Friday December 1 2017
Same old Napoli-Juventus

There were plenty of surprises as Napoli and Juve met on Friday but, explains Adam Digby, the more the Old Lady changes, the more she stays the same.

Napoli have made no secret of their title ambitions, players happily discussing the pre-season “Scudetto Pact” that kept their squad intact this past summer. Making an unwritten agreement that they would stay together for at least another year, their sole aim was to try clinch the Serie A crown for the first time since Diego Maradona graced the Stadio San Paolo.

They always knew that it would be Juventus who stood in their way. Along with Inter, Roma and Lazio, the Partenopei had captured attention after making a good start to 2017-18, once again playing the sumptuous football demanded by Maurizio Sarri. Yet if it was predictable that it would be the Old Lady who presented their toughest challenge, it was also obvious what to expect from Napoli when the Bianconeri headed south for Friday night’s head-to-head clash.

Lining up in Sarri’s favoured 4-3-3 formation, it was the same starting XI as always and the same approach to the game. Not so for the visitors. Juve not only sprang a surprise with a previously unused 4-3-2-1 framework, but also with some of the names on the team sheet as Medhi Benatia, Kwadwo Asamoah and Mattia De Sciglio took to the field from the first whistle.

And while there had been talk of him missing the match after surgery on his hand, there was never really a doubt that Gonzalo Higuain would join them. Following his €90m transfer 18 months ago, last season’s return to his former home saw him become almost the sole focus of the pre-match hype, yet his broken finger ensured the Argentinian’s visit was barely discussed.

That did not stop the Napoli faithful from booing him mercilessly before the game got underway, but where last term he looked under pressure, this time he beckoned them to do their worst. Seemingly reveling in the jeering, it was inevitable that it would be Higuain who broke the deadlock, smashing Paulo Dybala’s pass beyond Pepe Reina after just 13 minutes.

What happened from there was a combination of Allegri’s diligent planning, some excellent individual performances and perhaps a little bit of luck. While his formation was originally something of a Carlo Ancelotti-esque Christmas tree, when Juve lost possession it very quickly became two old-fashioned banks of four.

Blaise Matuidi shuttled out wide on the left and Douglas Costa did the same on the opposite flank, the latter doing well to deny Mario Rui on a number of occasions. But perhaps the biggest factor was Dybala’s diligent tracking of Jorginho, the Juve man limiting the impact of the midfielder who truly makes Napoli tick.

With Lorenzo Insigne and Marek Hamsik missing their usual spark, the Bianconeri managed to keep a clean sheet away to Napoli for the first time since March 1997, despite some sloppy passing from the visitors in the second half.

They will need to be much better if they are to push on and win a seventh consecutive league title, and when Inter visit Turin next weekend, their quality will be tested once again. For now however, they can celebrate a famous win under difficult circumstances, while their opponents are left wondering what might have been.

The more things change, the more they stay the same for Napoli and Juventus.

Have your say...
It's a game where both teams show their constant incapability when up against what should be a strong opposition. Napoli attacking play is unable to convert. Whereas Juve is unable to keep the ball in possession for more than 10 seconds and get out from their own half.
on the 2nd December, 2017 at 7:17am
@Theo, La Liga = Madrid vs Barca, Germany = Bayern, France = PSG. As for EPL even though there are no dominant team these days it still overrated (the same as their national team).

Nazionale crumble basically because of FIGC and Ventura's incompetence.
on the 2nd December, 2017 at 7:05am
theo you are a foool that is all i can say. if you dont like the serie A then keep it to your self no body wants to hear yur useless opinion
on the 2nd December, 2017 at 6:46am
@theo and why you still have a comment on this boring league blog?
I bet u are a napoli fans who are really disappointed because of this lost. Lol.
on the 2nd December, 2017 at 2:30am
Here comes captain optimistic theo himself. Jeez somebody shoot me in the head with a shotgun so i dont have to read the same thing 800000000 times. Plz
on the 2nd December, 2017 at 1:52am
on the 2nd December, 2017 at 1:28am
You'd have to be a complete fool to think Juventus would not win the dead league known as Serie A. Why anyone watches the boring, corrupt, crumbling stadium, corpse that is the Serie deAd is beyond me!

Such better football and entertainment in Spain, England, Germany, and France these days. And it shows, their national teams are going to the World Cup, not the pathetic humiliating group that is the dead nazionale! Italian sides/nazionale will never lift an international trophy again!
on the 2nd December, 2017 at 12:44am
on the 2nd December, 2017 at 12:38am
this was men vs. boys if i ever saw it
on the 2nd December, 2017 at 12:10am

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