But for the late heroics of the man in the Milan goal, Napoli might well have won at San Siro. Arkadiusz Milik’s effort seems destined for the far corner until Gianluigi Donnarumma throws his hulking frame to the ground in an instant to save it. It was already a monumental day for the 19-year-old, who became the youngest ever to reach 100 Serie A appearances, so it was only fitting he took the headlines.
In truth, it was one of the few times he was truly tested in the game, as his super stop distracts from another poor Napoli performance, one that all but puts the Scudetto out of reach.
Both sides did their best to make a game of it, but the Partenopei failed to break down a Milan defence missing both Leonardo Bonucci and Alessio Romagnoli.
True, they have faced some tough teams of late, but look less and less the swashbuckling side of earlier in the campaign. Their fast-paced game and Maurizio Sarri’s stubbornness in fully rotating his players has finally caught up with them.
Whether it is fatigue, predictability or just poor form, something has to change.
It is worth reiterating how well Sarri has done, without whom Napoli wouldn’t be where they are. Keeping up with a Juventus team that for a large portion of the season didn’t even concede a goal is a praise-worthy feat. But it has been hard to ignore recent performances in what should be a crucial period in their season.
Draws against Inter, Sassuolo and Milan and a home defeat to Roma have dented their chances. Even the win against Chievo came through two very late goals. This is the time of the season where they ought to be relishing the advantage of not playing in Europe or the Coppa Italia. Instead, it is Napoli who look like they’ve run out of steam.
While Napoli’s stars toiled in Milan, Juve’s bench players flourished. It’s easy to complain that Napoli don’t have the resources of Juve, but they don’t use the options that they have right now. Piotr Zielinski, Amadou Diawara and Adam Ounas are far from bad players, and could potentially develop into great ones. They are certainly deserving of more than the handful of starts they have been handed this season.
Marko Rog, for example, has made 22 Serie A appearances this season – every single one off the bench. What real opportunity or incentive is there for bench players to try and break into the starting XI?
Switching up the squad is about more than fitness. It is about form. Dries Mertens has been revelation as a striker under Sarri, little doubt in that, but the Belgian has been off the boil in recent weeks, scoring only twice in his last 10 games. Whether he needs a rest or a reason to step up his game, with Milik back they have the opportunity to try something different.
Few teams win a long and arduous league campaign with a good starting XI alone. Sarri needs more faith in his role players or a bigger squad to truly compete.
The way football has gone for Italian teams in the past week, it might be foolhardy to make predictions. But on a weekend where Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain celebrated domestic titles, it is difficult to argue with the idea Juventus have also taken a significant step towards Calcio’s biggest prize.