Gokhan Inler replied to Giorgio Chiellini, but Edinson Cavani escaped a red card as Napoli held Juventus in a Scudetto showdown stalemate.
Only six points separated these teams as they went head-to-head at the San Paolo. Goran Pandev was preferred to Lorenzo Insigne and Christian Maggio picked for the right, while Giorgio Chiellini passed a fitness test for his first start in three months. Federico Peluso and Sebastian Giovinco were chosen ahead of Kwadwo Asamoah and Alessandro Matri, but Martin Caceres, Paolo De Ceglie and Nicolas Anelka were injured.
Juve last conquered the San Paolo in Serie A on September 30, 2000, when Antonio Conte was playing in their midfield. The pre-match choreography created a mosaic of Vesuvius and the sea, with flares set off to show the volcano erupting. The pitch was re-laid this week to ensure a perfect playing surface.
Within 15 seconds Marek Hamsik had scuffed a shot off target, while Giovinco turned well to sting the palms of Morgan De Sanctis.
It was Juventus who took the lead when a corner was taken short and Andrea Pirlo curled a cross to the back post for Chiellini’s header, as he out-jumped Miguel Angel Britos. The defender celebrated wildly and punched his chest like Tarzan after his second career goal against Napoli.
Stephan Lichtsteiner went down too easily under pressure from Gokhan Inler and the referee waved away his penalty appeals. At the other end, defenders blocked off both Pandev and Edinson Cavani from getting their shots away from a Hamsik through ball.
Arturo Vidal whipped in a cross for Mirko Vucinic, whose looping header across the face of goal whistled just wide with De Sanctis stranded.
On 19 minutes Vidal broke clear on the counter and rolled across for the totally unmarked Vucinic, but De Sanctis performed a fantastic one-handed save to palm it wide.
There was a terrifying moment on the half-hour when Britos accidentally clashed heads with teammate Inler and the Uruguayan seemed to be out cold for a few moments, but he was able to continue.
Vucinic had another good opportunity following an Inler error, but his first touch let him down when clear on goal. Hamsik’s through ball for Cavani was crucially intercepted by Chiellini, then from the corner Andrea Barzagli stopped the Uruguayan from pulling the trigger.
Lichtsteiner fired wide from the edge of the box, then Giovinco couldn’t take advantage of an error as Vucinic got in his way.
Just as the teams looked ready to go into the half-time break, Inler drew Napoli level with a screamer from distance that took a touch off Leonardo Bonucci’s head to lift it slightly into the top corner, where Gigi Buffon could not reach.
Napoli’s tails were up in stoppages and Juan Camilo Zuniga’s strike was charged down. There was tension from a corner, as Chiellini pulled Cavani’s hair, then the Uruguayan reacted by elbowing the defender in the side of the face. The goal line referee saw it all and advised that Cavani be booked. As this was seen and judged by officials, Cavani cannot be tried using video evidence for this incident.
Blerim Dzemaili replaced Britos for the second half, moving to a four-man defence. Vucinic just failed to get his toe to a Giovinco sweeping ball across the six-yard box.
Buffon got down to palm a fierce left-foot Hamsik strike round the post, then Napoli caused chaos in two successive corners that Juve somehow scrambled clear after a deflected Hamsik shot and a Maggio header.
Vucinic pounced on a Paolo Cannavaro error to unleash a snapshot that De Sanctis beat away, then at the other end Maggio tried to surprise Buffon at the near post, a powerful cross-shot pushed round the upright.
Buffon plucked a Cavani glancing header out from under the bar, then moments later he parried a Hamsik strike into the path of Dzemaili, who incredibly fired wide of an open goal on the follow-up.
Lorenzo Insigne dribbled past three men to set up Inler, whose screamer was fingertipped over the bar by Buffon. Cavani ballooned a free kick over from a very promising position in the final minutes.