Napoli saw their unbeaten Serie A record ended by Gonzalo Higuain’s early strike, as Juventus conquered the Stadio San Paolo.
This was a Scudetto showdown between first and third, the current leaders and side that won the last six editions, but also bitter rivals. Gonzalo Higuain had surgery on a broken bone in his hand on Monday, but still insisted on starting against his former club, especially as Mario Mandzukic, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Benedikt Howedes didn’t make the trip. Max Allegri adopted a new 4-3-2-1 formation that almost mirrored Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli, who welcomed back Mario Rui from an ankle problem. Faouzi Ghoulam and Arkadiusz Milik are long-term absentees.
Juve’s history in this fixture was not promising, managing only one victory in the previous 13 competitive visits. That was a 3-1 result in January 2015, interrupting eight losses and four draws. Their last clean sheet at the San Paolo had been the 0-0 draw in March 1997, conceding 31 goals in their next 16 trips between Serie A, Serie B and the Coppa Italia.
It was an aggressive start from both sides, as Allan robbed Miralem Pjanic to roll across, but Marek Hamsik got there a fraction of a second too late. At the other end, Douglas Costa’s through ball allowed Higuain to spring the offside trap and as he chipped it from a tight angle, Pepe Reina saved with his shoulder.
Juve took the lead at the San Paolo on a classic counter-attack and it had to be Higuain. Paulo Dybala used the Douglas Costa run to draw away defenders, instead the angled pass released Higuain to stroke past Reina from seven yards.
Hamsik is only one goal away from equalling Diego Maradona’s Napoli tally and his scorcher from distance stung Gigi Buffon’s gloves, but Juve were dangerous on the counter again with Douglas Costa. Higuain was furious with his own teammate for not passing it earlier, then shouted at Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens too, as Pipita was perhaps too fired up.
Hamsik and Mertens had efforts charged down, while Buffon palmed away an Insigne curler and on the resulting corner also parried his glancing header at the near post.
The Napoli pressure and possession built towards half-time, but Juve playing in yellow remained dangerous on the counter and Insigne rushed his finishing.
Kwadwo Asamoah got back for a decisive interception to stop Jose Callejon nodding in at the back post. Allan’s give-and-go with Mertens was deflected into the path of Callejon for a daisy-cutter that fizzed inches past the upright.
Another long passing move saw Buffon do just enough to put Callejon off from point-blank range, as Juve were pinned back for extended periods. Mertens went down in the box on 66 minutes and VAR silent check confirmed there was nothing in it, a risky move considering the Belgian was already on a yellow card.
Reina performed an astonishing one-handed save to deny Blaise Matuidi moments later, as Miralem Pjanic’s long ball found him at the far post and the volley was kicked into the ground, but the Spaniard somehow palmed it over from point-blank range.
Insigne’s ferocious strike flashed across the face of goal, but he also picked up an injury and limped off for Adam Ounas. Despite holding 66 per cent of possession, Napoli were unable to make it count, even with Reina coming up for a corner in stoppages.