange shirts. At last, no brawl or recriminations after the game, especially from Chiellini who had every right to complain to the media. Instead, he simply shrugged and said he gave as good as he got. He’s an old-style warrior and one Juventus have really missed over the last three months.
People under-estimate how much Chiellini brings to the Bianconeri. He is not only a great defender with timing and vision, plus their strongest player in the air on set plays. The celebration after his goal, beating his chest with both fists like King Kong, showed the passion and determination he exudes. That’s the Juventus spirit that took this team to the title. Pretty football is all well and good, but sometimes you need to scrap for a point, and in a fight you really want Chiellini on your side.