Upon the arrival of the team buses at the Mapei Stadium, Napoli fans in Reggio Emilia reminded us of how football used to be before the pandemic, lighting smoke bombs to welcome the Azzurri at the venue and, less remarkably, abusing Juventus players and staff on their way to the stadium.
After the final whistle, it was Giorgio Chiellini who eventually lifted the first trophy of the season in Italy as Juventus beat Napoli 2-0 to claim the Italian Supercup. The Old Lady have now won at least a piece of silverware in each one of the last 10 campaigns.
Napoli and Juventus came from two very different games over the previous weekend. Napoli had humiliated Fiorentina with a 6-0 win at home, while Juventus’ 2-0 defeat at Inter could have undermined the Old Lady’s confidence, not only for the result itself, but especially because they never gave the feeling they could play on a par with the Nerazzurri.
Andrea Pirlo made Allegri-esque changes against the Azzurri as he picked a classic 4-3-3 shape for the first time this term. Alvaro Morata started on the bench, with Cristiano Ronaldo who was the sole striker in a Bianconeri attacking trident completed by Federico Chiesa and Dejan Kulusevski.
The former midfielder put aside a three-man defence as he could rely on Juan Cuadrado who had recovered from COVID hours before the game. The Colombian started as right-back, with Danilo on the other side of the pitch and Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci in centre defence.
Napoli, however, were the better side in the first half. The Azzurri had one of their best goal scoring opportunities, when the MOTM Wojciech Szczęsny denied a Hirving Lozano header from point-blank range.
The Old Lady did little to create troubles for Napoli. Kalidou Koulibaly and Kostas Manolas frustrated any attempt from Ronaldo and Kulusevski who, at times, would swap his position with CR7 playing as a sole striker, while Federico Chiesa did not seem at ease on the left.
The former Fiorentina player picked up an ankle injury in the first half and was replaced with Federico Bernardeschi during the break.
Juventus did nothing special to win the game, but it is safe to say the work rate from their midfielders in the second half, helped the Old Lady to prevail.
Tiemoue Bakayoko failed to have any impact, while Piotr Zielinski showed glimpse of his quality in the first half, but failed to have the same consistency over 90 minutes and his performance, somehow, summed up Napoli’s game.
Juventus took the lead from a corner kick, with Cristiano Ronaldo who was in the right place at the right time to score his 84th Juventus goal.
With Matthijs de Ligt, Alex Sandro, Merih Demiral and Paulo Dybala all out of action, Pirlo made a wise use of substitutions, but it was Dries Mertens, who came off the bench for Napoli in the second half, who shifted the balance and earned a penalty kick that Lorenzo Insigne fluffed after 80 minutes. The Napoli captain left the pitch in tears.
Chucky Lozano had another great chance during the stoppage time, but his deflected cross was once again saved by a superb Szczesny with the Old Lady eventually winning game with a surgical counter-attack finalised by Alvaro Morata.
Overall, Napoli weren’t bad, but somehow failed to take the cup under the Vesuvius. That is no coincidence.
Juventus score a second with the last kick of the game to secure the Supercoppa against Napoli!— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) January 20, 2021
Scenes as Andrea Pirlo secures his first silverware as a coach! pic.twitter.com/fq6Em1QZny
The old saying goes that Juventus never mess up two games in a row and the Mapei Stadium clash proved it once again true.
Arthur added more quality to the Juventus midfield, but the Bianconeri still lack finesse in the middle of the pitch. They won the game because they could make the most of the opportunities they created and because of superior technical and mental qualities of their soloists.
Napoli probably had the best chances throughout the 90 minutes, but if you don’t lift the cup at the end of the match, it eventually comes more a vice rather than a virtue.
Both sides have lacked consistency so far this season and it is no coincidence they are adrift of Inter and Milan in the Serie A table.
Juventus won three Leagues games in a row for the first time this season in January, while Napoli alternated brilliant victories against big sides such as Roma and Atalanta, with disappointing and unexpected defeats against the so-called ‘smaller’ sides like Spezia and Sassuolo and failed to impress against Inter and Milan who beat Rino Gattuso’s side in November and December.
It would be unfair to not mention the Azzurri have been without their main strikers Victor Osimhen and Dries Mertens during the last month of action. But Juventus have had notable absentees too in De Ligt, Alex Sandro and Dybala.
Juventus lost against Inter this season, but beat Milan at San Siro and picked up draws against Atalanta, Lazio and Roma. Yet again, the Old Lady’s path has been affected by draws against clubs like Crotone and Benevento.
Every team in the world must cope with a high number of injuries due to a fixture list which this season is as busy as ever and, of course, with COVID cases that can change the coaches’ tactical plans from one day to another.
For all these reasons, it is even more important to win ugly in the current campaign, because it won’t be always possible to match victories with convincing performances.
Juventus proved they can still do it, Napoli not quite.
With six clubs battling it out for the first four spots, both Juve and Napoli should bear in mind the gap between the title contenders. The race for a Champions League place is also as tight as ever in Serie A this season.
Both sides, however, still have a chance to be credible title contenders this season if they start winning games consistently and, sometimes, even undeservedly.
They will once again face each other in less than a month in their first Serie A meeting this season after the Allianz Stadium clash on October 4 was rescheduled amid controversy.
On paper, they should play on February 13 the game of the ‘girone di ritorno’ at the Stadio Maradona before the one of the ‘girone d’andata’ at the Allianz.
The FIGC, however, could decide to play the upcoming clash in Turin to stick to the existing fixture list, but a final decision has yet to be taken.
Surely, both Napoli and Juventus learned the end justifies the means and whether they’ll play the next game in Turin or Naples, it will be once again crucial to make the most of every little chance they have, even without dominating the game.
Details are always important in football, this season even more.